ALAMEDA – Gareon Conley is no longer a Raider. The 2017 first-round draft pick was traded to the Houston Texans for a 2020 third-round pick on Monday, a day after he played 97 percent of Raiders defensive snaps in a 42-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Somebody else will have to anchor one outside cornerback spot moving forward.
Trayvon Mullen will take over Conley’s spot. This year’s second-round draft pick will get first crack at the job vacancy, though the Raiders have other options on the roster.
“Trayvon is progressively improving,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “The only way to get these guys ready for primetime is to put them out there. We like the progress he has made. That’s why we took him at the top of the second round. We really like Isaiah Johnson and the way he looked last week on the practice field and Nevin Lawson has started 50 games. Throw in Keisean Nixon and we’ve got some guys we want to take a look at.
“We’re going to try to get Trayvon ready to go.”
Mullen will take over Sunday when the Raiders face Houston, with Conley awkwardly on the other sideline.
Mullen hasn’t played much this season, just 14 defensive snaps over the last three games and 78 in total this season. His professional career didn’t start with a bang, as he gave up three catches for 27 yards and a long touchdown against Denver. He hasn’t seen the field much since, though he worked 27 snaps in a Week 2 loss to Kansas City before his workload dropped precipitously.
Gruden knows Mullen will be a focal point of opposing offenses in coming weeks, until he proves he belongs.
“He's going to get targeted quite a bit, like all rookie cornerbacks,” Gruden said. ”It’s part of the process. I know he was in a tough spot opening night against Denver, but I have seen day-to-day concentration. I’ve seen day-to-day competitiveness and gradual improvement. He’s a guy who has a lot of confidence.”
The Raiders loved Mullen coming out of Clemson. He has the physical skills to play aggressive press-man coverage, with speed and range and ball skills required to succeed in Paul Guenther’s system. They would’ve gladly taken him at No. 35 overall but were able to trade down a few times and still land him at No. 40.
Mullen wasn’t targeted much at Clemson but was strong in big games and a complete player coming into the draft after his junior year.
The Raiders also took Isaiah Johnson in the fourth round, though he will spend the first eight games on injured reserve before an expected return in Week 10 against the L.A. Chargers.
Johnson will be in the defensive mix if he proves ready. Mullen has the first opportunity, and that starts now as we head into towards midseason.
“He has size and he’s young,” Gruden said. “He’s still raw and still has some green to him. He’s a great kid and a great competitor. He has change of direction. He’s tough. He has a lot of pride He has big upside.
[RELATED: Grading Raiders in loss to Packers]
“I feel the same way about Isaiah. These guys need to get on the grass and play. I’ll take responsibility for how that goes, but I have their backs. I have a lot of confidence in them. I want to see them go out there and deal with some of the best receivers in football.”