Raiders mailbag: Carrie, Hayden will fight for nickel CB spot


Raiders mailbag: Carrie, Hayden will fight for nickel CB spot

The Raiders' starting lineup is largely set heading towards training camp. That’s a relatively new phenomenon after years with lackluster talent left jobs open and fingers crossed young players would exceed expectations.

Quality exists at most starting spots, with one dominant force on top. This training camp will host a few key battles, including the nickel corner position.

That’s where we begin Saturday’s Raiders mailbag, with questions submitted via my Facebook page (@bairCSN):

Who do you think has the edge at slot corner Carrie or Hayden? (Riley Alltop)
Sean Smith and David Amerson seem set to start at outside cornerback, and should stay there in the nickel package.

DJ Hayden spent significant time working as the first-team slot cornerback during the offseason program, far more than other cornerback options. Head coach Jack Del Rio praised Hayden’s work this spring, saying he was excited about the former first-round pick’s development.

The Raiders declined to pick up his fifth-year option, making this a contract year for the University of Houston product still trying to gain traction at this level. The Raiders will give him an opportunity to earn a job, something he hasn’t done yet. He was given one before, but fell down the depth chart and was behind others to close out last year.

TJ Carrie, who started 14 games last year, is fighting for significant snaps as well. He has the physicality preferred in the slot, and experience operating in that unique role. He’ll have to take control of the No. 3 job over Hayden and Neiko Thorpe, who will re-join the fray after missing the OTAs and minicamp with injury.

This could be a battle waged all preseason for a key spot in a revamped secondary.

Who will win the KR/PR jobs? (Chris Parsley)
Special teams coordinator Brad Seely made it clear during minicamp that incumbents retain pole position in the quest to return kicks and punts. That makes Taiwan Jones and TJ Carrie your leaders heading into training camp.

There are other options, however, to be examined during the preseason. One is undrafted receiver/return man Joe Hansley, an undrafted free agent who impressed during the offseason program. Fifth-round running back DeAndre Washington is experienced and willing returning kicks. Jaydon Mickens and Antonio Hamilton are also prospects for key special teams spots.

The Raiders haven’t had fearsome returners in some time despite efforts to fortify that aspect of special teams, and while new guys are getting a shot, it’s highly likely Jones and Carrie get another crack at major return roles.

I was a bit surprised at the Jihad Ward pick but this guy looks like a freak of nature. Is it too soon to get on the hype train? (Thaddeus Hudson)
The Raiders have left fans scratching heads after their last two second-round picks, using selections on physically-gifted defensive linemen without much college production. Last year they took Mario Edwards Jr. a draft pick that looks pretty smart with Edwards healthy and dangerous attacking inside and out.

Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward could follow Edward’s path, and certainly looked good in the offseason program. A word of caution: These OTAs were conducted without pads or heavy contact. While Ward looked surprisingly agile for a man so large, true football must be played to fully evaluate Ward.

He has been running with the first team and should get a real opportunity to contribute at least on a rotational basis with Edwards Jr. and Denico Autry at the defensive end spot flanked by edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

Is it 9 wins or bust this year for JDR? (Colin Mehigan)
The Raiders are entering new territory after playing four wins better in 2015 and improving the roster with productive offseason. After a decade plus spent at 8-8 or worse, .500 is a new baseline for success. Expectations are far higher, and many national pundits consider the Raiders realistic contenders to win the AFC West.

Del Rio should be comfortable in the captain’s chair after changing the culture in his first season, but the pressure is on to keep the Raiders on a winning track. He has the talent required to do so, armed with a hulking offensive line, firepower at the skill spots and a defense with sharp fangs. The Raiders have the talent required to win nine games. Can they perform well in the clutch and close out games they should win. That will be key to reaching lofty goals while giving fans something to cheer.

Raiders sign first-round draft pick Johnathan Abram to four-year contract


Raiders sign first-round draft pick Johnathan Abram to four-year contract

The Raiders are getting some business done before summer vacation truly starts. The Silver and Black signed a third member of their NFL draft class late Tuesday afternoon when No. 27 overall pick Johnathan Abram inked his rookie contract.

No. 4 selection Clelin Ferrell and No. 40 pick Trayvon Mullen signed earlier in the day.

No. 24 overall pick Josh Jacobs is the only Raiders draftee that remains unsigned, and it’s certainly possible his deal gets done before rookies formally leave on summer vacation later this week. They stayed an extra week after the offseason program’s end to work with the strength staff and player engagement department on off-the-field education common to all first-year NFL players.

Abram was slotted to receive a contract worth $11.45 million over four years that includes $6.380 million in a signing bonus. There’s also a fifth-year team option available that is standard for all first-round picks.

[RELATED: AB setting new standard for all Raiders during offseason program]

The Raiders selected Abram with the first-round pick the Dallas Cowboys gave up for Amari Cooper. Abram impressed during the offseason program and joined the first unit during the final week of OTAs. He was there again in minicamp, and a solid training camp could lock him into a starting safety spot right away.

Trayvon Mullen, Raiders' second-round draft pick, signs four-year contract

Trayvon Mullen, Raiders' second-round draft pick, signs four-year contract

The Raiders offseason program ended Wednesday, but rookies stick around another week-plus to work with the strength staff and player engagement folks, who go over off-the-field insights that used to be covered during the rookie symposium.

That means they’re still around to sign contracts. The Raiders inked their second-round pick Trayvon Mullen to a four-year contract on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after announcing a completed deal for No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell.

Mullen was taken at No. 40, slotting into a four-year contract worth $7.25 million. It comes with a $3.29 million signing bonus.

That’s two former Clemson Tigers signed the same day. The Raiders drafted a third, but fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow was locked up weeks ago.

Mullen worked primarily with the second unit, at outside cornerback, during the offseason program. He joins a competitive position group led by Gareon Conley. Daryl Worley is another presumptive starter, though Nevin Lawson and Mullen will have an opportunity to push for significant snaps in 2019.

“I feel like you’re getting someone who could potentially be a lockdown corner in this league,” Ferrell said back in May. “He has every athletic skill set that you need in a corner, and obviously has that competitive mindset. That’s the biggest thing, you can have all the ability, but are you a competitor? That’s the thing he definitely has.”

[RELATED: Guenther believes Ferrell perfectly fits Raiders' scheme]

No. 24 overall pick Josh Jacobs and No. 27 selection Johnathan Abram are the only 2019 draft picks who haven’t signed contracts. That could easily happen this week, while rookies are still in town.

Issues aren’t expected with either deal, and could be signed before the full squad reports to Raiders training camp on July 26.