Players like Anthony Averett, Bilal Nichols, Duron Harmon, and others can carve important roles for Las Vegas
They may not the flashy or sexy signings that send Raider Nation into a frenzy, but the Las Vegas Raiders additions of untapped-upside and veteran free agents alike are going to garner attention in due time.
After general manager Dave Ziegler drove a rabid fan base delirious with a perceived slow and auspicious start to free agency, the Silver & Black roster man delivered what many were seeking: Big-name free agents that arrive with stupendous resumes and unquestioned talent. That, of course, was the duo of pass rusher Chandler Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams.
Yet, it’s the signings of Mack Hollins, Jayon Brown, Anthony Averett, Vernon Butler, Duron Harmon, amongst others, that Raider Nation will grow to appreciate — it won’t be how they’ll feel about much-heralded splash additions, but admiration nonetheless — over time. I’ve written about how adding Hollins, a special teams maven, will help bolster Tom McMahon’s unit. I’ve also scribbled about Brown coming in to help provide the linebacker room an athletic and hungry presence.
Let’s explore how the Averrett and crew will help the Raiders. First and foremost, the group we’ll be looking at are low-risk, high-upside signings. Las Vegas did well in inking the players below to one-year flier-type deals. It’s a single season commitment that banks on upside rather than sinking multi-year coin on potential. It sets up an ample maximizing on return on investment. If the players shine, the one-year pact helps set up both athlete and team to explore more coin (or another pay day in free agency for the player) in the future. If it doesn’t work out, no extreme harm or foul for the Raiders.
Let’s dig in:
Anthony Averett: Pressed into the most snaps he’s seen over the course of his four-year career in 2021, the 27-year-old cornerback did well in the Baltimore Ravens secondary. Playing in 14 games (all starts) due to injury decimating the Ravens’ cornerback room, Averett was targeted 101 times, according to Pro Football Reference (PFR), allowing 56 completions for 768 yards and three touchdowns. He intercepted three passes to go along with 11 passes defensed and quarterbacks throwing Averett’s way sported a 77.5 rating. He did finish with 54 total tackles but PFR charted him with eight missed tackles. Averett does have ideal speed (he ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the NFL combine before the 2018 draft) to stick with fleet-footed pass catchers but does have a slender build at 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds. But the Raiders cornerback room is far from settled and Averett has a solid chance to carve out a role as a speed vs. speed matchup.
Vernon Bulter: On size alone, the former first-round pick (No. 30 in the 2016 draft by the Carolina Panthers) brings Vegas the beefy presence its lacking on the interior defensive line. Butler, however, spent the last two seasons with the Buffalo Bills and didn’t live up to the two-year $15 million contract he signed with them after a six-sack 2019 season with Carolina (his final year as a Panther). He racked up 29 total tackles, zero sacks, and one forced fumble in the two years in Buffalo. Perhaps a change of scenery and having Patrick Graham as his defensive coordinator rekindles Butler’s disruptive ways. He did play at both end and tackle in Carolina during his big 2019 year and Graham is all about versatility. If nothing else, Butler provides a space-eating presence on the defensive line.
Duron Harmon: A veteran safety who can backpedal and play deep with poise and precision. That’s something the Raiders sorely need. They have one in Tre’Von Moehrig and Harmon gives them another one. The 31-year-old veteran spent the first seven years of his career as a New England Patriots safety and the last two as a Detroit Lion and Atlanta Falcon. During those two recent stints, he was an every-down safety playing 98 percent and 92 percent of the defensive snaps, respectively. In Vegas, he could play a large-snap role or revert back to his pitch-in role he had in New England, giving the Silver & Black the all-important versatility. Harmon’s career mark of 21 interceptions and 38 passes defensed showcase his disruptive ways on the backend and he could rotate nicely with incumbents Moehrig and hammer Johnathan Abram.
Alex Bars: A restricted free agent who didn’t get a tender from the Chicago Bears, Bars a perfect example of Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels saying the team can’t have one-position offensive linemen. Bars has experience at both guard spots and at center in the NFL and his collegiate career saw him at every position on the offensive line but left tackle. Bars most extensive action for Chicago came during the 2020 season (568 total snaps, 53 percent of the offensive snaps) primarily at right guard. At 6-foot-5 and 334 pounds, the 26-year-old has a solid path to being a depth piece and plug-in starter if needed in Las Vegas.
Jacob Hollister: The third tight end role on the Raiders behind Darren Waller and Foster Moreau is wide open and Hollister competing for it with incumbent Nick Bowers should be interesting to watch. Hollister, who started his NFL career with New England in 2018, had a disappointing stint last season in Jacksonville after catching 66 passes for 558 yards and six touchdowns in two years with Seattle (2019 and 2020). As a Jaguar, Hollister saw 14 targets for nine catches, 55 yards and one touchdown. Hollister is a smaller tight end at 6-foot-4 and 239 pounds, but he can carve out a role on special teams where he can use his speed (4.57 40 at his Wyoming pro day) to be a mainstay. Perhaps on sneaks and trick plays on the punt unit? And, if need be, he can get work in the passing game, too.