Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press
Thursday, July 20, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Out of the 90 players who arrived in Henderson for Raiders training camp a year ago, Sam Webb stood out as one of the most unknown.
• July 20: Rookies report to training camp
• July 25: Veterans report to training camp
• August 13: Preseason Game 1 vs. San Francisco 49ers, 1 p.m., Allegiant Stadium (tickets $99-$250, ticketmaster.com)
• August 16: Roster cuts from 90 players to 85 players (Raiders have 91 per International Pathway Program exemption)
• August 19: Preseason Game 2 at Los Angeles Rams
• August 23: Roster cuts from 85 players to 80 players
• August 26: Preseason Game 3 at Dallas Cowboys
• August 30: Roster cuts from 80 players to 53 players
No one would have tabbed the undrafted rookie cornerback out of Missouri Western State University as likely to make the team’s official 53-man roster, but Webb kept telling himself that he belonged. That confidence enabled success that made an impression on the coaching staff, leading to Webb making the team.
He was among only 13 Division II players to claim one of 1,696 official spots on an opening-day NFL roster in 2022.
“I just put my head down and worked,” Webb says by phone from his home outside of Kansas City, Missouri. “I was just trying to make the team and contribute as much as I could, but it’s grown a lot more. It’s changed over time.”
Webb says he’ll feel a lot more comfortable when he returns to the team facility July 25, the veterans’ training camp report date ahead of the 2023-2024 season. His story should serve as an inspiration to many of the 19 rookies who begin training camp July 20, but that won’t be Webb’s focus this time around.
The 25-year-old will be tasked with showcasing his progression from his rookie season and how he can help the Raiders improve at perhaps their most unproven position group. Many expected the Raiders to either bring on a high-priced cornerback in free agency or use one of their early draft picks at the position in the offseason.
Las Vegas didn’t go either route, instead signing more under-the-radar players like Duke Shelley (who last played for the Minnesota Vikings), Brandon Facyson (Indianapolis Colts) and David Long Jr. (LA Rams) while drafting Jakorian Bennett out of Maryland in the fourth round.
Third-year Raider Nate Hobbs might be the only cornerback on the roster guaranteed to be a starter in this upcoming season—whether it be on the outside against opponents’ top receivers or in the slot, where he has thrived the most. Otherwise, all playing time looks up for grabs.
Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler’s decision not to pursue more notable cornerbacks could be interpreted as a vote of confidence in returners like Webb, Tyler Hall and Amik Robertson. Las Vegas had one of the worst-rated pass defenses in the league last year, but all of those players showed flashes of potential throughout the season—including Webb, who ended up starting three games because of injury.
When he gets a chance to get away from football during the season, Webb likes to find refuge in the Southern Nevada outdoors, “like riding ATVs in the desert, going out to the mountains and hitting the lake,” he says. Follow along with his adventures on and off the field @samwebb_27 on Instagram.
“[Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s] defense is so good,” Webb says. “We’ve just got to rely on our rules, play together and play with each other. There are rules set there, but the [question] is just, are you going to be able to play together and execute the game plan and not be selfish? That’s all it is, and we’ve got the dudes to be able to do it.”
Webb had some struggles in his first career start, an eventual 22-16 victory at Denver in which the Broncos targeted him frequently, but he played better the rest of the way and drew praise from Graham for his resolve. Many of the most influential figures on the Raiders have spoken highly of Webb.
Defensive captain Maxx Crosby talked up Webb’s tenacity late last season. Then in May, during the first sessions of voluntary organized team activities, star receiver Davante Adams paid Webb a major compliment by comparing him to former Green Bay Packers teammate Jaire Alexander.
Adams was quick to point out that Alexander, who’s considered one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, “is in a different place in his career right now” than Webb, but said there were similarities in how both players carried themselves as rookies.
“Usually [when] I beat a guy one-on-one, they kind of just chalk it up like, ‘I’m a rookie, that’s Davante, it is what it is. I’m not going to get kicked off the team for him beating me,’ ” Adams explained. “But Jaire was in the locker room after the first training camp practice, and he had an iPad out before anybody came in there, like, literally looking at the plays trying to figure out what [happened]. And he came up to me and asked, ‘I don’t want to bother you, but, like, what happened here? How did you know I was going to react this way, or whatever?’ Sam kind of has that edge.”
Webb credited the Raiders’ coaches putting him “through the fire” by frequently lining him up against Adams as one of the biggest reasons for his evolution as a player. “Being able to win against him day in and day out more consistently—and that’s Davante Adams, I’m not saying I win every single one—is a blessing,” Webb says. “I appreciate him. It means the world to me that he was able to give me that shoutout and show people that there’s work going on behind the scenes.”
Going from a Division II college to impressing arguably the best receiver in the NFL on a daily basis might make it sound like Webb has made it, but he knows there’s still work to be done. Maintaining an NFL job, not to mention securing a consistent role, might be more difficult than carving out a spot for one season.
That’s where Webb is after this training camp, and the Raiders sure could use a cornerback developing into a gamebreaker, no matter where he came from. “I had options to go to different teams, but I felt like I made the best pick going to Vegas with the Raiders, because you want to go where you’re wanted,” Webb says.
“I feel when I got there, they gave me the right opportunities at the right time, and it all kind of fell into place. And now with a year in the league, I’ve grown a lot more. I’m able to see things and react a lot faster.”
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.