There will be a pair of neophyte competitors at each of the defensive and offensive line groups along with the running back room as the Las Vegas Raiders careen towards the regular season. The Silver & Black doubled up in the trenches and the offensive backfield with their six picks in the 2022 draft to add much-needed depth.
Expect the six newcomers to add a hungry presence in the competitions at each position group.
But there’s a flip side to the Raiders draft: Incumbents at safety, cornerback and linebacker won’t face the challenge of selected prospects. Why those trio of position groups specifically? Because they were highlighted as areas of need for Las Vegas before the team made picks in the draft.
Let’s take a look at the expected competitions at those three particular spots. But before we start, this looks at the roster as it’s currently built. There’s always a chance Vegas adds more pieces to the roster — especially after the post-June 1 cuts occur freeing up ample cap space for the Raiders. Also, the competition won’t spotlight undrafted free agents — that’ll come in a near-future piece.
Let’s get it:
Johnathan Abram vs. Duron Harmon for the strong safety spot. The hit man against the cover man — that’s the gist. Abram is a hard-hitting enforcer-type that will lay the lumber whenever he’s given a chance. His body has paid for it at times, namely his shoulders. But it’s his lack of cover skills which is Abram’s major drawback. So much so, it wasn’t surprising to see the Raiders decline picking up his fifth-year option as a first-round pick.
Flip to Harmon and he’s a veteran safety who has not only played in the New England Patriots defensive system, but he’s a much more effective back end cover man. He’ll never be mistaken for the bone-jarring hits Abram can deliver, but he’s dependable when tasked with backpedaling and covering receiving options down the field.
New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is installing a scheme that relies on confusing the opposing quarterback with pre-snap looks and post-snap adjustments. Abram is much more effective closer to the line of scrimmage as a run-and-hit defender and Graham has disguised two-high safety looks pre-snap only to rotate down to a single-high alignment when the ball is snap. And vice versa — single-high look and rotate to a two-high alighment.
Based on what they’ve both done so far, Harmon would be the better bet to line up at strong safety in the two-high look.
Tre’Von Moehrig, who displayed good range, instincts and split-decision making as the free safety during his rookie season last year, is expected to once again man the FS spot.
Trayvon Mullen Jr. vs. everyone at perimeter cornerback. The cornerback position group saw intriguing arrivals and key departures this offseason. Veteran Casey Hayward and Brandon Facyson had the most starts at perimeter corner and went to knew teams in free agency.
The Raiders did trade for Rock Ya-Sin (Indianapolis Colts) while signing Anthony Averett (Baltimore Ravens) and Darius Philips (Cincinnati Bengals) in free agency. Mullen did get surgery earlier this week — reportedly not major — but he represents the lone returning cornerback who has started at outside cornerback for a substantial amount of games for the Raiders. That trio join incumbents Mullen Jr. and Amik Robertson for what’s expected to be a fierce competition at outside cornerback.
If Mullen is slowed down by recovering from his surgery, minor or not, him not being in the fight for a starting spot opens things up for the others.
The other incumbent, Nate Hobbs, performed very well as the slot corner during his rookie year last season. He’s slated to get snaps on the perimeter to increase his versatility and maximize the Raiders return on investment. Hobbs also represents the youngest corner on the roster at 22.
The good thing for everyone cornerback on the Raiders roster: They’ve all got a clean slate with the new coaching staff. Time to compete and earn a job.
Denzel & Divine
Denzel Perryman and Divine Deablo vs. everyone else. Based on starting experience from last season, Perryman was the steady tackling machine while Deablo is the promising up-and-coming second-year defender who is transitioning from college safety to NFL linebacker. Perryman manned the middle linebacker spot and provides the heavy-nosed presence in the middle. Deablo offers untapped coverage potential and excellent speed at the outside linebacker spot.
They’re joined by free agent additions Jayon Brown (Tennessee Titans), Kyler Fackrell (Los Angeles Chargers), Micah Kiser (Denver Broncos), and Justin March-Lillard (New Orleans Saints/San Francisco 49ers).
Of that group, Brown and Fackrell stand out as defensive contributors while Kiser provides a familiar face for new special teams coach Tom McMahon, who served as Denver’s group coach last year.
If he stays healthy, Brown provides both thump and cover skills from the linebacker spot inside and outside. Fackrell is a tall and long edge rusher type who can provide juice getting after the quarterback.
With more teams in the NFL utilizing nickel sets to combat today’s offenses, perhaps the Raiders will only see two linebackers on the field.