Joselio Hanson Improves Nickel Defense, Adds Flexibility in Oakland

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystSeptember 3, 2012

December 18, 2011; Philadelphia, PA USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Joselio Hanson (21) celebrates his fumble recovery against the New York Jets during the game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won 45-19. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE
Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

The Raiders agreed to terms on a one-year contract with cornerback Joselio Hanson, according to Adam Caplan. According to, the team released former third-round draft pick DeMarcus Van Dyke to make the move. The new era in Oakland is not just a marketing campaign—general manager Reggie McKenzie has demonstrated that he’s going to do it his way, and releasing 2011’s third-round pick is yet another clear indication of that.

By signing Hanson, the Raiders have dramatically altered the personnel that will play in the nickel package, but his signing doesn't do much to provide depth behind starting cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell.

Hanson is slot cornerback, which isn’t the same as an outside cornerback. Hanson was rarely asked to play outside over the last seven years in Philadelphia. However, the Raiders didn’t have a slot cornerback on the roster before signing Hanson and have been using free safety Michael Huff there for most of training camp and the preseason. Now, Huff can now move back to free safety and send Matt Giordano to the bench in some nickel situations.

The rise of the passing game in the NFL and the emergence of the tight end have forced defenses to be more flexible. Hanson allows the Raiders to have that flexibility because of the Raiders can now have different nickel packages for different offensive personnel.

Hanson is 5’9’ and Huff is 6’0”, so it would be reasonable to have Hanson defend the smaller, quicker slot receivers while Huff would be brought in to defend against the bigger, stronger slot receivers and tight ends. The Raiders are more equipped to defend the various types of slot receivers with Hanson, and that should help the entire defense.

The Raiders may also play a lot of nickel in 2012, which means Hanson could see a lot of playing time. Linebacker Miles Burris is a rookie and wasn’t acted to drop into coverage in college, so the Raiders will probably try to hide him in coverage as much as possible. Linebacker Aaron Curry is on the physically unable to perform list, but his weakness is also in coverage.   

The Raiders will now be able to use Hanson or an extra safety to defend against a wider range of offensive sets and hopefully that will translate into improved coverage and an improved defense.

There are fans that believe Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa were cornerbacks worth developing, but neither of them could play in the slot and neither was very good on special teams, and that could have been their demise.

Reserve cornerbacks Phillip Adams and Coye Francies are both good on special teams and could help return punts and kicks in the absence of Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore. That’s likely why Adams and Francies are on the roster and Van Dyke and Chekwa are not.

Unfortunately, neither Adams nor Francies are any more proven than Van Dyke or Chekwa as cornerbacks, which calls into question how the Raiders would cope if Bartell or Spencer went down with an injury. McKenzie used the cornerback position to solve two other problems, but depth remains a concern. 

It’s not a leap to say the problem in Oakland last year was at the cornerback position, and that’s clearly what McKenzie saw when he went back to review the tape.

All six of last year's cornerbacks are no longer on the active roster, while four safeties and two of the team’s three starting linebackers returned. Kamerion Wimbley was the only linebacker that was released, and that had more to do with his contract than his play.

There is still a lot of talent in Oakland, but the best teams have quality depth to get them through the season, and that’s not something the Raiders have in abundance.

In the last few days, the Raiders have been able to improve their nickel defense and special teams, but they haven’t been able to add players that can be relied upon in the place of an injured starter.

McKenzie is clearly doing everything he can to improve the on-the-field product, even if he’s having trouble finding spare parts. The Raiders may not be done shuffling the 53-man roster in 2012, and fans should expect a lot more turnover over the next two years. Until McKenzie is able to find quality depth, the team’s performance may be entirely dependent on its health.


Christopher Hansen is the AFC West lead writer for Bleacher Report. Be sure to on Twitter and "like" the AFC West blog on Facebook. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.