Facing elite competition has never been a big deal to Raiders cornerback Keisean Nixon; it's something he's done since he was a kid.
Growing up in Southern California, Nixon went toe-to-toe with guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster, John Ross, and Robert Woods before they became receiving threats in the NFL. The difference between them, though, is the fact the receivers were all top-100 picks in the NFL Draft, while Nixon went undrafted in 2019.
Despite never hearing his name called, or walking across the stage in Nashville, Nixon remained confident and knew his intense level of competition would get him a shot somewhere.
"Since I was little, grew up playing against top dudes like JuJu Smith [Schuster], John Ross," Nixon said Sunday. "Grew up playing against dudes like that, so the competition level has always been there.
Before he reached the doors of 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway, Nixon played football at a community college in Arizona called Arizona Western College. Nixon worked quietly in the shadows unfazed by the fact he wasn't at a D-1 school – knowing that he would have an opportunity soon enough – it was just a pitstop on his journey to the NFL. Snoop Dogg's nephew – yes, they're related – would indeed receive an offer from a D-1 school, the University of South Carolina.
From training against future NFL stars in Southern California, to a brief stint in Arizona, Nixon found himself facing elite talent in the SEC at South Carolina. During his two years there he totaled 71 tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defensed, and one fumble recovery. A neck injury in his final game of 2018 derailed his NFL Draft dreams, but he knew that as long as he got a shot somewhere he'd make the most of it.
"I actually had got a neck injury the last game of the season, so I kind of knew how it was going to play out," Nixon shared. "After that I wasn't really focused on the draft, I was focused on getting on a team and just doing what I've been doing now, which is maintaining and growing."
Fast forward six months, and Nixon has been one of the most impressive players on the Raiders' 90-man roster through rookie minicamp, OTAs, training camp, and the preseason.
We see it happen every year, an undrafted rookie fights his way on the 90-man roster and then impresses during training camp. He follows up an impressive camp with stellar performances in the preseason, and one of the players following that formula happens to be Keisean Nixon.
Through three preseason matches, Nixon has been a standout, totaling eight tackles and two passes defensed. When he's been on the field, he's locked down opposing wide receivers, and according to Pro Football Focus has been one of the best defenders in the preseason.
At the end of the day, the PFF statistics don't necessarily matter, but having the support of your head coach does.
"Well, if you've studied the film, you'll see what we see. He's made more plays than any of our corners," Gruden said to the media. "He's playing extremely well. He's confident. I mean, he's had a lot of ball production and he's also been a factor on special teams, so we are really pleased with Nixon."
It's not every day your head coach gives you some shine in the public eye, and while Nixon appreciates the compliment, it only means one thing.
Nixon knows his spot on the roster isn't guaranteed, but through three games he's put his best foot forward to put himself in a position to crack the 53. With one final preseason matchup to go, the SoCal native will try to remain a strong contender in the cornerbacks room.
Let's take a look at the current 90-man roster as players arrive in Napa for 2019 Training Camp.