Cornerback has been one of the weakest positions on the Detroit Lions roster since Dre Bly left in 2007. They’ve addressed the position fairly often the past few seasons, though they’ve passed on big named CBs in the early rounds with varying degrees of success.
Five draft picks were used by the Lions in the past three seasons on cornerbacks, in the 2nd-6th rounds, but returns on that investment have been sparse at best. With that much focus on young talent in the draft, why do I keep hearing 2013 UDFA Aaron Hester as a dark horse to make the Lions roster? It’s a question that’s come up multiple times lately and is deserving of attention.
When I began researching Hester, a couple of things stood out early. He’s often referred to as a good athlete with great size, at just under 6’2″ and around 210 lbs. His combine weight was a little lower, but even that weight (198) was above average for a CB and his height is obviously a plus. Aaron Hester also lettered in track at UCLA, so you’d have to think straight line speed wasn’t a problem. Although he wasn’t a ball hawk by any stretch of the imagination, Hester had a reputation as being a physical, tough corner in college.
With that kind of size, you’d have to wonder why Hester went undrafted in 2013 (More on that in a bit!). A team looking to press at the line or even running bump and run ought to have taken a flyer at least on a player with better than prototypical size for his position. Playing alongside a similar corner at UCLA, Hester was able to thrive despite a lack of play-making simply because he could reroute receivers well.
If he got his hands on a receiver, it was rare that receiver could shrug him off and continue on their route unfazed. With the Lions poised to run more press, or at the very least a more physical defense, someone like Hester could conceivably beat out an undersized or weaker corner like Jonte Green or an oft injured one like Chris Greenwood.
It could be a trap, though. Hester already has great size, and he reportedly ran a 4.37 at the 2014 UCLA Pro Day. That kind of size and speed would turn some heads easily, right? Personally, I’m not convinced. Hester ran a mechanically timed 4.62 at his combine, showing that his ‘track speed’ was very much a question mark. His 2013 Pro Day time was between 4.53 and 4.57, and as we all know pro day times are notoriously friendly to the players.
Could he have really dropped to 4.37 in 2014? Looking a little closer, EVERY player at that pro day ran a good .2 seconds faster at UCLA’s pro day. It doesn’t seem like much, but for a corner that small difference can mean the difference between very good (4.37) and pretty bad (4.57). Either every player at UCLA suddenly developed leg rockets or it was a more-generous-than-normal timekeeper at his pro day.
It doesn’t end at just his 40 time, however. I could honestly forgive a player of his size if 40 time was the only measurement of concern. Joe Haden ran a 4.57 and he seems to be doing alright. Aaron Hester actually measured poorly in EVERY combine measurement, alarmingly so. His 29″ vertical is not a typo. It’s the 2nd worst vertical measurement for any CB in the past 11 years and the worst by far since 2007.
His 9’4″ Broad jump was also one of the worst scores in the past decade. His 3 cone score likewise, one of the worst. Even if you average his 40 times from pro days and combine, it comes up below average. Hester, from a true measurement standpoint, is NOT a very good athlete.
Aaron Hester came to Detroit in a very favorable situation. Teryl Austin’s new defensive scheme is looking to be more physical and more aggressive, which plays to his strengths. His lack of general measurable talent outside of his size is concerning, but players like Brandon Flowers have shown that schematic fit can mask many physical deficiencies at the cornerback position.
Coming to a team with a new scheme puts him on even footing with several of the players who would have otherwise made the roster simply because of draft position, but Hester has to show that he is not only a better immediate option but a better long-term one. It isn’t out of the question that Hester makes the roster, but I’m not as confident as some that he’s done enough to contend at this point and even less so that he looks like a future starter.