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Why Anthony Averett is an X-factor in the Las Vegas Raiders secondary

Moe Moton

When the Las Vegas Raiders acquired cornerback Rock Ya-Sin in exchange for edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue on March 17, some fans assumed he would fill Casey Hayward’s spot on the boundary. While that’s a possibility, the front office made an under-the-radar signing on the same day, inking Anthony Averett to a one-year, $4 million contract.

Averett’s name doesn’t ring bells like Ya-Sin’s, though his first year in a full-time starting role should grab your attention. On the Baltimore Ravens’ depth chart behind All-Pro cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, he had to wait his turn for a shot to showcase himself against starting wide receivers on a weekly basis.

Last September, Peters went down with a torn ACL, which led to Averett’s move into the starting lineup, and he didn’t disappoint in an expanded role.

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In 2021, Averett led the Ravens in interceptions (three) and recorded 11 pass breakups while allowing a 55.4 percent completion rate and a 77.5 passer rating. During the season, former Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale expressed confidence in a cornerback who may have just needed an opportunity to put his skills on full display.

Martindale believed in Averett well before he had to start in place of Peters though.

“I said in front of the defense last night, to me, he’s the third-best corner we have on the team. And I think the kid has All-Pro talent. I tell him that every day, and he’s practicing that way this year.”

Don “Wink” Martindale on Anthony Averett in August 2021

Averett didn’t make an All-Pro or Pro Bowl roster, but he showed potential as a starter. At 27 years old, with only one season in a lead position, Averett may be a late bloomer who’s ready to prove himself yet again.

Before you write Ya-Sin’s name as the starter opposite Trayvon Mullen, consider Averett as a strong competitor for the job.

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Eric Crocker of Locked On 49ers and Locked On NFL Draft tweeted some clips of Averett in action one-on-one against receivers with a breakdown of his sound technique.

In Week 1, Averett had the task of going up against Hunter Renfrow, and Raiders fans know how he can put defensive backs in a blender with his double moves.

As Crocker points out, Averett mirrors Renfrow and doesn’t allow him to break away or lose track of the ball. He closes in, gets his hands on him and continues to keep his eye out for the pass.

Yes, that’s just one play, but keep in mind that Peters tore his ACL four days before this game. Averett had to perform at a high level under short notice and showed out well, allowing five receptions out of eight targets for 65 yards, a 48.4 passer rating and coming down with an interception, per Pro Football Focus.

In his second illustration, Crocker highlights Averett’s mental focus to forget a bad play, trust his footwork rather than rely on his hands right off the line of scrimmage, cut off the fade and fight for the ball placed inside for Dolphins wideout Preston Williams:

Williams is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound wide receiver, but Averett, who’s listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds matched up well with him on the boundary. In that game, he allowed five receptions out of 10 targets for 95 yards (52 of those yards came on one play), per Pro Football Focus.

Before Week 1 of the previous campaign, Averett talked about what he learned from Peters.

“Watching MP, I watch him a lot, just to see what he’s looking at, what route’s coming. It’s not just straight off reaction. A lot of things I used to do in the past was really just reaction because I’m fast and twitchy. Now I kind of feel like when the route is coming, I already know what’s coming.”

Las Vegas Raiders CB Anthony Averett on what he learned from Marcus Peters

Averett isn’t the biggest cornerback, but he does have 4.36 speed. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham can use him as a matchup defender when the Raiders face pass-heavy offenses (if he’s not a boundary starter).

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Averett’s eyes for the ball could give him the edge over Ya-Sin this summer. He registered more interceptions (three) in 14 games last season than the former Colts cornerback had in 41 career contests (two). Averett’s career-high 11 pass breakups also topped Ya-Sin’s highest single-season total (eight).

While Ya-Sin brings a physical presence on the perimeter, Averett looked polished in his first year as a starter with the Ravens.

Some fans think it’s Ya-Sin’s job to lose, but we should expect an even battle between the two. That doesn’t mean one starts and the other falls to the back end of the depth chart. Both will likely play a good number of defensive snaps in the upcoming season, especially against Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson when the Raiders will need all hands on deck to slow the passing attacks of their division rivals.

Nonetheless, Averett could be the X-factor in the Raiders secondary for the 2022 term. On a one-year deal, he has a shot to raise his market value for a bigger contract before he turns 30 years old. Like Ya-Sin, who’s in a contract year, Averett is headed into a crucial season for his career. If he rises to the occasion again, the Raiders may keep him for the long term. If not, it may be time for him to cash in elsewhere while on the rise.

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.