The Las Vegas Raiders‘ secondary has been surprisingly solid to start the season. Casey Hayward has been elite and Trayvon Mullen has been solid as the No. 2 cornerback. For the first time in a long time, the team should be feeling good about their pass defense.
Last year, the Raiders brought in cornerback Madre Harper as an undrafted free agent. He was an intriguing prospect for the team considering he’s 6-foot-1 and runs a 4.42 40-yard dash. The team liked his potential but he was poached by the New York Giants early last season. This offseason, the Raiders were able to bring Harper back and he spent some time on the practice squad.
He was released after Week 1 to make room for veteran defensive back Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The Raiders are gunning for the playoffs this season so it’s wise to focus on having veteran depth than working on young projects. Fortunately for Harper, he was able to quickly find a new home. The young cornerback has been signed to the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad.
The Panthers had to place rookie first-round pick cornerback Jaycee Horn on injured reserve with a broken foot. The team is 3-0 right now and needs to ensure they have depth at cornerback. Harper is still raw but can help in a pinch if necessary.
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Nate Hobbs Graded Among Best Rookies
One of the most pleasant surprises for the Raiders this season has been Nate Hobbs. LaMarcus Joyner was the team’s nickel cornerback over the last two seasons and he was a complete disaster. Though Hobbs played on the outside in college, he’s quickly developed into a solid nickel corner for the Raiders. In fact, he’s been one of the best rookies in the NFL despite being a fifth-round pick.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hobbs has been the fourth highest-graded rookie in the league.
“One of the unsung heroes of the Raiders defense, Hobbs has locked down the slot this season,” Michael Renner wrote. “He’s allowed only 48 yards on 12 targets and has racked up five defensive stops. His emergence is made all the more impressive because he played outside cornerback at Illinois for all four years of his college career.”
Hobbs’ emergence is a big deal for the Raiders. He should only continue to get better. Having a great nickel corner is important in Gus Bradley’s defense as they are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. Hobbs seems up to the task so far in his young career.
Hayward Praises Mullen
While Hobbs has been great, the Raiders wouldn’t be 3-0 right now if the outside cornerbacks weren’t playing well. Hayward has been to multiple Pro Bowls but is 32-years-old. Despite his age, he’s been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s been getting most of the recognition for his success but he made sure to give praise to the other starting cornerback Mullen, who made a big stop in overtime against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
“He answered the call all game,” Hayward said of Mullen Sunday. “He’s one of those guys that I think can be elite. I think he played elite today. … He’s taking that step that you should take in Year 3. … He likes the pressure on him. So, each and every week me and him talk and we’re like, ‘Let’s be the best out there today.’ It might not happen, but that’s our goal.”