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Raiders free agency 2023: Duke Shelley is a worthwhile flier

Cornerback was a very stingy defender this past season; time to see if he can be one in Las Vegas too

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Duke Shelley was a very stingy defender for the Minnesota Vikings this past season. The Las Vegas Raiders signing the free agent to a one-year deal is a worthwhile flier signing.
Tork Mason-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it’s the eye test or charting metrics, Duke Shelley’s 2022 season was a stand out campaign. Enter his fourth year in the NFL, the diminutive cornerback played much bigger than his listed 5-foot-9 height for the Minnesota Vikings.

Curiously enough, the Vikings didn’t retain Shelley. And for the Las Vegas Raiders, it could turn out to be quite the shrewd acquisition. The free agent corner inked a one-year deal (undisclosed amount) with the Silver & Black and it’s a worthwhile flier signing.

Let’s dig into his performance in Minnesota.

Shelley earned five starts and played in 11 games for the Vikings in 2022. According to Pro Football Reference, the Kansas State product was targeted 46 times in coverage and yielded 21 completions for 266 yards (12.7 yards per catch average) and zero touchdowns. That’s an impressive 45.7 percent completion rate and quarterbacks throwing at Shelley sported a 55.2 rating. Of that yardage total, 209 were air yards and 57 were yards after catch (YAC). Shelley also picked off one pass, broke up eight passes thrown at him and racked up 31 total tackles (23 solo) and only missed one.

If Pro Football Focus (PFF), is your thing, the organization ranked Shelley third with an 86.4 coverage grade (third overall) and an 84.5 man coverage grade (second overall). The group lists the corner with 11 pass break ups and a 59.6 quarterback rating (sixth overall).

Tale of the Tape: Duke Shelley

  • Position: Cornerback
  • Year drafted: 2019, 6th round (205th overall)
  • Age: 26
  • Height: 5-foot-9
  • Weight: 176 pounds
  • 2022 Stats: 31 total tackles (23 solo), 1 interception, 8 passes defensed
  • Career Stats: 84 total tackles (62 solo), 1 interception, 12 passes defensed

Banking on Shelley to continue his trend upwards as a stingy shadow corner is a worthwhile investment for not only the Raiders, but the player, too — especially on a one-year deal (regardless of the contract amount). If Shelley continues to showcase his shutdown ways in 2023 with Las Vegas, he can parlay that into a potential handsome pay day in free agency after the season. That’s with the Raiders or another NFL team looking to obtain his sticky coverage.

And if Shelley doesn’t, the Raiders can move on without big financial repercussions.

How does Shelley fit in the scheme in the desert?

Based on his charted metrics, his strong suit is man coverage. And despite his shorter status, Shelley shouldn’t be pigeon holed as a slot/nickel defender. That’s what the Chicago Bears did during his first three years in the league, but when Minnesota put him on the boundary/perimeter, Shelley’s skillset was allowed to truly shine. Despite being smaller, he plays much bigger by being physical and tenacious in coverage.

That was the tale of the tape for Shelley coming out of Kansas State in 2019 — a high football IQ and character prospect who has ball hawk tendency but size will eventually hurt him. But his 2022 season with the Vikings showed his aggressiveness, speed, and athleticism can overshadow the lack of vertical presence when matched up with taller receivers. Shelley is no doubt short, but his has excellent timing skills and a vertical leap.

The Raiders cornerback room is far from settled and a fight for starting spots should be intense in camp — especially considering the team isn’t likely done adding more talent to the room. The NFL Draft is this April and Las Vegas could snare a talented prospect in the opening round and beyond, adding more talent to a cornerback room that needs it.

But Shelley’s addition does add much-needed fierce competition in the Raiders secondary, even if he isn’t a premiere name that was on the free agent market — that can’t be denied.