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Ranking AFC West corners: Nate Hobbs has potential but still work to do

LV has depth but lacks top-end talent

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Nate Hobbs
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders walk into the 2023 season with an interesting cornerback room. The Raiders have some depth at the position but seem to lack top-end talent as Nate Hobbs leads the group but lacks some star power that other AFC West defensive backfields have.

So, where does Hobbs rank among the Top 10 cornerbacks in the division? And how many representatives does Las Vegas have in that group heading into September?

1) Patrick Surtain II

We’ll get a couple of NFL legacies on this list with the first being Patrick Surtain II. Last season, Surtain II established himself as the best cornerback in the AFC West with an 86.7 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus that was over 10 points better than anyone else. That figure also ranked second among corners across the league as the 2021 first-round pick is one of the best young players in the NFL.

2) L’Jarius Sneed

Versatility is a big reason why L’Jarius Sneed is so high on this list. He can cover out wide or in the slot, logging 361 and 546 snaps in each spot respectively. Sneed also picked up 39 defensive stops during the regular season—19 more than any other AFC West corner—23 of which came in coverage—most in the league—and the 16 he had against the run ranked second league-wide. For good measure, he also racked up 18 pressures as a pass-rusher which was double the amount of any other corner in the NFL.

3) Michael Davis

After several pedestrian performances to begin his career, Michael Davis enjoyed a breakout season in 2022. He led the AFC West and tied for third among NFL cornerbacks with 12 pass breakups despite missing three games and being the only player in the top five to log less than 500 coverage snaps. Davis also surrendered the second-lowest completion percentage (52.0%) in the division at the position.

4) J.C. Jackson

Yes, J.C. Jackson was injured and terrible last year, only playing in five games and recording an ugly 28.7 grade from Pro Football Focus. However, he still is only a couple of years removed from a season where he accumulated eight interceptions, 12 pass breakups and a second-team All-Pro bid. Jackson earned the moniker “Mr. INT” after collecting 25 picks in the first four years of his career, so we’ll see if he can bounce back in 2023 with a healthy foot and move up this list.

5) Trent McDuffie

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles
Trent McDuffie
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Had Trent McDuffie not missed six games at the beginning of last season, he might be higher on this list after allowing just 242 yards in coverage as a rookie. Granted, the time off helps with this, but that was the lowest total among AFC West corners with at least 175 coverage snaps. McDuffie surrendered more than 40 yards in just two of the 11 games he played in.

6) Asante Samuel Jr.

Consistency is the biggest key for Asante Samuel Jr. moving forward. For example, he logged four regular season games with PFF grades in the 80s and had four other games with sub-50 marks a year ago. He did finish the campaign with a few strong performances, culminating with a three-interception game, and two pass breakups, against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs. Building on that will be key for Samuel Jr.’s future as he heads into a pivotal third season.

7) K’Waun Williams

K’Waun Williams has built an eight-year career out of being a solid, well-rounded slot corner. In 2022, his 66.5 PFF coverage grade ranked sixth among qualifying AFC West corners, and his 69.9 mark as a run defender was also sixth-best. Williams also hasn’t allowed a touchdown in coverage since 2019.

8) Nate Hobbs

San Francisco 49ers v Las Vegas Raiders
Nate Hobbs
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Had Nate Hobbs stayed healthy and continued to build on the momentum he had at the beginning of last season, he’d be much higher in the rankings. In Weeks 1-5, Hobbs was the fourth-highest-graded corner in the conference (70.6) but ended up finishing in 12th place (60.9) after missing time with a hand injury and struggling when returning to the field. The silver lining is he did rack up the second-most defensive stops (20) among his peers in 2022.

9) Damarri Mathis

After being a fourth-round pick and not starting until Week 6, Damarri Mathis ended up having an impressive rookie season. He was frequently picked on, drawing the fourth-most targets (72) among AFC West corners, but he allowed the fewest yards per reception (8.9) during the regular season. Mathis also only gave up two touchdowns and had six pass breakups which are pretty impressive numbers for a rookie and gives him a bright future.

10) Jaylen Watson

Jaylen Watson was another late-round gem in the division last year as he was a seventh-rounder who made six starts during the regular season and three more in the playoffs. He was a boom-or-bust type of player as a rookie, allowing five touchdowns to go along with six combined interceptions and PBUs (including the postseason). Watson also has a bit of the clutch gene as his pick-six in Week 2 helped seal a win for the Chiefs, and his other two takeaways came in the playoffs.