Part two in a 10-part series looking at each of the Raiders position groups before the start of training camp.
A year ago, following the Raiders’ third preseason game, owner Mark Davis now famously ripped two corners off a piece of paper and handed them to general manager Reggie McKenzie. His message: “I need you to get me two corners.”
As McKenzie enters his fifth training camp with the Raiders, he can feel pretty good about honoring that request. He signed away Sean Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs, then locked up last year’s waiver claim David Amerson to a new four-year extension.
Assuming Smith maintains his solid level of play and Amerson approaches anything close to his level of play from last season, the Raiders suddenly have a cornerback duo that ranks in the upper tier of the NFL. But how does the whole group stack up?
Well, clearly Smith and Amerson are the starters here, with Amerson looking to build off his career season (four interceptions, 25 passes defended) and Smith looking to continue his consistently solid level of play.
The next key will be to figure out who the starting or primary nickel back will be, a competition that figures to be settled between DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie, the team’s two starting corners at the start of last year.
If OTAs and mini camp were any indication, the Raiders intend to give Hayden the first shot to earn that job. Smith has already spoke of his belief that Hayden can reinvent himself, and coach Jack Del Rio backed up those thoughts and raved about Hayden’s offseason.
The Raiders declined Hayden’s fifth-year option for 2017, so he’s scheduled to be a free agent after this season. That gives him a lot to prove this season if he wants to land anything more than a one-year prove-it contract for next year. The pressure is reduced on him now that he’s not being counted on as a starter and it makes sense the Raiders want to try to get some return on their investment by having him contribute at nickel.
Carrie also should get a shot to earn that job should Hayden falter. If he’s not the primary guy, Carrie figures to be a nice Swiss Army Knife for the secondary with his experience at both cornerback and safety.
Neiko Thorpe was somewhat surprisingly given a second-round tender and will return to add depth in the secondary. It’s tough to gauge his role right now because an undisclosed injury forced him out of OTAs and mini camp.
Dexter McDonald played in six games last year after being picked in the seventh round of the draft last season and showed some potential.
Then it comes down to some undrafted free agents, including Antonio Hamilton (a player with strong return potential) and Kenneth Durden, and a UDFA from last year in SaQwan Edwards.