Tariq Woolen, a talented and productive rookie corner, along with DK Metcalf, an imposing presence at wideout, are both side-speed specimens the late great Al Davis would’ve loved wearing Silver & Black. And both are playmakers Mark Davis’ Raiders offense and defense, respectively, must contend with.
Outlandishly big is an apt description of the cornerback and wide receiver. Despite being taller than the average player at their positions, both have great speed, agility and body control that makes them ample pass defender and catcher.
Woolen (6-4 and 205 pounds), a fifth-round gem out of the University of Texas-San Antonio, is second in the NFL in interceptions with five (one a pick six). He’s also got nine passes defensed, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 34 total tackles to his name. According to Pro Football Reference charting, he’s allowed 23 receptions on 42 targets (54.8 percent) for 280 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterbacks throwing his way sport a 59.7 rating.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Davante Adams are well-aware of the rookie’s exploits and are likely set to see plenty of Woolen this Sunday. Las Vegas’ signal caller compared his height to another Seahawks accomplished corner Richard Sherman. Carr was careful to clarify the rookie has a long way to go, but based on size alone, it’s hard not to see Sherman in Woolen.
“Sherm is a Hall of Fame type player, and he’s obviously a rookie. He has a long way to go,” Carr said on Woolen. “But when you turn the tape on, he stands out, he’s extremely talented at catching the football. When the ball is in his area, it doesn’t look hard for him to make plays on it. He’s very talented out of his breaks for being that long and to be able to transition that way that he does, is very, very impressive. Absolutely.”
“Yeah, he looks good on tape. He’s a big, much taller corner than what’s normal in the league, and he’s a rookie and he doesn’t look like a rookie at all on tape,” Adams added. “So, I’m sure it’ll be a fun matchup. I got respect for what I’ve seen on tape so far, for sure.”
Woolen has the size and cover ability to be a matchup piece against Adams, Mack Hollins (himself 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds) or any other pass catcher.
Speaking of Hollins, there was a notion the Raiders could use him to simulate what Metcalf brings to the table. The Mississippi product and 2019 second-round pick (64th overall) has 581 yards and four touchdowns on 48 catches this season, good for second amongst Seattle pass catchers. Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham was broached about this during his mid-week press conference and Graham wasn’t keen on the question.
“Mack, again, good player. I would say I don’t like getting into the comparison thing, but in terms of size, Metcalf presents some issues,” Graham noted. “Just in terms of his ability to make plays down the field, the speed, the rare combination of size and speed. The ability to be a point of attack blocker in the run game, his toughness that shows up on tape, the ability to stiff arm.
“Everything that he does, he does at a high level. I think, again, we get a chance to go against some pretty good players in practice all the time too, whether it was training camp or even now when we have competitive periods. I don’t want to get into the comparison thing, but Metcalf presents some problems, and he’s not the only one.”
Graham is right. While Metcalf provides matchup problems for Raiders cornerbacks (none are above 6 feet tall), Seattle’s top option for quarterback Geno Smith is Tyler Lockett (640 yards and five touchdowns on 54 catches). Asked how his defenders will combat the speedy Seahawks duo, Graham’s answer parlayed itself to complementary defense.
“Stay deep, I guess. That’s one, stay deep. I mean, I think what you want to do is, again, it all ties together, whether it’s the pass rush … Well, first it starts with stopping the run, that’s what you want to try to do. Because if they could do both run and pass, and feel comfortable about that, that’s where the issues come into play. Then you start over playing for the run and they run behind you. So, you got to do a good job starting there.
“Controlling the line of scrimmage, that’s the main thing there. And then from there, just in terms of whether you mix up the coverages or just trying to do what you think is best to take away their top weapons.”
Pass rusher Maxx Crosby, who went off against the Denver Broncos last Sunday with two sacks, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a blocked field goal and six total tackles, will be heavily relied upon once more to terrorize Smith and the Seahawks’ run game (ranked 13th in the league in yards gained at 1,243 yards).