Raiders

Raiders

The Raiders took great strides to improve a leaky defense in free agency.

After years of toiling in linebacker hell, the Silver and Black signed two, three-down linebackers in Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. They bulked up their defensive line by adding Maliek Collins and edge rusher Carl Nassib.

The secondary, however, remains an issue. Trayvon Mullen showed shutdown corner potential during his rookie season. The Raiders hope Johnathan Abram is a presence at safety. Lamarcus Joyner is locked in at slot corner. The Raiders wanted to bring in Eli Apple to compete for the second corner position, but the contract wasn't finalized. Jeff Heath and Erik Harris likely will compete for the second starting safety spot.

But the Raiders must continue to upgrade their secondary. They have two first-round draft picks -- No. 12 and No. 19 -- and likely will use one on either a corner or safety while the other is allocated to a wide receiver.

Ohio State's Jeff Okudah is the best cornerback in the class. He's a plug-and-play corner who would look great in silver and black. But he'll be long gone by the time the Raiders go on the clock. There still are a number of defensive backs for the Raiders to select to take their defense to the next level.

Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama

This is who Dalton Johnson and I have the Raiders selecting at No. 19 in our latest mock draft. McKinney is a versatile playmaker who would pair well with Abram in the backend.

 

The Alabama safety is a sure tackler with instinctive zone coverage skills and great disruptive ability at the point of the catch. While he's not considered a lockdown defender in man coverage, he does have the ability to be a pest.

He's a high-IQ player who projects as a three-down, plug-and-play defender at the NFL level. His versatility allows him to thrive as a deep safety in the deep third of the field in the nickel and as a blitzer who can key in on the run as well.

McKinney's skills make him the optimal defensive weapon to stop modern offenses.


C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida

The Raiders need a cornerback, that much is clear.

After Okudah, Henderson is the best cornerback in the class. He's got great man coverage skills and his long, wiry frame coupled with his eye discipline makes him a solid cover corner, but he has a tendency to have mental lapses, particularly when defending the run game.

He could be a good option at No. 19, but his deficiencies in the run game could hurt him.

Henderson is an elite athlete and can thrive as a press-man corner. His issues with tackling and lack of ball production have some analysts questioning him, but you'd rather have a guy who can stick with top receivers -- as Mullen can on the other side -- and miss a few tackles, than have a guy who is average in coverage but better at tackling. Wouldn't you?

Here's Henderson shadowing and sticking in the pocket of LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, the Biletnikoff Award winner.


Kristian Fulton, LSU

The next tier of cornerbacks stars with Fulton.

The LSU star went up against the best of the best in college football and thrived. When facing Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Tee Higgins, Fulton gave up just three catches for 39 yards and zero touchdowns on 11 targets.

 

Henderson might be seen as the next best cornerback after Okudah, but I love Fulton's game. The 6-foot, 200-pound cornerback has exceptional man coverage skills. He has great feet, fluid hips, exceptional awareness and physicality to eventually become a No. 1 corner in the NFL.

The thing that makes Fulton so special is his ability to handle big physical receivers as well as the faster, twitchier pass-catchers. He forced an incompletion on 37.5 percent of man coverage snaps during the last two seasons and was rated the most valuable defensive back in college football since 2018 by Pro Football Focus.

He has a lot of room for growth, but Fulton has all the potential to be a star.

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A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

An all-Clemson cornerback party in Las Vegas might be tough for general manager Mike Mayock to turn down.

Mullen's defensive backfield mate showed tremendous growth during his time in Death Valley. The 6-foot-1 corner is a terrific athlete with quick feet, fluid hips and a great ability to find consistent success in press coverage. Terrell had terrific success at baiting quarterbacks into throws in college, so he'll need to be a tad more cautious in the NFL. He's long, wiry and great at playing through the hands of the receivers.

The last time we saw Terrell he was getting abused by Chase in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Chase will be a top-five pick next year, so there's no reason for that to ding Terrell.

He'll need to work on his tackling and get a little stronger, but Terrell has all the tools and could pair nicely with Mullen.

[RELATED: Raiders go offense/defense in latest mock draft]

Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

One of the rising stars of the cornerback class, Gladney is a tough, physical cornerback who thrives in man coverage.

He doesn't get bullied by bigger wide receivers and is a willing tackler in the run game. Gladney's a tad short at 5-foot-10 and some change, but he makes up for it with his competitive tenacity and physicality.

His fast feet, smooth hips and route-mirroring ability make him an attractive option late in the first round.