With last week’s Damarious Randall release, the Las Vegas Raiders secondary doubled-down on its young talent and put its faith in new faces and returning veterans to lead the way.
Over the past 3 seasons, the Raiders secondary has struggled immensely. Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock did enough this offseason to make this group one of the most competitive position groups in camp. That resulted in some fan favorites and veterans getting the ax as the Raiders 53 man roster emerged on Saturday.
So who made the cut and what can we expect? We take a closer look at the Raiders secondary ahead of Sunday’s Week 1 game at Carolina.
Trayvon Mullen – Cornerback
in 2019, the Raiders jettison former first-round draft pick Gareon Conley at the trade deadline. This opened up an opportunity for Clemson rookie Trayvon Mullen. Quite frankly, he didn’t disappoint. Mullen instantly became a lockdown caliber corner. He moves his feet extremely well and is physical at the line of scrimmage. The Raiders are excited to have him back as their top corner – he’s a perfect fit for Paul Guenther.
Damon Arnette – CB
The struggles last year were in large part due to the struggles at the second cornerback position. Mayock made a splash in the 2020 draft by selecting what many consider a reach in Damon Arnette. However, Mayock said Arnette had a strong camp, and he is “exactly what we thought he’d be off tape.” The rookie corner can stabilize the position for the Raiders, something they haven’t had in years, two lockdown corners. That’s new territory for this Raiders secondary.
Amik Robertson – CB
Another 2020 draft pick, Amik Robertson has impressed in camp but does have a bit of a learning curve to see more playing time. The 5-foot-8 cornerback was selected in the fourth round and looks to play a major role for the Las Vegas Raiders secondary in 2020. The Raiders struggled at the nickel corner position last season, even though they gave a hefty contract to Lamarcus Joyner. Robertson looks to push Joyner for snaps inside, and hopefully lock down the position next year.
Lamarcus Joyner – CB/S
The Raiders starting slot corner, earned an atrocious 47.5 Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade in 2019. Another year in Paul Guenther’s system may help the veteran or a switch to his natural position as the Raiders secondary looks for help at safety. As mentioned above, Robertson should push the Raiders’ eldest corner.
Keisan Nixon – CB
Nixon a 2019 undrafted free agent out of South Carolina, has made the roster for the second season in a row. A draft Twitter favorite, with raw intangibles, Nixon should play a bigger role in the Raiders secondary in 2020. The Raiders kept him over veteran big-name corner Prince Amukamara, which should give him a boost of confidence going into the season. He will be the primary backup to Mullen and Arnette at this point.
Isaiah Johnson – CB
Gruden and Mayock had high hopes for the 4th round pick out of Utah last season. However, injuries derailed his rookie season. Johnson is in line to be a backup on the outside for the Raiders and should see a decent amount of snaps at that spot. He has the size and intangibles to fit what Guenther has liked to do with his corners historically and in the Raiders secondary since his arrival.
Erik Harris – S
The Raiders signed Damarious Randall and fans assumed it meant a lesser role for Erik Harris. According to GM Mike Mayock, Harris is “underrated and doesn’t get the respect he deserves.” Expect Harris to be one of the starting safeties for this Raider team, and his leadership and the continued story of hard work and constant improvement serve as a great example to his teammates..
Dallin Leavitt – S
Leavitt, a Gruden Grinder by every sense of the definition, surprised fans for the 2nd offseason in a row. Leavitt is a core special teams contributor and that shouldn’t go overlooked. The Raiders are going to be in a ton of close games in 2020, with a difficult schedule, special teams could be the deciding factor.
Johnathan Abram – S
Perhaps the most intriguing defensive back on the roster, Abram played just one quarter in one game last season. In the game versus Denver, he gave a glimpse of what the future holds by laying the lumber and showing off his aggressive style. The Raiders have extremely high hopes that he can be the anchor of the defense at the safety position. The key for him is staying healthy as he recently said, is playing safer, smarter and more measured. For this Raiders secondary to have a very good 2020, Abram must realize his full potential.
Jeff Heath – S
The Raiders gave Jeff Heath a 2-year deal early in free agency. The veteran safety, who spent most of his career with Dallas, is going to backup both safety positions and play a major role on the goal line. As with Leavitt, Heath offers some value on special teams, hence the reason he was kept over Randall.
Overall, the Raiders secondary returns five out of six defensive backs in their first or second seasons. This unit will take some lumps, but the athleticism and versatility this group offers has Gruden, Mayock and Guenther very excited. Fans should look at the progress made in the Raiders secondary and feel good about it – although until they get on the field, the sum total of the parts won’t be known until challenged.