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Raiders defense: A familiar face and a hard-nosed addition

Brandon Facyson gets round two with Las Vegas; Robert Spillane likely gets his chance to become a starter

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns
Brandon Facyson was a nine-game starter for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021. The cornerback returns to the desert and will be competing for a starting spot this coming season.
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret the Las Vegas Raiders need cornerback help and a free-agent addition was expected in the initial mad rush that were Day 1 and 2 of the signing period. Ditto for the linebacker position in the desert.

Enter Brandon Facyson and Robert Spillane.

If the names don’t tickle your fancy, that’s not surprising. The cornerback and linebacker, respectively, weren’t the expected high-profile free agents many expected to land in Las Vegas. The pair of undrafted free agents fit into the latter day category of free agency.

Yet, the pair aren’t wall-busting type additions — fiscally responsible, really. Facyson inked a reported two-year, $6.5-million pact ($700,000 guaranteed) while Spillane signed a two-year, $9-million contract (reportedly $4 million guaranteed). And for general manager Dave Ziegler, that fits his philosophy of build through the draft, supplement in free agency. And more importantly, be thrifty and spend wisely on the market.

Facyson is a familiar face that played well in 2021 with the Raiders while Spillane is a hard-nosed defender at the linebacker spot. Both are slated to compete for starting spots and earn their opportunities going forward.

In Facyson, the Raiders get a physical cornerback who can play on the boundary at 6-foot-2 and 197 pounds. The 28-year-old did showcase promising talent as a cover man back in 2021 (with 55 total tackles, one interception and 13 passes defensed) but Facyson was inked by the Indianapolis Colts to follow defensive coordinator Gus Bradley (who captained the Raiders defense in 2021) to start. Facyson struggled mightily and was benched after four starts.

After allowing only 55.6 percent of passes thrown his way in Las Vegas in 2021 (45 of 81), Facyson yielded 69 percent of passes to be completed on him (29 of 42). Getting benched sapped Facyson’s snap count as he played a career-high 601 for the Raiders and only 455 this past season with the Colts.

But Facyson has familiarity with Las Vegas and is eager to get to work.

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Facyson said at his introductory press conference Thursday. “I just want to get in here and create a camaraderie.”

Spillane, on the other hand, is a new face in Silver & Black. The 27-year-old is a bring your lunch pail to work-type that is physical and unrelenting at linebacker. He gets the most of his 6-foot-1, 229-pound frame to stymie the run and clog lanes playing an inside linebacker spot in Pittsburgh. And that tenacity is what allowed Spillane to work his way from an undrafted type to a spot starter earning more snaps with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Spillane earned a career-high 588 snaps (59 percent of the Steelers total defensive snap count) and tallied a career 79 total tackle-season with one sack this past season. For a Raiders defense needing to be more stout against the run, Spillane fits the bill. He was activated 42 times on blitzes in Pittsburgh to stymie the run and hurry opposing quarterbacks.

Spillane operated from one of the inside linebacker positions and is a strong candidate to man the middle in Las Vegas. With that comes the green dot work to get the calls from defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. That’s something Spillane noted he wants to do in his introductory press conference at Raiders headquarters on Thursday afternoon.

“They told me coming here I’d have the opportunity to be a green dot,” Spillane began. “What’s important to me is I come in here and earn respect.”

But where he struggles is in coverage. Spillane allowed a staggering 83.7 percent of passes thrown his way for completions (36 of 43) for 359 yards and a touchdown. Defending the pass isn’t his forte and he’s gotten progressively worse since allowing only 53.3 percent of passes thrown at him for completions (135 yards total and zero touchdowns) with a 33-yard interception return for a score. Quarterbacks targeting Spillane sported a 109.2 passer rating in 2022.

The offseason will determine what roles Facyson and Spillane earn. But if nothing else, the duo gives the Raiders competition and depth at two positions that need it. What would be surprising, however, is if the Raiders don’t add more personnel to the cornerback and linebacker positions in free agency or the NFL Draft.