Detroit Lions have cornerback depth but little talent
By Max Gerber
The Detroit Lions currently have eight cornerbacks on the active roster, but outside of Darius Slay, they have little talent at the position.
The Detroit Lions‘ secondary as a whole has struggled this season, but no unit on this team has performed worse than the cornerback position. Sure, the team has star cornerback Darius Slay making big plays on defense. But the other seven cornerbacks on the active roster have done next to nothing this season.
While Slay hasn’t looked his best in 2018, he has been voted in to his second Pro Bowl in as many years. In 14 games, the 2013 second-round pick for the Lions has 15 passes defensed, three interceptions, one touchdown, and 41 tackles.
Slay has been a leader on this defense for years. But his leadership hasn’t seemed to help improve the young cornerbacks on this roster. Alongside Slay are cornerbacks Nevin Lawson, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew, DeShawn Shead, Mike Ford, Marcus Cooper, and Dee Virgin.
Lawson has been starting alongside Slay for the last three seasons, but has never been able to become a reliable player at the position. The 27-year-old cornerback has shown that he does not have the ability to make plays on the ball, with only 25 passes defensed and no interceptions in his career. Slay had better numbers for those two stats in the 2017 season alone. Lawson has the most tackles out of all Lions cornerbacks, but many of those have come on receptions that he blatantly allowed.
The only big play that Lawson has on his resume in Detroit is a 44-yard forced fumble and recovery for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in 2017. He has not forced any other turnovers in his five years as a Lion.
Lawson was set to become a free agent after the 2017 season, but the Detroit Lions opted to bring him back on a two-year, $10.3 million deal. He’s played well enough for the team to consider keeping him on the roster for one more year, but Lawson has proved that he is not a starting-caliber cornerback in the NFL.
Once considered to be a first-round talent, Tabor saw a slide during the 2017 NFL Draft and was selected by Detroit in the second round. A controversial pick due to a poor 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, the cornerback out of Florida spent most of his rookie year on the bench.
With not much talent at the position during the 2018 offseason, Tabor found his way into the first-team defense and eventually a starting role. But after poor play, he fell back into a reserve role, and eventually made his way back to the bench.
The second-year cornerback has just 22 tackles on the season, and nothing else on his statline. Consistently struggling to cover opposing receivers, Tabor hasn’t been able to prove that he deserves a roster spot next season. The Lions took a gamble on him and used a high draft pick, but it is unclear if the team is ready to give up on him after this season.
Agnew, another cornerback taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, has seen more success than his teammate. An All-Pro return man his rookie year, the slot cornerback earned a starting role on defense this season. Unfortunately, he went down with a knee injury in Week 5, and spent most of the season on injured reserve.
He found his way back onto the active roster before Week 16, but did not take a single snap on defense. Agnew has showed a lot of promise in his limited time on the field and is likely to return to his starting role in 2019 when he’s fully healthy.
The rest of the cornerback group, made up of Shead, Ford, Virgin, and Cooper, has not done much on defense this season.
Ford, an undrafted rookie, is now starting games on defense. Shead was supposed to compete for a starting role, but was cut, and then re-signed after an injury to Slay. Cooper was brought in late in the season, and has a forced fumble, but not much else. Virgin has been active for three games this season, but has not taken any snaps on defense.
Together, these four cornerbacks have a combined 40 tackles, two forced fumbles, and one pass defended. Two of those players, Shead and Ford, have started games. None of these players have been able to step up and contribute in a significant way on defense this season.
The Detroit Lions have all of these players except Shead and Cooper under contract for next season, but there’s a good chance that more of these players will be looking for a new team to sign with this offseason.
With an early pick in the 2019 draft and a good amount of cap space, the Lions must look to bolster this unit however they can. The cornerback position has struggled all season, but there’s hope that some new faces can turn all of that around.