While it’s expected that every rookie in the NFL is going to struggle at first, Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Jakorian Bennett has had a really tough time in coverage during the first two weeks of the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bennett has allowed 10 completions on 11 targets for 123 yards and a touchdown, earning a 45.7 coverage grade that ranks 88th out of 97 qualifying cornerbacks at the time of writing. Again, while it’s typical for a fourth-round pick to stumble out of the gates, he is a starter and is currently hurting the team.
This past week’s game against the Buffalo Bills was especially troubling for the Maryland product, so let’s dive into the tape and get a better understanding of what’s going on and where he can improve.
It’s hard to fault Bennett much on this play as he bails post-snap and Stefon Diggs runs a short curl route. But I included it to highlight something I’ve noticed over the last two weeks with the rookie which is he keeps stumbling out of his break. Also, he’s a little late to recognize the route and the combination of those two things is why this is such an easy pitch and catch.
Struggling to maintain balance at the top of routes is making it difficult for Bennett to close in coverage and a similar rep happened later in the game where Bennett slipped and gave up a completion. Again, the Raiders are giving the short route up with the play call so the result isn’t a big deal, but this is something that can lead to more yards after the catch down the line if he’s struggling to close.
Las Vegas is running Cover 6 here and Bennett is on the Cover 2 side of the play call as the flat defender.
Part of his responsibility is to stay deep and help the safety defend against the curl route from Gabe Davis (No. 13) to make that throwing window tighter for Josh Allen. In other words, the corner is supposed to stay deep in his zone and rally to a short completion in the flat. Also, with the running back staying in to block, there’s no other threat on that side of the formation and Divine Deablo can help him on the flat route.
However, Bennett takes the cheese and is way too shallow, giving Allen too big of a window to complete this pass for a first down. This is a mental mistake by a rookie which can be understandable, but this is also the basics of how to play Cover 2 that he undoubtedly learned in college and probably was taught in high school, too. So, it’s a little frustrating that he messed this up on Sunday.
This is another tough rep as Bennett is at a physical disadvantage against a tight end in Dawson Knox and the Bills run play-action, so they’re testing the rookie’s discipline. He gets caught staring at the running back in the backfield and doesn’t notice the bootleg, leaving Knox wide open after Knox disengages with him and releases into the flat or out route.
In this situation, second and one on the goal line with the run action going away from Bennett, he needs to know that he’s not going to be able to make a play to prevent a rushing touchdown and stay home to defend against the bootleg.
Once he reads his keys and sees that the run is going to the other side of the formation, he should just stay attached to Knox and expect the bootleg as he’s not able to provide much run support in this situation.
This is something that can be easily fixed as Bennett gets more reps under his belt, but offenses will continue to test him until he proves he can stay disciplined and not get fooled by eye candy.
This is a similar play to the last one as Bennett has struggled against play-action so far.
It looks like the Raiders are playing Cover 1 and the Bills have their tight end block Maxx Crosby initially to sell the run fake and slow Crosby down as a pass-rusher—something a lot of teams are going to do to the pass-rusher this season. Take a peak at how Bennett responds to that. He sees his man block and turns his back to the quarterback/the offense to help his teammate in coverage, which is good if his man stays into block...
However, Buffalo releases the tight end into the flat and since the cornerback’s back is to the formation, he doesn't even realize what’s going on and it's an easy 10 yards for a first down.
Bennett is correct in that he can work for depth to help his teammate, but he needs to sink with his eyes on the quarterback and his man so that he can see the play develop and rally to make the tackle ahead of the sticks. Clearly, the rookie is struggling to defend against and understand his rules versus play-action right now.
This is a tough rep versus Diggs and not all bad by Bennett.
The Raiders run Cover 3 but he’s locked man coverage on the single receiver side against Diggs. He does a good job of avoiding contact and getting re-attached to Diggs, but the wideout gives him a little push-by move at the top of the route and he falls out of phase, giving up a big gain for a first down on third and long.
Staying on balance when receivers use some physicality at the top of the route was something he struggled with in college, so it’s understandable that he isn’t quite there yet in this part of his game.
Also, it looks like his route recognition could use some work as it seems as if he’s thinking Diggs is going deep and gets surprised by the out route. Better anticipation will help him set his base and stay in phase against more physical route runners.
Again, a good rep for the majority of the play for Bennett but a poor finish.
He stays in Davis’ hip and doesn’t get picked on the drag route to take that option away from Allen. But, Bennett gets caught with his eyes in the backfield on the scramble drill and loses his man down the field as he’s late to recognize when Davis starts working deep. What should have been a third down stop turns into roughly a 40-yard gain and a first-and-goal situation.
Overall, there are elements of the rookie’s game that are encouraging, he just needs to put it all together more consistently and cut down on the mental lapses in coverage. The latter can come with time and experience, it’s just a matter of how quickly he can catch on and how patient the coaching staff is willing to be with him.