The Oakland Raiders biggest liability last season was clearly its cornerbacks. One starting spot was manned by Stanford Routt while the other was more of a merry go round of players, from Chris Johnson, to DeMarcus Van Dyke to Lito Sheppard. Of those to start for the Raiders at corner last season, only second year player DeMarcus Van Dyke remains with the squad, and for good reason. Many of the Raiders late game break downs came as a result of corner play. Whenever the Raiders had a lead late in the game, it seemed almost a guarantee that one of the starting corners would give up a big play or pass interference call at a crucial time, if not multiple crucial times. As a result, the cornerback squad was wiped clean save the 2011 rookies, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa.
During free agency, new Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie signed two starting caliber corners in Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell. Both guys are underrated players whose value was diminished due to playing for bad teams or being buried in a crowded secondary. Neither is an overly exciting pick up, but both are quality football players that likely represent an upgrade at the position over last season.
The Raiders currently have 10 corner backs on the roster, though many of them will not be on the team come opening day:
DeMarcus Van Dyke
Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell will enter training camp as the men to beat for the starting spots. But do not be surprised to hear a lot of talk about the corner back position being an open competition. The Raiders need to see a lot of improvement from their secondary if they want to succeed in 2012. Part of ensuring that will be through pushing players to earn a starting role. While Spencer and Bartell will be the presumed starters, I would not be surprised to see one of them beaten out by one of the second year corners, but not the one you are thinking. In the limited time that Chekwa played as a rookie, he showed a lot of promise. While he does not have the raw athletic talents of Van Dyke, Chekwa has better football skills. Chekwa showed good talent for getting his head around to see the ball and competing for the ball at its highest point, two talents that are very important for corners in the NFL.
After the top four corners, the Raiders have a few special teams and depth players in Bryann McCann, Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee. McCann came to the Raiders in 2011 when they were desperate to find kick returners due to the injuries sustained by Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore. McCann showed why he is valued as a kick returner, but also why he does not have much value as a corner. Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee are two guys that general manager Reggie McKenzie brought in this off season. Both are strong special teams players and add decent depth to the team. I would not expect all three of these guys to make the team and if the Raiders can find a kick returner elsewhere, McCann may be the odd man out.
Terrail Lambert is a practice squad player and camp body who has little to no chance of making he team. Chaz Powell and Conroy Black are two undrafted free agents. Both Black and Powell will be given every chance to make the team as I am sure McKenzie wants a competitive camp for the corner backs this off season. Black is a guy that the Raiders invited for a pre draft work out and could be the more likely of the two to make the team, but more likely, these are potential practice squad guys who could potentially work their way onto the team.