With 17 games and 18 weeks, there are plenty of ebbs and flows for every player in the NFL, especially rookies. Perhaps one of the best examples of that comes from one of the Las Vegas Raiders’ 2023 fourth-round picks, cornerback Jakorian Bennett.
During training camp and the preseason, Bennett showed plenty of promise and received rave reviews from the coaching staff, other players on the roster and even a former All-Pro who was observing practice.
“Jakorian does an outstanding job of leveraging routes, being in the right place at the right time [and] making plays on the ball,” Eric Allen said during the Raiders Training Camp Special podcast. “He has really popped out as a rookie on our football team right now.”
All of that led to the Maryland product earning a Week 1 starting job which is rare for a Day 3 pick in year one. However, it’s been downhill since then.
Bennett started the team’s first four games of the season and was targeted 16 times for 12 receptions, 206 yards and a touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus. After that, he lost the starting spot and a couple of injuries cut into his playing time, and he continued to struggle when on the field.
The rookie’s real low point on the season came during Week 12, the Raiders’ most recent game, where he was on the sidelines in street clothes as a healthy scratch against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I think when you’re a rookie, you go through the roller coaster, the ups and downs,” interim head coach Antonio Pierce responded when asked during the bye week about Bennett’s progression.
“Started here at the high, he started playing well, [got] nicked up a little bit, maybe a play or two here you wish you could take back, and I think Jakorian has done a really good job of is just being a student of the game. He asks a lot of questions on the side, he’s a sponge.”
Luckily for Bennett, Pierce is a former player who understands and can relate to what he’s going through in his first season.
“I mean I remember my career,” the coach continued, “it started here and sometimes you need to take a step back and really see the big picture because you get caught up in the mix.
“Look, he’s been training since December of last year, almost a full year. Your body is not used to it. The college football season just ended for him. You always hear about that rookie wall, I think that’s real not just physically but mentally as well.
“I think there’s nothing wrong with resetting a young player, allow him to take a step back, learn from some older guys, get some more coaching time individually, more film study and then get better on a practice field. And then that hopefully shows up on game day.”
It sounds like Bennett has taken his coach’s advice to heart and maintained a good attitude despite the recent benching. That helps make Pierce confident that the rookie can bounce back during the team’s last five games of the season.
“Sometimes when you take a step back, it’s going to be a positive going forward for us,” Pierce said. “And I really think that’s going to be the case with JB. He’s in good spirits, just stays engaged. Again, every week is a new week, and when we get back we’ll assess it and see how it goes. I’m sure he won’t be out of the lineup too long.”
After a week off, the Raiders are back in action now and could really use the fourth-round pick to return to the form that made him a Week 1 starter. After parting ways with Marcus Peters, there’s an open competition for a starting cornerback role moving forward, and the Minnesota Vikings are coming into town with All-Pro Justin Jefferson returning to the lineup.
The reigning Offensive Player of the Year poses a threat to any secondary in the NFL, let alone one that is as young as Las Vegas’s. Additionally, rookie wideout Jordan Addison made a name for himself during Jefferson’s absence, making Minnesota’s passing attack even more lethal.
So, the Raiders will be looking for Bennett to step up over these next five weeks, especially since they’ll be facing several good passing attacks to round out the year with the Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos left on the schedule.