Perhaps the biggest story that nobody is talking about in the NFL right now is how well the Las Vegas Raiders defense has been playing. Through two games, the team has forced three turnovers and notched five sacks. Multiple players have been making plays and there have been few of the big mental errors that consistently plagued the Raiders for years.
One player who was part of the struggling units of years past was cornerback Nevin Lawson. With the team moving on from LaMarcus Joyner in the offseason, there was a competition to replace him at nickel cornerback in training camp. Lawson was the early favorite despite having mostly played on the outside through his career.
Unfortunately for him, rookie fifth-round pick Nate Hobbs had an excellent offseason and Lawson was suspended for the first two games. Hobbs has played well to start the season so there wasn’t much of a need for the veteran. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Raiders are releasing Lawson as he wraps up his suspension.
As Rapoport pointed out, Lawson will be a favorite to return to the practice squad. That would be wise as he’s still a solid cornerback with a ton of experience. They should be able to bring him back soon heading into Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins.
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Hobbs Grades Well in Week 2
With Hobbs playing in the slot against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was tasked with mostly covering former Pro Bowl wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. The veteran had 97 receptions last year and is Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target. Despite the tough draw, Hobbs played well. Per Pro Football Focus, the rookie cornerback was the fourth-highest graded rookie in Week 2 with a grade of 78.1.
There’s still room to grow for Hobbs but he’s showed off great ability to tackle in the open field and will get chances to make plays throughout the season. Now that Lawson is getting cut, Hobbs owns the nickel cornerback spot for the feasible future. That’s a quick rise for a fifth-round pick fresh out of college.
Raiders Have ‘Different Mindset’
Never underestimate what a change in scheme can mean for an entire defense. Despite what many believed prior to the season, the Raiders’ defense did have talent. It’s littered with first and second-round picks. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is the polar opposite of Paul Guenther, who coached the unit over the last three years.
His scheme is simple and is about talented players making plays without overthinking. That change in approach has worked out well over two weeks as the Raiders are 2-0, much in part due to the defense stepping up. Cornerback Trayvon Mullen believes there is something different about the defense this season.
“It’s just a different mindset around the whole building. With the defensive guys, you can just feel the different energy,” Mullen said after Sunday’s game.
It’s early in the season so the defense can’t be crowned with anything yet. That said, if the defense can be a respectable unit while the offense continues to be elite, the Raiders will be in the playoffs this year.