The Oakland Raiders are coming off of a season in which their corner back situation was almost laughable. The two starters last season, Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson were two of the most penalty and big play prone corners in the entire NFL. Their back ups really did not get a whole lot better. The Raiders had two rookies with promise in Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa. Beyond that, the Raiders added way over the hill veteran Lito Sheppard. Johnson and Chekwa spent much of the season sitting on the bench with injuries, and DVD showed he was not ready to play at the next level. That meant the Raiders spent most of the season with Stanford Routt and Lito Sheppard as their top two corners, a true recipe for disaster.
When the Raiders hired Reggie McKenzie to spearhead football operations, one of the first things he did was blow up the corner back position. He got rid of Routt, Johnson and Sheppard, whether by cutting or not re-signing them, and only held onto the duo of second year players in Chimdi Chekwa and Van Dyke. Then, McKenzie went out and signed two veteran corners in the free agent market with Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.
Both Spencer and Bartell flew under the radar in free agency and were signed to rather cheap one year deals with the Raiders. In Spencer's case, he was a casualty of an overpopulated secondary with the San Francisco 49ers. His being cut had nothing to do with ability, and everything to do with logistics. In Bartell's case, the Raiders landed a good deal primarily due to the fact that Bartell has had a few injuries and has spent his career as a relatively unknown while playing for the St. Louis Rams.
While neither Spencer nor Bartell are sexy signings, they represent an upgrade over what the Raiders had as starters last season. Heading into training camp, they will be the presumed number one and two starters at the corner back position. With that being said, they are both on the older side and will be vulnerable to challenges by Chekwa and Van Dyke if either of the two youngsters can make big strides this off season.
While Van Dyke was the higher draft pick and is very athletically talented, it is Chekwa who I think has a real shot at cracking the starting lineup for the Raiders. Chekwa saw some time at corner last season and looked pretty good. He definitely showed signs of being a rookie at times, but he also exceeded expectations as a fourth round draft pick. If Chekwa can continue to grow as a player, his size, physicality and football instincts make him the most likely candidate to challenge one of the free agent signings for a starting spot. I do not expect him to win a starting role before the season, but don't be surprised if he cracks the starting lineup during the season.