The Detroit Lions are pretty well-set at cornerback for the first time in years. With Darius Slay emerging as a legitimate No. 1 cover man and youngsters Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs both proving capable of handling extended roles, CB is near the bottom of team needs.
Bob Quinn has said as much, and one coaching staffer told me back in January that cornerback was the deepest, most talented position group on the roster.
With Rashean Mathis retiring, there is an opening for a veteran corner. Thus far the Lions have not really addressed the leadership and mentoring void left by the venerable Mathis hanging up his cleats. Johnson Bademosi doesn’t count; the former Browns CB is in Detroit exclusively for his special teams prowess.
The free-agent CB market has seen the top tier guys like Casey Hayward, Sean Smith and Janoris Jenkins sign for big deals but not a lot of activity on the tiers where the Lions figure to be shopping. Among the names still out there:
- Brandon Boykin
- Leon Hall
- Trumaine McBride
- Patrick Robinson
- Greg Toler
Boykin isn’t exactly the grizzled veteran type. He’s 25 and comes off an odd season in Pittsburgh where he inexplicably rode the bench for the early part of the season after being traded from Philadelphia. He played well once the Steelers started using him, and he also offers some insurance at kick returner.
Hall, a former Bengal, is the best fit. A Michigan grad, Hall thrives in man coverage and can play either the slot or outside. Durability is an issue; he hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2010 and at 31 he’s not likely to suddenly improve his physical condition. His playmaking knack has subsided as well, with just four INTs in the last three years after 22 in his first six seasons.
Caution is needed with Robinson, a former first-round bust for the Saints. He did perform better last season in San Diego. Perhaps liberation from the historically awful Rob Ryan defense was all he needed, but Robinson has always played with an odd passivity and lack of instincts in coverage even at Florida State.
Both Toler and Antwon Blake, who has visited with the Lions, finished in the bottom 10 of Pro Football Focus corner ratings in 2015. Toler missed six full games and parts of two others with a combination of neck and knee injuries. McBride was near the bottom as well, playing with a groin injury that clearly impacted his agility. He missed most of 2014 with a broken thumb but has played quite well for the Giants up to that point as a scrap heap reclamation project. Like Boykin, he’s 5’9” and belongs solely in the slot.
The draft obviously doesn’t offer experience, but it does provide a chance to keep the pantry stocked with young talent. Injuries happen all the time and the Lions know this very well.
Some of the more intriguing later-round (4th-6th) options that Quinn and his staff should consider:
- Morgan Burns, Kansas State
- Juston Burris, North Carolina State
- Maurice Canady, Virginia
- Deiondre Hall, Northern Iowa
- Tavon Young, Temple
I’ve been fortunate enough to see all but Burns play in person. Burns is more notable for his incredible kick return skills. He set a Big 12 record by taking four to the house and finishing second in the nation in return yards, third in average. In all likelihood the 5’11” Burns would be the fifth corner while also being the primary return man. He would not be draftable without the return skills.
Burris brings size at 6’2” and a solid 212 pounds. He likes to bump and run, and he’s got decent feet and hips for a bigger outside corner. During Shrine Game practices he stood out for his ability to knock receivers off their timing, but also for illegal contact down the field.
He doesn’t break down from full speed well either, though he’s quite good in run support and has excellent field awareness. At worst, he’s Don Carey 2.0 and it would only cost the Lions a 6th-round pick.
Canady is the best of the group, and could be gone by the time the Lions pick at the end of the third round. I wrote extensively about Canady for RealGM, and he’s a very good fit for the Lions style of play. His ability to play inside and out, or also perhaps transition to safety, is something Quinn & Co. should strongly consider. It’s notable he was a team captain and quite respected by his peers.
Hall and Young are cut from the same cloth. A very aggressive, trash-talking cloth. Young is 5’10” and fantastic after the ball is in the air. Hall is 6’1” and thrives at using his length and strength to jam at the line and punish receivers in short-yardage. Both had standout moments during Senior Bowl practices. They project to the fifth round.
Don’t expect a big splash at cornerback, but there are several ways the Lions can improve the depth and look towards the future at the position in the next few weeks.