After many years of worrying about the cornerback position in Detroit, the Lions actually have created a relatively stable situation over recent seasons. Since drafting a shutdown corner in Darius Slay, the Lions managed to bring in capable players to hold down the other positions and when healthy produce a competent secondary. That being said though there is still always room for some improvements to the starting lineup, and the depth of the unit is a massive concern. When Slay went in and out of the lineup, and especially once Quandre Diggs went to the injured reserve, the cupboard was absolutely barren and Detroit got exposed in coverage on numerous occasions. With the right addition or two Detroit’s cornerbacks won’t just be ‘good enough’ they can be an elite and dominant unit; a game changing asset in the modern NFL.
What Do the Lions Have at Cornerback?
Darius Slay first and foremost is an elite top 10 cornerback in the NFL. Despite having a bit of a down year last year between injuries and some lapses in judgement, he still managed to single-handedly keep Detroit in several games through key plays, earning his ‘big-play’ nickname. While he may always struggle against the occasional double move to the fury of some fans, he’s also been rated in the top five if not the best at covering numerous other route patterns, so that’s something that can be lived with.
Looking at the rest of the position group, Nevin Lawson played the CB2 spot last year and performed better then expected. He is very sticky in coverage, has fast agile feet, and he’s not afraid to get physical with bigger receivers on the outside. That being said though his height is a major concern. At a mere 5’9″ he regularly got out-jumped on the outside despite being in near perfect position and got pushed around against more physical receivers. He would be a much better fit in the slot.
Quandre Diggs played the position OK last year before going down with a torn pectoral muscle but was just a second late in coverage a little too often. He’s an easy guy to like with a fiery personality on the field, but a move to the CB4/dime corner role might be a better fit. Johnson Bademosi is a phenomenal special teams guy but he proved last year he should not be seeing regular playing time at cornerback. The remaining field of Crezdon Butler, Asa Jackson, Alex Carter, Adarius Barnes, Charles Washington, and Ian Wells should at absolute best be fighting for a practice squad position, otherwise something has gone horribly wrong this off-season.
What Don’t the Lions Need at Cornerback?
I get that there’s a lot of crossover with the Lions and there are many people in Detroit that also love their football in Ann Arbor. That being said though, Detroit drafting a guy like Jourdan Lewis would be an immense mistake. The Lions regularly have some of the best sub-5’11” corners in the league over recent years, however that doesn’t help you when you’re on the outside trying to stop a 6’3″ wide receiver from making a completion. The Lions witnessed exactly why that is the case time and again this past season. Detroit is absolutely set at slot corner, especially if Bob Quinn continues his odd fascination with Adarius Barnes and adds him back to the practice squad. Absolutely no corners under 5’11” should be added.
What Do the Lions Need at Cornerback?
When the Lions had Rashean Mathis for a few years they quietly had one of the leagues top 5 starting cornerback duos. That was a massive reason why Detroit was so successful in the 2014 season and why that was arguably the most talented Lions roster to step on a field in decades. If they can find a true outside corner that can help to shut down the opposite side of the field from Slay, that would be a game changing addition to the defense. Ideally the guy they add will be six foot plus, be at least comfortable getting physical off the line, have ability to be sticky in man while also having the range to be tough in zone looks, be confident in run support, and have strong ball skills that can make a team pay for trying to avoid our CB1.
The real question surrounding this issue though at this point isn’t whether to address it, but how. In free agency there are numerous options ranging from very pricey to reasonable-but-still-expensive that could hold down the CB2 spot and make immediate impacts as plug and play guys. With that said though they also come with a price tag. Should the fairy dust wear off and they turn into pumpkins after getting their money (see Chris Houston) it’s going to sting that much more based on the dollar value. In the draft however there is a very, very deep class of talented corners with strengths in every area you could want. While they may take a year or two to get up to speed, they could be just as big of an addition if not bigger over time and at a much smaller price tag. In the end, Bob Quinn will have to evaluate his options to the best of his abilities and bring in the guy that he thinks is best to fill the hole.
In my opinion a best case scenario is a reasonably priced free agent that fits the need is ideal, but if Quinn doesn’t feel completely confident with any one guy to hold off and take a cornerback in the first two rounds of the draft. While I would like a depth corner as well in the later rounds, I don’t see Detroit going with more than 5 cornerbacks and the depth concerns are addressed significantly by pushing Lawson and Diggs down a spot in the rotation. This is arguably the ultimate ‘In Quinn we Trust’ moment, so hopefully he comes down with the right move to improve the cornerback position this off-season.