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Cory James drafted by Raiders: How does the linebacker fit?

Andre Simone Avatar
May 1, 2016


Rejoice, Ram fans.

Cory James was taken by the Oakland Raiders in the sixth round of the NFL draft Saturday. How can the former CSU star be utilized by Oakland and ultimately find a way to stick on the roster? Let’s take a look.

James is a versatile linebacker who was used on the outside in the Rams 3-4 and was at his best in that position. While undersized, his quickness and ability to bend the edge and rush the passer make him intriguing as a strong side backer in Oakland’s 4-3 scheme. The Raiders love that type of player in Jack Del Rio’s defense, but they already have Khalil Mack and have added Bruce Irving in free agency, two of the best in the NFL at rushing the passer from the strongside position. Both would be stellar mentors for James and Irving has been injury prone throughout his career; could James find playing time there? Mack has also been used most often at defensive end, so James could be closer to the field than it seems on the strong side. The added advantage that James brings to the position is that he can also cover tight ends, a useful skill on that side of the formation, one of the few areas where the rookie promises to be better than Irving.

While the strong side seems to be the position that most caters to James’ strengths, it isn’t necessarily where the Raiders envision him playing. During CSU’s Pro Day, there was some talk of him being looked at primarily as a weakside linebacker, a position more suited to his size and versatile skill set. The Raiders have Malcolm Smith in that spot, who had a productive season in his first year starting for Oakland. Much like on the strong side, James has a starter in front of him with a solid hold on the starting position, but his ability to be a backup at both positions certainly gives him great added value. By the end of camp, he could be second on the depth chart to Smith here and anything is possible after that.

The spot in which has the greatest chance of getting on the field would be in the middle, where Oakland is starting Ben Heeney. Heeney was a fifth-round selection in the 2015 draft and has only started three games in his career. He’s also undersized for the position and likely playing out of position on the inside, he’s probably an inferior athlete than James to boot. The problem here is that James played in the middle this past season and while he did an okay job for Mountain West standards, he clearly was out of element and didn’t play his best. Then was moved back outside.

Oakland is a solid landing spot for James, especially with coach Del Rio, who’s shown a willingness to give smaller sized linebackers a chance and has developed several into quality starters. James’ ability to back up and help out at all three linebacker spots makes him a very valuable depth player and developmental starter for the Raiders, giving him a huge leg up on making the team. If he’s able to shine on special teams, the former Ram is guaranteed to make his way on the 53 man roster and could be just an injury away from seeing the field on defense.


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