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Overlooked acquisition could be key to Raiders’ success

There is a tradition in the Temple football program that calls for single-digit jersey numbers to be awarded to the hardest-working and toughest players.

New Raiders cornerback Rock Ya-Sin wore No. 6 for the Owls, a fact made all the more remarkable because he had only been on campus a short time after transferring in for his senior season.

It didn’t come as any surprise to those who knew him best.

Those have always been the calling cards of a young man who was raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood just east of Atlanta.

Ya-sin credits his work ethic and perseverance with taking him from a standout wrestler who only picked up football in his junior year of high school to second-round NFL draft pick and now one of the most important, though overlooked, offseason acquisitions of the Raiders as he looks to replace Casey Hayward as a starting cornerback.

“Nothing is given to me,” he said after the Raiders acquired him in a trade from the Colts for Yannick Ngakoue. “I just come out and work hard every day. I try to be the hardest worker in the room every day because sooner or later, it pays off. You might not see it now, but sooner or later it will. It’s paid off for me throughout my career and hopefully that will continue.”

That attitude has been reflected in his career path. He started playing football in his junior year at Southwest DeKalb High School on the advice of his wrestling coach, who had grown into a father figure for Ya-Sin. While he had major program offers to wrestle in college, he accepted a football scholarship at Presbyterian and developed into a standout performer after some early struggles adapting to the college game.

Ya-Sin’s given name is Abdurrahman. There’s not a particular moment where he remembers being dubbed Rock for the first time, but his stature and physical style made the moniker quite fitting and it just stuck.

Those same attributes were starting to get him on the radar of NFL scouts when Presbyterian announced a move down from FCS to a non-scholarship program, a decision that led to him transferring to Temple for his senior season.

Ya-Sin made an immediate impact on his teammates as evidenced by the No. 6 jersey he is wearing in all those college highlights from his one season with the Owls.

He backed up the film with a strong pre-draft process and was eventually selected in the second round by the Colts in the 2019 draft. It was around that time that current Raiders star Maxx Crosby first started working out with Ya-Sin as they prepared for the NFL combine together in Phoenix.

“Ever since I met him, he’s always been one of the hardest-working guys in the gym. We’ve kept a relationship and obviously when we got him, I called him right away. He’s a great teammate and I’ve been seeing him in the building every day. I’m fired up to have him. He’s quiet, but he’s got a personality. He’s just a great dude.”

The 26-year-old has also become a pretty solid performer, displaying an ascension fitting a player who picked up the sport late and continues to grind at his craft.

He allowed 69.7 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed as a rookie for 637 yards and three scores. He cut those numbers to 67.2 percent for 594 yards and two touchdowns in year two.

Last season, Pro Football Focus scored him as the fifth-best corner in the league in man coverage and a top-20 player at the position overall. He limited his assignments to 217 yards and just a 53.3 percent completion percentage.

“I feel like I’ve continued to get better,” he said. “I feel like I’ve ascended each year and gotten better technique-wise and become a more polished professional. I feel like I’ve just continued to get better at what I do.”

He also made significant progress in fixing one of the biggest knocks on his game. After racking up 14 penalties in his first two seasons, he was flagged just twice last year.

“What I’ve see from Rock is that he is a pro’s pro,” Raiders defensive backs and passing game coordinator Jason Simmons said. “I love the way that he prepares. You can tell that he’s a guy that loves the game and a guy that wants to get better. So I’ve really been impressed with him from that standpoint. And he’s another guy that is a sponge. He wants as much as you can give him, and he’s able to take that information and process it.”

Simmons and the Raiders know the continued progression of their projected starting cornerback will have a big impact on whether the team can achieve its goals this season.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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