The Las Vegas Raiders revamped their group of cornerbacks last season and didn’t have the best results. Anthony Averett was injured for much of the year and didn’t play well when he was on the field. Nate Hobbs was a standout as a rookie but didn’t play as well when the team asked him to play on the outside.
The 2021 cornerback group wasn’t elite but it was one of the best the Raiders have had in a long time. It was led by Casey Hayward, who had a bounceback year in Las Vegas. He decided to sign a two-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons. Unfortunately, his homecoming didn’t last long. The Falcons announced that they have released Hayward after just one season.
This has to be a disappointing development for Hayward. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported last year that the Raiders were “heavily in the mix” to sign the cornerback. Though the team made a change of defensive coordinator, Hayward was a popular teammate during his one season in Las Vegas and clearly had some juice left in the tank. The Falcons are a young team so Hayward didn’t make much sense on them going forward. At 33, it will be interesting to see what his next steps are.
Could Raiders Bring Back Hayward?
Hayward was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL during his prime. He was a two-time All-Pro and had some really good seasons. Even his lone season with the Raiders in 2021 was really solid. However, he’s getting to the age where cornerbacks typically call it a career. Not a lot of cornerbacks are playing into their late 30s.
If he’s still hoping to play, the Raiders should at least kick the tires on him. He won’t be an expensive piece to add and he brings veteran leadership to what could be a very young cornerback group after the draft. Now, Hayward has always been one of the better zone cornerbacks in the NFL. He might not be a fit in Patrick Graham’s defense which uses more man coverage. If he comes in as a depth piece, he could be utilized in zone packages. He’s not going to be a huge difference-maker on defense at this point in his career but he’d still be a good piece for any team to have.
Raiders Predicted to Add CB in 1st-Round of Draft
The Raiders could still select a quarterback in the first round of the draft. If that’s not the case, it appears that cornerback would be the next position they target. Luckily, they should have a chance to add one of the top-two cornerbacks in the draft. In Chad Reuter’s latest mock draft for NFL.com, he has the Raiders selecting Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez with the No. 7 pick.
“The Raiders have long been looking for a stopper in the secondary,” Reuter wrote. “Gonzalez’s ball skills and supreme athleticism give him a chance to earn that title early in his NFL career.”
Gonzalez has big-time potential and the Raiders have been looking for a shutdown cornerback since Nnamdi Asomugha left in 2010. Gonzalez could be the player the team has been longing for. He’d be a logical pick to make if a quarterback is no longer an option.