When it comes to evaluating the Las Vegas Raiders’ defensive groups, it’s all relative. This isn’t so much about comparing the group to the rest of the league (at least not yet), but rather where they have been.
The Raider defense has been so bad of late that even league-average feels like a victory. With the defensive backs, the group is creeping closer and closer to respectability thanks to some infusions of youth and older guys getting more and more comfortable in Paul Guenther’s system.
Under Contract: Jonathan Abram, Erik Harris, Lamarcus Joyner, Trayvon Mullen, Isaiah Johnson, Nevin Lawson, Keisean Nixon, Nick Nelson
Free Agents: Daryl Worley, Makinton Dorleant (ERFA), D.J. Killings (ERFA), Curtis Riley, Dallin Leavitt, Karl Joseph
What a fascinating group. Among guys under contract, you’ve got four rookies from last season, a second-year guy, a highly-paid veteran and a 27-year-old who just got re-signed before he could hit free agency.
Among free agents? One starting corner from a year ago and a former first-round pick who played his best football in 2019 — both of whom I could see eventually making their way to Vegas depending on how things play out.
In 2019, this group allowed the 25th-most passing yards per game (256.7) — down from 20th-best the year before. They were 29th in the league in interceptions (9), 22nd in completion percentage allowed (64.1%) and dead last in yards-per-completion allowed (8.3).
On the bright side? There’s hope. Mullen — the team’s second-round pick last season — showed signs of being a corner you can really count on moving forward. Behind him are a pair of rookies (Johnson and Nixon) who, by all accounts, the coaches are really high on (that’s part of the reason they haven’t pursued Worley too hard). Add in Lawson, who the team liked enough to bring back on a one-year deal, and there’s reason to believe this group could be alright.
When Abram had to say goodbye to his rookie season after just one game, it was a devastating blow for a defense that was counting on him. While Joseph and Harris had moments of positive play, it wasn’t enough to feel like they had a real difference maker playing in the back. Yes, there were positive moments and big plays, but there were far more blown assignments, which carried the day in remembering this last season.
The other name to keep in mind is Joyner — who the Raiders paid big money to a year ago. He was brought in to play a little bit of slot corner and a little bit of free safety, but unfortunately he didn’t do either one particularly well. With another year in Guenther’s system and a full offseason to prepare, let’s hope for improvement in 2020.
In a lot of ways I see this group the same way I see the defensive line: there’s room for one big splash move, but for the most part, I think the names you see above are the ones you’ll see in Week 1. It was a solid year, but not a great one — and with higher expectations on the team as a whole next year, this group is going to need to make the jump in order for things to improve overall.