Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has made plenty of surprising roster moves since being hired in January. The decision to cut All-Pro punter Marquette King was confusing, trading 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack was frustrating, and releasing, then re-signing Martavis Bryant was … something.
But what Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther most recently decided to do is interesting in its own right. As Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal first revealed, the Raiders have changed wide receiver Johnny Holton’s position. He’ll now move from wideout to cornerback.
Seeing players change positions early in their career isn’t overly surprising. Many rookies who are just looking for a chance to make an NFL roster will remain open to position changes, but this move is a bit different. As The Athletic’s Vic Tafur points out, Holton has actually never played cornerback in his life.
While the decision to switch a player entering his third NFL season to the opposite side of the ball seems a bit outlandish, it’s even more surprising when considering Holton’s abilities as a pass-catcher and deep threat.
Johnny Holton’s Success as a Receiver
While Holton hasn’t seen a ton of work for the Raiders during the regular season, he came into his own a bit last season. When given the opportunity, the 27-year-old flashed upside and showed his ability to stretch the field. He caught nine passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns in 2017, good for a solid 24.2 yards per reception.
Prior to this season, the undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati had also played in 31 of 32 possible games for the Raiders.
Coming out of college, Holton showed that same upside and playmaking ability in his two seasons with the Bearcats. After catching 29 passes for 431 yards and five touchdowns as a junior, he totaled 17 receptions for 461 yards (27.1 yards per catch) and five scores in seven games during his senior year.
It’ll be interesting to see how the position change goes for Holton, but for a team lacking deep threats, you’d assume Gruden and company would be contemplating getting him involved in the passing attack.