There are few positions in football that have more flair and charisma than the cornerback; whether they're celebrating a pass breakup or flaunting their boisterous personality, they are incredibly fun to watch.
While the Raiders don't necessarily possess the most outspoken cornerbacks in the league, the unit certainly offers some pizzazz. The Silver and Black took another step forward this year in terms of finding their starting corners of the future; let's break down who and why.
The cornerback group has grown over the last couple of years in terms of talent and skill. It was once bogged down by aging talent and a hefty culmination of paychecks, but since Head Coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther arrived it's taken a turn for the better.
The Raiders welcomed practically an entirely new group into the fold this year, drafting Trayvon Mullen and Isaiah Johnson in the 2019 NFL Draft, and signing guys like Nevin Lawson, Lamarcus Joyner, and Keisean Nixon (undrafted free agent) during the offseason. The new faces joined forces with Daryl Worley – who was coming off an excellent first year in Silver and Black – and former first-round pick Gareon Conley.
It became clear as time passed in the regular season that the coaching staff needed to give some of the team's new additions a bigger opportunity to show what they've got, which meant somebody needed to go.
Entering Week 8 of the regular season, the Raiders shipped Conley to the Houston Texans for a third-round pick, which opened the door for rookie Trayvon Mullen. The former Clemson Tiger took his lumps early on, as any rookie does, but by the end of the year had grown into an every-down cornerback, and one of the bright spots on the Raiders' defense.
Mullen wasn't the only player that grew exponentially this year, as Daryl Worley was asked to fill in at myriad positions. Worley has spent the majority of his career playing cornerback, but with several injuries throughout the 2019 campaign, the coaching staff asked him to become more versatile, and he did so with a smile on his face. Worley played cornerback, nickel, and safety this year, showing his immense upside and ability to adapt.
Going forward, one would expect the Raiders to feature Worley — depending on whether the team re-signs him — and Mullen as their starting base corners, and they've proven they're deserving of that role.
Number to Know:
Trayvon Mullen in his rookie season batted down 10 passes, which ranks 41st among all cornerbacks and defensive backs in the league this year. While he played in all 16 games, Mullen only started in 10 of them, so it'll be interesting to see whether that number rises in 2020.
Nevin Lawson — Unrestricted Free Agent
Daryl Worley — Unrestricted Free Agent
Makinton Dorleant — Exclusive-Rights Free Agent
D.J. Killings — Exclusive-Rights Free Agent
Trayvon Mullen — Under Contract
Isaiah Johnson — Under Contract
Keisean Nixon — Under Contract
As I mentioned at the top of the article, the Raiders found something in the Worley-Mullen pairing, but whether the team will re-sign Worley remains to be seen. The versatile cornerback can do it all and I imagine it's the team's hope to retain him, given the right price.
The Raiders have a handful of cornerbacks who are young and eager to grow into bigger roles — I'm looking at you, Isaiah Johnson and Keisean Nixon. The rookie duo of Johnson and Nixon were featured quite a bit on special teams and they made some impressive plays when given the opportunity.
Position Group MVP:
I want to give this to Trayvon because when he earned the starting job there was a noticeable shift in the secondary, but I'm going to give this award to Worley by default.
No one did more for the Raiders secondary than Daryl Worley in terms of going above and beyond his job description to help the team succeed. From stepping outside of his comfort zone to play multiple positions, or just holding it down at the cornerback spot, Worley made strides in 2019 and has established himself as a veteran leader in the position group.