The Raiders have worked hard to remake their secondary. They paid a premium to get Lamarcus Joyner in town to play safety and lots of slot cornerback. They re-signed restricted free agent Daryl Worley with a second-round tender, added unrestricted veteran Nevin Lawson and still drafted two cornerbacks in the first four rounds.
Trayvon Mullen was the first corner added in the draft, coming in the second round despite having depth at the position already. That should take some pressure off him to play right away, but he’ll still have a chance to compete for a role early on. Let’s take a look at what’s fair to expect from Mullen in 2019.
Also, stay tuned for Tuesday’s installment in this series, focused on fourth-round edge rusher Maxx Crosby.
Draft slot: No. 40 overall (Second round)
Weight: 199 pounds
Mullen a long, physical and aggressive cornerback who fits the Raiders' scheme well. They’re remaking the defensive depth chart largely through the draft, and had eyes on Mullen even earlier than when they picked him. Trading back a bit still landed a player comfortable playing press-man coverage on the outside. Mullen can do that well, and he has the size and frame well suited to thrive under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. He also can play off-man coverage and is comfortable in a zone when that’s required. He has solid quickness and good reaction time to close gaps when they open.
Training camp proving ground
Mullen doesn’t have much ball production, with just four interceptions and seven passes defensed in three Clemson seasons. There’s a reason why. He wasn’t targeted much. He’ll have to prove he belongs with more than just sticky coverage. He’ll get targeted in the pros, even in training camp and preseason games. That’s a good thing for Mullen, who must show consistent quality ball skills when given greater opportunities. While he isn’t expected to start right away, the Raiders will allow him to compete for a starting spot. An excellent preseason could force the Raiders to rethink early plans at cornerback.
The Raiders have presumptive starting cornerbacks in Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley. They have Navin Lawson as a third option, with extensive experience starting.
The Raiders have been true to their word that the best players play, pedigree or paycheck be damned. If Mullen earns a starting spot, their plans for the future start now.
He has the skill set to play well in the system, with confidence overflowing even at this early stage. The Raiders are looking for playmakers in the secondary who don’t get beat deep. Mullen could well be that guy, but he’d have to be awfully impressive to steal a significant role from those above him right now.
The Raiders would be comfortable if Mullen took some time to develop behind other, more experienced options. They’d be disappointed if he didn’t progress towards the long-term starter they projected him to be when targeting Mullen in the second round.
Guenther will want to see scheme knowledge, good instincts and an ability to step right in if called upon in a reserve role. The pressure’s far lower than on three first-round picks expected to contribute right away, but he’ll still be held to a higher standard considering their expectations and grand plans for a talented scheme fit.
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The Raiders have been on a terrible run of second-round picks since 2015. Mario Edwards Jr., Jihad Ward and Obi Melifonwu were taken there, respectively, and none remain on the roster. Even last year’s pick P.J. Hall was slow out the gate, so Mullen must break the streak and challenge for a role as a rookie and develop into a productive Raiders player.
Mullen should vie for a role right away, but even pushing Lawson for the third spot would be satisfactory in this secondary climate. Conley’s a virtual lock in the starting lineup, but Worley’s gig could be had with an excellent showing, though Mullen might take a year’s seasoning before sliding into the starting lineup opposite Conley. That’s how it should work for most draft picks taken outside the first round, but the talent-strapped Raiders haven’t had that luxury recently. They do in this particular instance, and Mullen should be better for it in the long run.