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Oakland Raiders Position Review: Cornerbacks

Posted Feb 13, 2017

With the offseason underway, Raiders.com takes a look at the roster, and breaks down each position.

MORE POSITION REVIEWS: Quarterbacks, Safeties, Running Backs

Overview: David Amerson was an aberration in 2015. After being waived by the Washington Redskins, and subsequently joining the Oakland Raiders in the early stages of the regular season, Amerson was arguably the best cover cornerback in the NFL last year. He finished the season with 27 passes defensed and four interceptions, but it became clear that the Silver and Black still needed another cornerback to pair with him heading into the 2016 season.

Enter Sean Smith.

General Manager Reggie McKenzie was aggressive in free agency last offseason, signing the physical, veteran cornerback away from the Kansas City Chiefs to pair with Amerson in the base defense, and while Smith didn’t have the smoothest start to his tenure in Silver and Black, No. 21 ended up putting together a pretty strong season, starting all 15 games he appeared in, finishing the year with 12 passes defensed and a pair of interceptions.

While the group did give up a fair amount of yards through the air – 257.5 per game to be exact – the cornerbacks did find a way, particularly as the season wore on, to buckle down in the big moments of the game, and make life difficult for the opposing offense.

That being said, being ranked No. 24 against the pass is something that Head Coach Jack Del Rio will no doubt want to address heading into 2017.

By The Numbers: David Amerson was tied for the team lead with 14 passes defensed in 2016. Counting his 26 passes defensed from 2015, Amerson now has 36 total since joining the Silver and Black.

Going Forward: As far as the base defense is concerned, there likely won’t be too much personnel turnover on the outside for the Raiders headed into 2017. Sean Smith is under contract for 2017 and beyond, and David Amerson inked a four-year extension with the organization prior to the start of the 2016 season.

TJ Carrie – who ended up playing in all 16 games, making three starts last year – is also under contract heading into 2017, as are Antonio Hamilton, and Dexter McDonald.

Interestingly enough, the only player in the position group headed towards free agency next month is the longest-tenured cornerback on the team, DJ Hayden.

The Raiders selected Hayden in the first round (No. 12 overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft, and after a tumultuous few seasons to start his career, the former Houston Cougar really found a home in 2016 serving as the team’s primary nickel cornerback.

Hayden was placed on the Reserve/Injured List Dec. 3, but before his season was ended prematurely because of injury, he had tallied 34 tackles, six passes defensed, a forced fumble, and had made two starts for the Silver and Black.

Last season was no doubt No. 25’s best as a professional, so it will be interesting to see what happens with him once the new league starts.

In addition to any possible changes that will occur on the roster, the Raiders cornerbacks will also be led by a new position coach, as former defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson has now taken a job with the Denver Broncos.

Standout Performer: No surprise here, but I’m going to go with David Amerson.

While the rangy cornerback did see a dip in his passes defensed from 26 to 14 in 2016, Amerson was still tied for the team lead in that metric with safety Reggie Nelson, and his two interceptions also tied for second on the team.

There’s no question that Amerson’s 2016 stats aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as his numbers his first year as a Raider, but for a vast majority of the season he supplied sticky coverage, and he and Smith grew more comfortable playing with each other as the season wore on.