The Raiders’ secondary group produced an up and down 2020 season. If they prioritize cornerback and safety this offseason, which free agents fit the team best?
The Las Vegas Raiders named Gus Bradley their new defensive coordinator on Tuesday after going through several interviews with possible candidates. Now that coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have nailed down their man to call the shots for the team’s defense, their focus will shift towards determining which players on the current roster they’ll keep for the future, and which assets they want to pursue in the form of free agency. One area to look at is how the Raiders’ secondary can improve at cornerback and safety.
The Raiders allowed 263.3 passing yards per game — the seventh-worst in the NFL. The Raiders’ secondary isn’t the only issue among their defensive unit — they need assistance at nearly every level of the defense. However, the secondary is the position group they remain the youngest, and it’s evident they need additional experience in that area.
Adding proven veterans who can be plugged into the starting role is a methodology the Raiders should look at in free agency to sure up the backend. Ultimately, they can’t get much younger among their starting players within their secondary. Often times, youth is followed by growing pains. Plus, the Raiders have dealt with plenty of that over the last few seasons. Pursuing bonafide starters at safety and cornerback makes the most sense based on how the Raiders roster is currently constructed.
Here’s an early look at a few cornerbacks and safeties the Raiders could look at in free agency:
Possible Free Agent Safety Targets
After selecting Jonathan Abram in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and pairing him with veterans Erik Harris and Jeff Heath, safety was arguably the Raiders’ worst position group in 2020. Harris and Heath are both pending free agents this offseason. Based on their underachieving play, the team is likely to go another direction to upgrade the position.
S Marcus Maye
With youth littered through the secondary, the Raiders need plug-and-play defenders patrolling the backend. Safety Marcus Maye has a strong resumé that indicates his qualities would fit with the Raiders.
Not only has Maye played free safety throughout his career, which ideally would compliment strong safety Jonathan Abram, but he can serve several roles on defense. According to PFF, Maye has taken at least 400 snaps at free safety, 200 snaps in the box and 125 snaps at slot corner over the last two seasons. Maye is coming off a season in which he forced four turnovers. Given that the Raiders only recorded 15 takeaways in 2020, Maye should be an intriguing target.
S John Johnson III
Safety John Johnson III has emerged as one of the better coverage safeties in the NFL. Johnson had a monster sophomore campaign with the Rams in 2018, but followed it up with an injury-plagued 2019 season, playing six games. Durability questions were brought to the forefront of Johnson’s body of work given his slender frame but he answered those uncertainties with an impressive 2020 season on the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense.
With Abram being at his best while playing against the run or lining up in the box, a roaming safety is exactly what the Raiders’ secondary needs. Johnson’s greatest contribution is being in coverage, which is an area the Raiders need improvements in. Since Week 7, PFF has awarded Johnson with an 84.9 defensive grade — the third-highest graded safety.
Possible Free Agent Cornerback Targets
Similar to safety, the Raiders’ starting cornerbacks are also fairly young. They do possess Lamarcus Joyner at slot cornerback, but his contract could be one the Raiders choose to move on from while eating a minimal dead cap figure.
CB Ronald Darby
The sixth-year cornerback Ronald Darby has been productive in each of his three stops along the way. Darby bet on himself, taking a one-year deal with the Washington Football Team last offseason. Ultimately, his stock has improved greatly after posting a 54.1% completion percentage when targeted. To put things in perspective, that is 7.5% better than any cornerback the Raiders used in 2020.
Darby has played most of the snaps over his career as the outside cornerback. However, he did lineup at slot cornerback 40 times last year in a limited capacity. A selling point for pursuing Darby is he’s thrived in many different defensive schemes. Therefore, making the switch once more should be a rather smoother transition over some of the other free agent options.
CB K’Waun Williams
In a league where having a quality slot cornerback has never been so prevalent, K’Waun Williams fills that role appropriately. Over the last two seasons, Williams has given up just one touchdown while seeing 99 targets. He sustained a high-ankle sprain that hindered most of his 2020 season, but when healthy, he’s a superior slot cornerback.
This season was the first time Williams has missed an abundance amount of time over his six years in the league. Given that he wasn’t able to stay on the field, his free agent market could dry up and offer a relatively team-friendly deal. If Willams gets back to his true form, he’s a great tool to have, working the middle of the field at a high level.