Trayvon Mullen becoming shutdown corner as Raiders push for playoffs


Trayvon Mullen becoming shutdown corner as Raiders push for playoffs

ALAMEDA -- "I know the type of player I am. How good I am." 

Those were the words of Trayvon Mullen after Emmanuel Sanders, then with the Denver Broncos, gave the rookie a crash course during his NFL debut in Week 1 when Mullen surrendered three catches and a touchdown in the Raiders' win at the Coliseum. 

The Clemson product was given the starting job in Week 8 after the Raiders traded Gareon Conley, and he has rewarded coach Jon Gruden's faith in him. The talent was undeniable with Mullen. Turn on the film and you'd see that. But growing pains are expected at the NFL level. 

Most thought Mullen would be picked on during his first outing as a starter in Week 8 against the Texans. Former college teammate Deshaun Watson knew better, as Mullen rarely was targeted and dropped a pick-six during the first quarter. 

Mullen has looked more and more like a lockdown corner each week, and he put it all together in the Raiders' Week 11 win over the Bengals. He gave up four receptions, but also had a pass break up, the game-clinching interception and a 91.7 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus which led all cornerbacks who played at least 50 percent of his team's snaps in Week 11. 

The 22-year-old's dominance comes from a comfort standpoint he has both within defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's scheme and in his own elite abilities. 

"It's just going out there playing aggressive," Mullen told NBC Sports Bay Area after the Week 11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. "Knowing our defense, what I can do and what I cannot do. I think that's the best. You can just go out there and play free once you know what to do."

Trading Conley shocked some. He was a first-round pick with a ton of talent, and it might have felt early for the Raiders to give up on him. It is clear now that Mullen's talent and work ethic might have forced the Raiders' hand. 

Back in training camp, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock claimed Mullen would be competing for a starting spot. It seemed like an odd claim, considering the Raiders already had Conley and Daryl Worley and that cornerbacks rarely come off the field. 

One week into camp it was clear Mullen, who the Raiders were giddy to draft with the No. 40 overall pick this spring, was the real deal. He has elite coverage skills, plays the run game well, is a good tackler and understands what he's supposed to do inside the defensive scheme. 

"He's done a really great job for us," Guenther said this week. "It's been a great move. He's looked good in the practice field, he's done good in the games. He's got a couple technique things to clean up. He's on his guy and that's all you can ask for. He's been tackling in the run game, he understands the run game and it's not too big for him. He played in a lot of big games at Clemson, so he's going to be a great player for years to come."

When the Raiders made the move to open the door for Mullen to shine, they were 3-3 and on the fringe of the playoff picture. They now sit at 6-4 after winning three straight games, capped off by Mullen's game-clinching interception against the Bengals. 

The games will mean more now, as the Raiders turn their attention to clinching their second playoff berth since 2002. Some teams might worry about having a rookie cornerback in the big games down the stretch. That won't concern the Raiders with Mullen. He lived in a fishbowl of big games at Clemson and notched a key interception of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the Tigers' 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game win. 

Mullen is ready for the bright lights. He is making the most of the opportunity given to him, showing the shutdown ability many believed he had. He has become one of the standouts of a rookie class that has been one of the best in recent NFL history. A rookie class with big dreams for the Silver and Black. 

[RELATED: Jacobs setting lofty standards amid stellar rookie season]

More tests await and Mullen still has some growing to do in the NFL. Rent is due every day to be great in the NFL and he comes to work with his checkbook in hand.

"I'm just going to continue to get better, each and every week," Mullen said. "I'm going to take advantage of my opportunities and when it's my time, I'm going to make plays."

Mullen has starred on every field he has ever stepped on. It appears the NFL will be no different. 

Raiders' Jon Gruden excited for Nelson Agholor despite reputation

Raiders' Jon Gruden excited for Nelson Agholor despite reputation

Nelson Agholor developed a bit of a reputation during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. The wideout was drafted No. 20 overall back in the 2015 NFL Draft, but never quite lived up to that first-round billing. His propensity for dropped passes in critical moments became a major point of contention for Eagles fans, including one who just had saved children from a burning building.

But coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders aren't concerned about Agholor's previous exploits, and are excited to see what he can do with the Silver and Black.

“He is a good player,” Gruden told The Athletic's Vic Tafur. “You can pick up the Philadelphia Inquirer and they will probably say something different, but this guy has caught over 200 passes, he is a young guy, he has played split end, flanker and in the slot. He caught eight or nine passes in a Super Bowl and won a Super Bowl. So he’s a world champion. He’s a great person … and he can return punts."

[RELATED: Raiders' Jacobs has lofty receiving goal for second season]

The USC product put together two decent seasons in 2017-18 after a slow start to his NFL career, topping 700 receiving yards in each and twice ending up with a catch rate above 65 percent.

But Agholor also battled through injuries during his time in Philadelphia, and after a 2019 season that saw little success from the entire Eagles receiving corps, the 27-year-old joined the Raiders this offseason.

In addition to Agholor, Las Vegas selected pass catchers with three of the team's first four 2020 draft picks. Along with 2019 free agency signing Tyrell Williams and breakout tight end Darren Waller, quarterback Derek Carr has a plethora of weapons to work with for the organization's debut season in Sin City.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Raiders' Jon Gruden denies coronavirus prank, details camp priorities


Raiders' Jon Gruden denies coronavirus prank, details camp priorities

It was reported last week by NFL Network that Jon Gruden had an assistant coach trick Raiders players into thinking Gruden had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Gruden is denying the allegations, and emphasizing he understands that COVID-19 is no laughing matter.

“There was a (report) I faked the virus, which is totally untrue,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I take this as serious as anyone.”

As the first training camp for the Raiders in Las Vegas gets underway, the coaching staff has three priorities for this unprecedented 2020 preseason.

Read more at the Las Vegas Review-Journal