The Las Vegas Raiders were surprisingly quiet when it came to adding defensive players in free agency, especially at cornerback. While they did bring in a few solid pieces, the Raiders still lack a true No. 1 corner who can make plays on the ball. However, a ballhawk could still land in Las Vegas via the NFL Draft and Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez.
The Raiders were only able to intercept six passes last year, so head coach Josh McDaniels mentioned and the NFL Combine earlier this month that he’s looking for defenders who can create turnovers. Gonzalez managed to accumulate four interceptions and seven pass breakups last year in Eugene, which would be a welcomed sight in Las Vegas.
But what exactly can the Duck bring to the Silver and Black, and is he worth the seventh overall pick? Let’s turn to the tape!
Christian Gonzalez with a great rep in press for a PBU pic.twitter.com/NgKkqaoGHa— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2023
This first clip is just a simple back-shoulder fade where Gonzalez is on the single receiver side of a Cover 3 call, meaning he has the freedom to play press-man coverage. He has great patience at the line of scrimmage to wait until the wide receiver commits to the vertical route before opening his hips which is a common theme through his reps.
Once the wideout does release, Gonzalez flips his hips and closes the gap to stay in phase and be in a perfect position to defend against the back shoulder throw, almost like he knew it was coming. He’s also in a good spot to rip the receiver’s hands at the catch point if the quarterback wants to throw a teardrop near the sideline.
The end-zone view does a better job of showing what happens at the catch point. The Duck does a good job of getting his head around and locating the ball in the air to make a play on it and collect one of those PBUs.
While the ball skills make this a highlight reel play, it’s everything that came before it to make it an excellent rep.
Christian Gonzalez with a nice speed turn to take away the go route pic.twitter.com/GiWEbZmmcs— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2023
The Ducks are going to run another version of Cover 3 here where Gonzalez is going to bail immediately after the snap to take away the deep third. It’s a great call because BYU is running play-action with a seven-man protection scheme and deep routes from the outside receivers.
This also gives us a chance to see Gonzalez’s speed as he maintains his cushion against the receiver running the go route. He does overplay the inside a bit, possibly anticipating a post route from the outside receiver or a post-out concept since the slot receiver is running the out. However, he has excellent hips to speed turn and get right back on top of the go route.
That takes the deep shot away from BYU quarterback Jarren Hall and forces Hall to check it down. Unfortunately, no one takes the running back but this is a great rep from our subject.
Great timing by Christian Gonzalez for a PBU pic.twitter.com/wUCmlYK6sb— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2023
Here we’re going to see another example of Gonzalez’s ball skills but in a different situation. Oregon is running Cover 6 with a little wrinkle. Instead of playing Cover 2 at the top of the screen, they’re playing man which means Gonzalez is one-on-one with the receiver running the short in route on this China concept from BYU.
He does a great job of reading and breaking on the route and times it up perfectly by making contact with the receiver as the ball gets there. He then gets his hands involved at the catch point and forces an incompletion on third and long. With this play call and where they are on the field, the Cougars were likely looking to set up a fourth and short situation but that’s off the table now thanks to the Duck’s ball skills.
Another nice PBU from Christian Gonzalez pic.twitter.com/7lTyVCzVlB— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2023
This next clip is pretty similar to the first one where Gonzalez is in press-man coverage against a fade route. Again, he’s patient at the line of scrimmage and doesn’t open up his hips until the wide receiver commits. Also, he does a great job moving his feet to maintain his leverage advantage and using his hands to disrupt the receiver’s route and help him stay in phase.
At the catch point, Gonzalez finds the ball and swats it out of the air to force another incompletion. The combination of his press and ball skills are part of what makes him such an intriguing prospect.
Doesn’t get target here but I like how Christian Gonzales mixes up his jam looks to keep WR’s off-balance pic.twitter.com/oYsOwMTJy6— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2023
There were other more “highlight reel” types of clips that I could have shared, but I wanted to include the one above because it shows off some nuance to Gonzalez’s game. He mixes up the timing of his punch — by flashing his hands and fake punching here — when jamming receivers which keeps them off-balance.
Most wideouts are taught to slap the defensive back’s hands away right when they see them, so flashing the hands can get them to stumble and disrupt the timing of their route. It’s also something that is going to stick in their minds the next time Gonzalez lines up in their face, so he’s playing the game within the game already which is a veteran move.
Worth Pick 7?
If you’ve been following the other iterations of this series, you know this is where I drop the negative clips and talk about some of my concerns with the Duck’s game. Below are said clips and my concerns.
Gonzalez likes to use his hands in coverage which is a good thing, however, he also gets grabby when he does get beat which can lead to penalties that will likely get called more frequently in the NFL. While he was only flagged twice this past year at Oregon, per PFF, he had a few reps where he got away with some holding, and he drew seven flags during his two years in Colorado.
On a related note, Gonzalez also is a little over-aggressive in coverage. He has a tendency to overplay his leverage and get beat in the opposite direction and covering double moves was a struggle for him.
He’s also okay but not great versus the run where he’ll have instances where plays a little too passively and/or misses tackles against running backs.
My biggest concern about Gonzalez’s game and what makes him a bit of a risk as a Top 10 pick, in my opinion, is his change of direction is sub-par. He struggles against sharp-breaking routes and has instances where he gets caught flat-footed. At the combine, he completed — and crushed — all of the drills except for the agility testing, which he sat out of and there’s a reason for that.
All of this being said, I’d be satisfied if the Raiders took Gonzalez seventh overall. I think they could really use a playmaker like him and while it might be a little bit of reach seeing as I have concerns about him as a Top 10 talent, the need is great enough and his upside is high enough to warrant the selection.