Detroit Lions Review and Offseason Plan: Cornerbacks


Photo Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions cornerbacks performed during the 2012 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.

The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for each Lions cornerback and compares them to the best, worst and league average ratings. PFF grades each player on each play to produce a massively useful tool for evaluating the totality of a player’s season compared to others at his position.

2012 Season Review
When it comes to Detroit Lions’ cornerback performances in 2012 there was Chris Houston and there was everyone else. Houston graded out as +3.1 in coverage and +3.4 against the run by Pro Football Focus to help him towards an overall rating of +7.4, that was good enough for 23rd best league-wide. In essence, it backs up the popular opinion of Houston; he’s a solid corner that might be better suited as a number two on a good team. He may not be a shutdown corner, if those even exist any more, but he was an asset to the Lions in 2012.

Jonte Green was the last of the three corners selected by the Lions in the 2012 draft but he wound up having the biggest impact as a rookie. He wasn’t spectacular but wasn’t bad on the whole either. All told, PFF rated him as an overall 0.0 (57th best) with modest positive results in coverage and run support but he gave back those gains after accounting for penalties. Rough outings against the Arizona Cardinals (-1.7) and Atlanta Falcons (-1.6) kept Green from having an even more respectable rookie season.

Jacob Lacey got off to a rough start with the Lions with four negatively rated games in the first five overall but was able to turn things around before ultimately landing on injured reserve. As a low cost guy that performed near average level, the Lions got what they paid for.

The only other Lions cornerback to qualify for PFF’s overall ratings board by playing at least 25% of his team’s snaps was Drayton Florence. After two modestly positive games, Florece went on IR with a broken arm and wasn’t the same player when he returned. By the time the season was over he had accumulated a -5.1 rating in which he rated out as a negative against the run and in coverage. With a bevvy of younger options, Florence’s time in Detroit is probably done.

Offseason Plan
The Detroit Lions enter another offseason with apparent needs at cornerback but I’m not convinced major changes are, or even should be, in store. Retaining Chris Houston should be a priority (a huge key for the offseason) and the Lions still have the three cornerbacks they drafted last year to develop. Bill Bentley showed some promise before getting hurt, Jonte Green improved throughout the season and Chris Greenwood was drafted as a project anyway. The Lions took a flier on Ron Bartell (+1.6 in one game with Lions) late in the season and he is currently signed for next season. That gives the team four cornerbacks to battle for playing time and position on the depth chart behind Houston who will hopefully be re-signed. Short on cash, the Lions will once again have to rely on competition bringing out the best in what they have. Jacob Lacey is still young and showed improvement for the Lions after settling in to the point that bringing him back to at least compete in camp wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.

But that doesn’t mean the Lions should stand pat, either. If there is a value play to be made in the draft, make it. There isn’t much clarity to how this cornerback class will shake out. Dee Milliner is widely regarded as the top corner in the draft but the Lions can likely get better value with the fifth overall pick. The value might shift in the Lions favor come the second round should Xavier Rhodes, Desmond Trufant or Johnthan Banks be available.

The Lions could also look to add a veteran free agent, just don’t expect it to be a trade for Darrelle Revis. One name to keep an eye on in free agency is Sean Smith. At 6’3″ and 218 pounds, he more than fits the big corner profile the Lions are looking for. He rated out as a -3.6 by Pro Football Focus but he had a solid start to the season that fell off in the second half. It added up to a second-straight negative season rating but Smith was solidly positive in his first two professional seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

Previously: Wide Receivers, Offensive Tackles, Guards, Center, Tight Ends, Quarterback, Running Backs, Outside Linebackers, Inside Linebacker, Safeties

*Those that have been around the Detroit Lions blogosphere for a while may recognize the approach presented as similar to Ty Schalter’s ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ series on The Lions in Winter. Don’t worry, he’s cool with what I’m doing here and has assured me that he’ll be back with Old Mother Hubbard later in the offseason.