Why the Raiders should look to draft one of the Alabama Football cornerbacks

Alabama Spring Football Game
Alabama Spring Football Game / Brandon Sumrall/GettyImages

The Las Vegas Raiders have looked to the Alabama Football program often as of late to land potential franchise cornerstones, using first-round picks on Alex Leatherwood, Henry Ruggs, Josh Jacobs, Amari Cooper, and Rolando McClain all in the Nick Saban era. Once again, the Raiders may look to Tuscaloosa with the franchise's first-round pick as the team looks to bolster its defense.

The Raiders promoted Antonio Pierce from linebackers coach to head coach, and, with Pierce's defensive background, the Raiders will likely put an emphasis on that side of the ball this offseason. The biggest need for the Raiders, who will be selecting 13th in this year's NFL Draft, is cornerback, as the team heavily depended on late-round draft picks and free agents to play the position.

What's the biggest reason for the Raiders to look to add a cornerback in the NFL Draft? The Raiders share a division with the Chiefs, Chargers, and Broncos, meaning the Raiders have to face two top-ten quarterbacks with great weapons twice a year. The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes with Travis Kelce and Rashee Rice, the Chargers have Justin Herbert with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, and the Broncos have questions at quarterback but the trio of Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Marvin Mims will be a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has a history of building great defenses against the pass, but he also needs great cornerbacks to make the system work. In 2021, Graham's defense ranked fourth in the league in pass defense while allowing quarterbacks to pass for just 225.8 yards per game. On his Giants' defenses, however, Graham had two of the league's top cornerbacks in James Bradberry and Adoree Jackson.

The Case for Kool-Aid McKinstry

Kool-Aid McKinstry
Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

Kool-Aid McKinstry is suffering from what many would call Draft Fatigue as he's been a name circled as a future top-ten pick since his freshman season, but now experts are looking at reasons to move him down their draft boards. If Graham decides to push for more press man coverage in 2024 then there's no question that McKinstry should be their pick. While most college corners struggle in press coverage, McKinstry excels at it and his ability will translate immediately to the NFL game.

In 2023, McKinstry was hardly challenged as opposing quarterbacks threw at him just 43 times while often tasked with covering the opponents' top receiver. Impressive about McKinstry's game as well is his willingness and ability to tackle, often coming up and making big plays in the run game. While McKinstry will translate more as a man corner, he's shown ability in zone defense as well, possibly becoming polished in both with more time in a zone.

The biggest question scouts have expressed about McKinstry is his speed and agility downfield, as we've hardly seen McKinstry get tested deep. If McKinstry can run a solid 40-yard dash at this spring's combine he'll solidify himself as the top cornerback in the draft class.

At a position like cornerback, where year after year teams bet on traits rather than players who have shown the ability to play, McKinstry should still be the top pick in the class. McKinstry has shown that his floor as an NFL cornerback is likely a starting cornerback for most teams while his ceiling is a potential All-Pro. At 6"1 195 pounds, McKinstry's size shouldn't raise any doubts, and if teams pick solely off of his tape then he'll be the first corner off the board in April.

The Case for Terrion Arnold

Rivaldo Fairweather, Jihaad Campbell, Terrion Arnold
Alabama v Auburn / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

If the Raiders decide to pass on McKinstry due to questions around his speed or looking for a cornerback with a "higher ceiling," then Terrion Arnold will certainly be in the conversation and may even end up being the selection. Coming into this season, a majority of draft analysts and even some inside the Alabama Football program would have expected to see Arnold back in Tuscaloosa for 2024, as the idea of him becoming a first-round pick would have been a stretch. In turn, Arnold developed into one of the country's top cornerbacks and has raised his draft stock significantly.

The case for Terrion Arnold over other cornerbacks in the class is his potential after showing major growth in 2023. Arnold has incredible length with explosive athleticism that translates well for man coverage especially as he continues to grow as a corner. However, he also may be one of the top zone corners in the draft class and could be one of the top zone corners in the league early on in his career. Arnold has the intelligence for NFL zone coverage, especially after playing in an NFL-style defense run by Nick Saban and Kevin Steele.

Arnold's play style, size, and length are similar to that of James Bradberry, who became a Pro-Bowler under Graham in 2020. Graham runs a mixture of cover three and cover six defense even on early downs, similar to what Nick Saban did in his time at Alabama. The use of zone in Patrick Graham's defense would point to Terrion Arnold as being a better fit for the Raiders in year one and potentially long term with his potential to grow.

The Raiders likely take an Alabama Football alum but, which one?

The Las Vegas Raiders desperately need to add a cornerback, and the Alabama Football program has possibly the two top prospects at the position in this year's class. The pick, however, will likely be Terrion Arnold over Kool-Aid McKinstry.

Arnold had the perfect timing of having his best season just prior to the draft while also getting the opportunity to make plays, as teams weren't as fearful of Arnold early on. The potential for growth with Arnold will be attractive for teams as he has all the tools, but isn't as polished of a player as Kool-Aid. The potential paired with his fit in a zone-heavy defense like Patrick Graham's makes Arnold the pick. Teams can't go wrong with Arnold or McKinstry in this year's class and it will be exciting to see the pair grow over the next few years.