2019 Position Battle: Cornerbacks

MORE POSITION BATTLES: Quarterbacks

After taking a look at the Oakland Raiders signal callers earlier this week, today we take stock of the cornerbacks on the Silver and Black’s roster, and with seven – yes, seven ­– new corners on Paul Guenther’s defense, the team’s secondary will look drastically different than it did just a season ago.

After quality 2018 campaigns, both Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley are once again back in the mix, but excluding them – and second-year DB Nick Nelson – the rest of the pieces that make up that group are all new ones.

Nevin Lawson headlined the crop of cornerbacks added this offseason during free agency, but Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden weren’t done there as the duo selected Trayvon Mullen and Isaiah Johnson in the second and fourth round respectively of this year’s draft.

We know what we’re going to get out of Conley and Worley, but the rest of the group presents some intriguing possibilities. That said, let’s take a look at the guys you should be watching during training camp.

Familiar faces:

Gareon Conley

Nick Nelson

Daryl Worley

New guys:

Isaiah Johnson

D.J. Killings

Isaiah Langley

Nevin Lawson

Dylan Mabin

Trayvon Mullen

Keisean Nixon

Battle to watch:

EP: Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley against, well, everybody.

Now I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but I really don’t mean it to be – all I’m saying is that we’ve seemingly locked in Conley and Worley as the team’s base cornerbacks, and I’m curious if anyone will push them for those roles in training camp.

Now, do I think that anyone will rise up in Napa, and steal one of those two jobs? Nope, I don’t, and that’s no shot against anyone on the roster either, Conley and Worley just showed last year that they’re more than capable of anchoring the outside of a defense.

In what was essentially his rookie season – remember that the former Ohio State Buckeye played in just two games in 2017 – Conley led the Raiders defense with an impressive 15 passes defensed, and was also tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

Worley, meanwhile, once he was inserted into the starting lineup, showed week after week that he’s a quality defensive back in the NFL, and another year in Paul Guenther’s scheme will only increase what he’s capable of doing.

Like I said, I firmly expect Conley and Worley to line up as the base corners on September 9 when the Raiders open the regular season against the Denver Broncos, but seeing the guys behind them fight for time will be a worthwhile battle to watch throughout the team’s time in Napa.

Previewing the Oakland Raiders cornerbacks heading into 2019 Training Camp. Draft selections Trayvon Mullen and Isaiah Johnson join the Silver and Black's secondary.

KM: It’s going to be a battle of the rookies in my opinion, between Isaiah Johnson and Trayvon Mullen. The two will have their fair share of competition; as Eddie pointed out, Conley and Worley all but have the starting jobs locked up, however, that doesn’t mean they can’t be supplanted.

I think Mullen has the best chance of ascending to the top half of the depth chart, but he’ll have to string together some quality performances during training camp and the preseason. The College Football Champion totaled 93 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions, and seven passes defensed during his time as a Clemson Tiger. His rangy, quick skill set will suit Guenther’s defense nicely, and as a second-round pick a lot of people expect him to become an NFL starter someday; whether that’s this year or in the near future, who knows, but he’ll be in line to compete for some quality minutes.

Storyline to follow:

EP: Who’s going to be the team’s primary nickel cornerback in 2019?

Veteran safety Lamarcus Joyner is a likely choice to get the nod – more on him in an upcoming Position Battle – but with so many new faces in the secondary, I wonder if anyone else gives him a run for his money in securing that role.

One player in particular who I’ll have my eye on is Nick Nelson.

After a rookie year where he appeared in 10 games, the former Wisconsin Badger is an intriguing player that I’m excited to watch grow in 2019.

We talk so much about the jump that young players make from Year One to Year Two, and Nelson is one of the myriad second-year Raiders I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing take that step in 2019.

Will it be enough to unseat Joyner in the nickel? Only time will tell.

KM: Truth bet told, Eddie took my storyline, so I’ll just double up.

Lamarcus Joyner has to be one of – if not the most – versatile player in Paul Guenther’s defense, and he’ll bring a wealth of leadership and experience to the defensive backs unit as a whole. Coach Gruden has gone on record saying that Joyner’s style reminds him a lot of Ronde Barber in terms of his versatility, and it’s something Joyner doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s a big honor to be compared to that guy,” Joyner told the media in early-June. “At the end of the day, I have to live up to it. So, it’s a great compliment. It gives me an edge, a sense of love and gives me the opportunity to work towards that, because he’s a great player.”

He might be a safety, but Joyner’s role is much bigger than that. He’ll be tasked with playing a lot of slot corner, and it’s a challenge he’s eager to embrace.

“I wholeheartedly believe that the slot is the hardest position on the field, Joyner explained. “You especially have to play the run game, the pass game, so just having a guy with the ability and the mental aspect of the game to be able to handle those challenges.”

Just how much Joyner plays there remains to be seen, and with Nick Nelson entering his second season as primarily positioned nickel corner, we’ll see how Guenther decides to use the two.

Keep an eye on….

EP: I’m going with Trayvon Mullen for this one.

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock selected the athletic defensive back from Clemson in the second round (No. 40 overall) of this year’s NFL Draft, and I think he’s a dude who could turn some heads when the team touches down in Napa.

We talk about the “eye test” all the time, and standing at 6’2”, tipping the scales just under 200 pounds, Mullen certainly looks the part of an NFL defensive back.

That said, looking the part, and then actually locking down some of the best wide receivers on the planet are two very different things, but regardless, I’ll have a keen eye on No. 27 throughout his rookie training camp.

We saw last year that you can never have too many quality DBs on the roster; let’s see if Mullen can turn into just that for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

KM: The Raiders drafted Nick Nelson two years ago in the fourth-round of the 2018 NFL Draft, knowing that he would take some time to recover from a knee injury he suffered while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The injury caused Nelson to miss Training Camp and the beginning of the 2018 campaign, but was still able to play in 10 games, and start in three.

The experience was good for Nelson, but I think having a full offseason to be healthy will do wonders for the second-year corner. Nelson totaled one pass defensed, one fumble recovery, and 20 tackles last season, and I expect him to build on those number. Realistically, he would make the most sense playing nickel, but with Lamarcus Joyner in the fold it’ll be interesting what Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther does with the 22 year old.

Question you want answered by the end of training camp:

EP: Outside of Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley, do the Silver and Black have another legitimate stud cornerback? With the way the NFL is currently constructed, good defenses need to be at least three or four deep on the outside, so I want to see if the Raiders are capable of getting in that mix.

KM: Which cornerbacks establish roles on special teams?

I think the player that makes an impact in Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia’s unit is rookie cornerback Isaiah Johnson. The University of Houston Product has a lot of speed, registering a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine.

I could also see Trayvon Mullen getting in the mix, but one of the rookies is going to step up and establish a role on special teams, it’s just a matter of who.

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