With the seventh pick of the 2023 SB Nation NFL Mock Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders select Christian Gonzalez, cornerback from the University of Oregon.
Will Anderson Jr., Tyree Wilson and Jalen Carter were off the board, so the Raiders take the fourth defender—and non-quarterback—of the draft who also has the fourth-highest odds (+3000) to be the first defensive player selected, via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Las Vegas really struggled to make plays on the ball last season, tying for dead last with just six interceptions. Safety Duron Harmon, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Amik Robertson accounted for all six picks as they each had two.
Harmon is currently a free agent—at the time of this writing—and Perryman signed with the Houston Texans last month. While Robertson is still on the roster, his contract expires at the end of the season, and he will likely be a backup/spot starter in 2023, similar to the role he played this past season.
The Raiders did bring in cornerbacks Duke Shelley, David Long and Brandon Facyson in free agency, however, Shelley is the only one of those three who came down with an interception a year ago, and just one at that. That was also the first of his career and all three players only have one interception individually as professionals.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez had four picks in 12 games for Oregon last season, so he is a ballhawk the Raiders defense needs right now. Head coach Josh McDaniels said as much at the NFL Combine, stating:
“When you talk about certain players that you’re trying to add to your roster, you know, explosive players on offense or defense, I mean, that’s what our league is now. ... It’s more of an ability to make plays with the ball in your hands or to create disruptive plays on defense.”
Gonzalez also has excellent ball skills outside of just creating turnovers. He racked up seven pass breakups in Eugene last fall, which is something else the Raiders' defensive backs are lacking.
Christian Gonzalez with a great rep in press for a PBU pic.twitter.com/NgKkqaoGHa— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2023
In 2022, Las Vegas totaled 55 PBUs but their corners only accounted for 29 of them—about 52.7 percent. Of those 29, Robertson had nine, Rock Ya-Sin racked up seven, and no other cornerback had more than four PBUs. As mentioned above, Robertson is entering a contract year, and Ya-Sin is currently a free agent/no longer on the roster.
The Raiders did a decent job of mitigating this issue by signing Shelley, who defended eight passes last season, and Facyson, six. However, Long only had one, and the defense could still improve in this area.
At the end of the day, Gonzalez has the ball skills that defensive coordinator Patrick Graham covets at the position. Also, the Duck has a rare combination of size, speed and length to fit Graham’s liking, measuring in just over 6’1 with 32” arms and a 4.38-second 40-yard dash time at the combine.
For comparison, James Bradberry — who made a name for himself playing for Graham with the New York Giants — is about a half an inch shorter and 0.12 seconds slower than Gonzalez while having arms that are a little more than an inch longer. The latter also posted a higher Relative Athletic Score (RAS), 9.94 out of 10 to 9.37.
Those two have somewhat similar skill sets as taller corners with impressive ball skills, so Raiders fans should be excited that the team’s defense is finally getting the “No. 1 cornerback” they’ve been looking for over the last two years.