Ricky Manning Jr. reveals which player is key to unlocking Raiders defense

The Raiders have many promising young defenders but there's one who might be the key to everything.
Nate Hobbs guarding Garrett Wilson.
Nate Hobbs guarding Garrett Wilson. / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

Nate Hobbs has cemented himself as one of the Raiders' best defensive players ever since he was drafted in 2021. He was one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the NFL as a rookie but broke his hand in Year 2 and faced some struggles last season as the team played him at multiple positions.

Though his highs weren't as high in 2023, the Raiders are still very high on him. New cornerbacks coach Ricky Manning Jr. believes that Hobbs is one of the defense's most important players.

"Nate is the key to unlock our defense," Manning said during his Tuesday press conference. "That nickel spot is very special ... and being able to play inside and outside is a unique characteristic to have."

Hobbs is a relentless worker and plays with a chip on his shoulder so he should be up for the task. The biggest concern with him has to be health with him missing 10 combined games the last two seasons. If he's able to stay healthy, there's no reason to believe that he won't be one of the Raiders' best defensive players.

One thing to watch is how the Raiders utlilize him. Based on Manning's comments, it's clear that they still see him as primarilty a nickel cornerback. However, the Raiders haven't done much to address their outside cornerback position this offseason.

Defensive coordiantor Patrick Graham showed last year that he's not afraid to put Hobbs on the outside but that doesn't seem like the best position to utilize his skillset. His versatility is advantageous for the Raiders but they'd likely rather have other players step up to hold those outside cornerback spots.

Jack Jones is a lock for one of the spots but there should be a full-on competition for the other starting spot. Jakorian Bennett could be in the mix but he struggled as a rookie last season. Brandon Facyson is a veteran with a lot of experience and could hold down the starting job at the beginning of the season.

It's also still possible the Raiders will dip their toes into the free agency pool There are several notable cornerbacks still available, including Xavien Howard, Stephon Gilmore and Adoree' Jackson.