Cornerback ready for everything teams will throw at him
Playing sparingly in his first three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, cornerback Anthony Averett was thrust into the spotlight in 2021. The Alabama-product rose to the occasion as injuries decimated Baltimore’s depth chart as he played a career-high 808 snaps while setting career-numbers in interceptions (three) and pass deflections (11).
It’s no wonder the now Las Vegas Raiders cornerback is ready for anything the Silver & Black and other teams throw at him in 2022. Teams targeted (more like picked on) Averett last season since he was an unproven commodity and he proved both sticky in coverage and a nuisance to opposing quarterbacks as he played 90 percent of the Ravens defensive snaps this past season.
To give quantifiable numbers context: Pro Football Reference charted Averett with 101 targets allowing 56 completions (a 55.4 percent completion rate) for 768 yards and three touchdowns in 2021. The Raiders’ top-two corners that season — Casey Hayward Jr. and Brandon Facyson (who were both targeted less) — allowed completion percentages of 57.1 and 55.6 percent, respectively, and 949 combined yards and nine combined touchdowns.
“Very big,” Averett responded when asked how big of an opportunity it was for him to jump into the Ravens’ starting lineup and get targeted frequently. “I mean, it wasn’t really a big surprise either. I felt like I was part of every team’s game plan. They went away from Marlon (Humphrey) so I was the guy they targeted. And I feel like towards the end of the season it kind of slowed down a little bit. I started getting a little more respect.”
It would be natural for a player who rose to the occasion like Averett to display an “I have arrived” aura — even a new team. Despite landing with a new squad — on a one-year, $4 million contract — the 27-year-old is self-aware that he can always improve and refine as a cornerback. That said, starting 14 games for the Ravens in 2021 and being a reliable defender gave Averett the taste of an every-game-defender. And that’s something every player seeks.
“I think did pretty much everything pretty well and there is always thing I can improve on. I can improve on everything honestly,” Averett said when asked about what he learned last season and what he can work on this year in Las Vegas. “I just feel like technique definitely. I know I’m a fast guy, I can cover guys. There are not too many guys that I can’t keep up with, so I think that’s what fits me very well. As far as details, there’s things I just need to work on.”
That attitude blends perfectly with what’s expected to be a new-look Raiders defense under coordinator Patrick Graham. The 5-foot-11 and 178-pound Averett has the coverage skills and experience to be a solid perimeter cornerback thanks to his speed and fluid hips. The Raiders outside cornerback spots are wide open as second-year defender Nate Hobbs has the slot duties locked down. Even if Hobbs were to bounce from the slot to the boundary, snaps will be available. And Averett and fellow newcomer Rock Ya-Sin have a shot to gobble up snaps on the outside if they continue to show well in training camp and preseason games (if they suit up and play).
“I really feel like I can play anywhere, but wherever the team and PG (Patrick Graham) want me to go, I’ll go,” Averett said. “So, a little bit of everything, I’ll say.
“Be the best version of myself. Whatever version the team wants me to be, I’ll be that. Starter, whatever the case may be. Put me anywhere, I’ll be ready to play.”
The Raiders cornerback room is afforded the opportunity to ready itself against a quality group of receivers Las Vegas will deploy this season. A group that includes not only wide receivers but tight end Darren Waller who lines up beyond the standard in-line spot other players in his position group are often deployed.
“The receiver core, I mean, they got everybody. They got speed. They got Davante (Adams), Hunter (Renfrow), (Darren) Waller, you could put him anywhere in a whole bunch of different formations, so I feel like the wide receiver competition is everywhere,” Averett said.
Adams, in particular, gives Raiders cornerbacks the challenge of defending a supreme route runner that has rapport with quarterback Derek Carr. And it’s a battle Averett relishes as he gets to pit his skills against one of the game’s best wide receivers.
“Oh yeah, most definitely. Like I said, you learn from him. I feel like if you can cover him, you can stay in front of him, I feel like he’s better than most guys out there in the league,” Averett said of Adams. “So, much respect to him and I just feel like that will definitely work for me in the future.”
The future is fast approaching as the Raiders match up with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Hall of Fame Game Thursday to open preseason football. And Las Vegas will increase workload as training camp and preseason continues to prep for the Week 1 season opener at the Los Angeles Chargers Sept. 11.