Oakland Raiders: Five Burning 2015 Questions

2 of 5

Dec 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) interferes on a pass intended for Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 47-14. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

2. Are The Young Corners A Cause for Concern?

While the Raider roster looks as good top to bottom as it has in quite some time, there are a few position groups that are big question marks coming into 2015. Running back is one, but the most glaring is cornerback. After letting veteran corners Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers go after only a year – a very mediocre year – the Raiders’ average age at cornerback (out of ten players current listed as cornerbacks on the roster) is 24.9 years of age.

This is astoundingly young, but it doesn’t even tell the full story: of the five cornerbacks who are 25 or older, only two have been in the NFL more than three accrued seasons: fourth-year Raider Chimdi Chekwa and free agent acquisition James Dockery. The two have played in a combined 63 games (out of a combined 128 possible games) and started a combined six. The other “grand old men” in the Raider’s cornerback group are oft-injured 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden, last years’ fourth-round pick Keith McGill, and career backup Ras-I Dowling (who has been in the league since 2011 but hasn’t been on a 53-man roster enough time to accrue more than three seasons of experience).

The apparent top three cornerbacks on the roster are Hayden, McGill and last year’s 7th round pick TJ Carrie, who acquitted himself very well throughout the 2014 season. While the three are all very talented athletes who showed well at times last season, all three, especially McGill and Carrie, are enormously raw and Hayden has been hurt frequently throughout his short career.

Behind them, assuming the Raiders will retain six cornerbacks on the 53-man roster, would likely be Dockery and Chekwa, though Dockery’s role will probably be more as a special teams gunner than as a rotational cornerback. The Raiders drafted cornerback Dexter McDonald out of Kansas in the 7th round, and added free agent rookies SaQuan Edwards and Rob Daniel as well, though the team could opt to stash all of them on the practice squad if not cut them all outright (though Reggie McKenzie rarely cuts players he drafted in their rookie season).

There is also third year man Neiko Thorpe, who showed well in preseason action last year and may get a shot at that final cornerback roster spot. Veteran Ras-I Dowling may make the team, but likely as depth at safety, where he is listed as the second string strong safety behind Brandian Ross. The Raiders may also add another player at some point between now and the start of the regular season: both Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers are still free agents.

While Hayden, Carrie and McGill are talented young players, the fact remains that they are unproven and inexperienced in an unforgiving league for young defensive backs. While it’s true that players like Richard Sherman, Darrell Revis and other top corners were all once unproven young cornerbacks, it’s also true that for right now this position group is the weakest link on the defense – at least on paper.

Preseason will be a good opportunity to see these three young players in action against top NFL opposition, especially in the 2nd and 3rd preseason games. Teams will also take their shots at these young cornerbacks early in the regular season to see what they can get away with. It will be a tough test for the young trio. But it helps that they will be working with an experienced defensive coaching staff and will be on the field with one of the greatest defensive backs ever to play the game in Charles Woodson, who’s leadership and depth of knowledge may help soften their learning curve just a bit.