Detroit Lions need another playmaker at cornerback

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 28: Tyler Lockett #16 of the Seattle Seahawks catches a touchdown pass infront of Nevin Lawson #24 of the Detroit Lions during the second quarter at Ford Field on October 28, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 28: Tyler Lockett #16 of the Seattle Seahawks catches a touchdown pass infront of Nevin Lawson #24 of the Detroit Lions during the second quarter at Ford Field on October 28, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

Darius Slay may be a star for the Detroit Lions, but the other cornerbacks on the roster have been liabilities to this team.

Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay has his side of the field locked down. The former Pro Bowler has played at an elite level for most of his career and has established himself as one of the league’s best players at the position. Opposite of Slay, no other cornerback has been able to provide stability at the position.

Cornerback Nevin Lawson was a fourth-round pick for the Lions in 2014. He began his career in Detroit as a backup but quickly was promoted to the starting slot corner. Lawson entered the 2016 season as the team’s second starting cornerback alongside Slay. After signing a two-year extension this past offseason, there were higher expectations for the veteran defensive back.

His play had been fairly inconsistent over his career, and so far this season Lawson has only recorded 19 tackles, most of which are on catches he allowed. In his fifth season in the NFL, he has yet to record an interception. If Lawson does not make improvements to his play soon, expect Detroit to start looking for his replacement before next season.

Cornerback Teez Tabor was once considered a first-round talent. But after a poor performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Lions were able to pick him up in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The cornerback out of Florida had a disappointing rookie year, starting the season inactive and then appearing in only 10 games.

So far, Tabor has struggled in coverage and has allowed some of the biggest plays against the Lions this season. He has recorded 14 tackles this season, but has not had any pass breakups or interceptions, which just showcases his inability to make a play on the ball.

Once a member of the Seattle Seahawks’ feared Legion of Boom, cornerback DeShawn Shead has had difficulty finding his role in Detroit. Shead went undrafted in 2012, but signed with the Seahawks, where he played for most of his NFL career.

Coming into Detroit, Shead was expected to compete for the starting cornerback role, and many thought he would win the job. Instead, the Lions released him when it was time to cut down their rosters to 53. After a brief injury was suffered by Slay, the team opted to bring back Shead. Since then, the seventh-year cornerback has only appeared in four games and has made just three tackles.

Also on the roster are cornerbacks Cre’Von LeBlanc and Lenzy Pipkins. Both of them are young undrafted guys who have bounced around between NFL rosters over the last few years. The two players are most likely on the roster for depth at the position and for special teams value. LeBlanc may have once gotten a pick-six off of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, but his career has been uneventful since then.

Barring more injuries to the secondary, LeBlanc and Pipkins are most likely going to be sitting on the bench for most games. General manager Bob Quinn often churns the bottom of the roster, so these two are likely to be the first to go if Detroit wants to bring in new players via free agency or waiver claims.

Lawson, Tabor, Shead, and LeBlanc have all taken snaps at cornerback for the Lions this season, but none have seen much success there. In their 14-28 loss against the Seahawks, these players showed just how much the position group is struggling.

Lawson and Tabor both struggled to cover Seattle’s receivers. The two cornerbacks showed strong coverage skills up until the catch, where they would then fail to make a play on the ball. Both players contributed to the Seahawks’ win over the Lions by allowing two touchdowns and several more catches for big gains.

This highlight video of Seattle quarterback Russel Wilson displays just how poorly the Lions cornerbacks performed:

The poor performance by this position group didn’t just begin against Seattle. One of the biggest questions for the Lions this past offseason was about who would start opposite of Slay. Tabor, Lawson, and Shead all competed for the spot throughout training camp, with all three getting reps at starter. The competition ended with Shead getting cut (and later re-signed), Tabor starting and subsequently getting benched, and Lawson underperforming in the starting role.

The rest of the secondary’s play has been less than ideal this season. Slay and safety Glover Quin have been long term leaders of the defense, but appear to have lost a step this season. The Lions also lost nickel cornerback and return man Jamal Agnew to a season-ending knee injury, leaving another massive hole to fill on the roster.

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With the trade deadline having passed without them making a move to bolster their secondary and a dry free agent market, Detroit will most likely roll with the cornerbacks they currently have on the roster.

Lawson, Tabor, Shead, and LeBlanc all have contributed in some way to big plays against Detroit. Regardless of how they finish out the season, expect the Lions to find their replacements next offseason via free agency and the draft.