Darius Slay is still the Detroit Lions top cornerback in the secondary. But since his debut, rookie corner Amani Oruwariye has been the one playing like it.
With the Detroit Lions out of playoff contention, the season is no longer about their winning percentage but more about improvement and evaluation. It’s not as enjoyable from a fans standpoint but there are still ways to enjoy the remaining three games.
One of my favorite ways to do so is to evaluate some of the young and new on arrival talent that would not have otherwise gotten the opportunity to play on Sundays in front of the cameras. Most fans still have their focus set on whether or not the Lions can match last season’s win total of six to prove regression or progress.
There have been some promising performances coming out of these regular-season contests from some of these new Lions. The most recent development and reason for the catchy headline is rookie cornerback Amani Oruwariye. Oruwariye has been Detroit’s best coverage defender since his debut on defense against the Dallas Cowboys.
In Week 11, though the fifth round pick out of Penn State only played nine snaps against the Cowboys. It was a clean nine with zero completions on one target.
Week 12 versus the Washington Redskins is when Oruwariye got his first real opportunity to shine and had it covered. Playing in 76 percent of the defensive snaps he played tight coverage against the likes of wide receivers Paul Richardson and Kelvin Harmon, allowing only 21 yards for an average for a 7.0 average yards per completion and an interception.
Week 13 versus the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving was more of the same. Earning even more playing time and in on 92 percent of defensive snaps, Oruwariye again had a minimal yards per completion at 7.7.
Oruwariye was covering receiver Javon Wims most of the afternoon while fellow cornerback Justin Coleman was getting torched by wideout Anthony Miller most of the afternoon for a season high 140 yards. You might expect to see some changes the following week.
In Week 14, after playing in 100 percent of the snaps in Week 13, Coleman only played 51 percent of the snaps against the Minnesota Vikings. Giving Oruwariye WR2 duties with no slowing down in sight as he was once again the cream of the cornerback crop for the Lions.
Credited for giving up a touchdown to Vikings receiver Olabisi Johnson on a crossing route, it might have just been a tough break for Oruwariye. Re-watching the game it looked like safety Tracy Walker bit on the opposite tight end crossing route when he should have had over the top help for Oruwariye. As there were three Lions on the opposite tight end crosser, you can conclude at least one of them wasn’t supposed to be there.
On the season, Oruwariye has given up come catches, 10 on 13 targets for a 76.9 completion percentage, but he’s kept everything in front of him only succeeding 84 total yards. Couple that with a good tackling rate and you’re going to raise some eyebrows. For the Pro Football Focus (PFF) fans, Oruwariye also has a better defensive (78.3) and coverage (83.8) grades than two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay in 2019, for what it’s worth.
In Slay’s defense, he’s dealing with the opposing teams top receivers as Oruwariye is covering the two’s and three’s. But even so, Terry McLaurin, Allen Robinson, and Stefon Diggs aren’t exactly the NFL elite … Slay is supposed to be.
Working against Slay is the fact he is paid to cover the league’s best receivers. And he has been getting bested in too many of these one vs. one matchups.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Diggs is 10th and Robinson is 20th in the NFL in receiving yards, while McLaurin is 37th. Let us not forget Slay was bailed out multiple times by overthrows from Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
The biggest surprise with Slay to me is how often opposing quarterbacks are throwing his way ,,,
I’m not saying Oruwariye should now be the one lining up across from WR1’s from here on out. But I am saying for a rookie in his first two and a half games, Oruwariye has been very impressive and the Lions best cornerback. Impressive was something I thought was going to be the case coming out of Penn State with All-Big Ten honors in his senior season, best on the team … not so much.
The Detroit Lions are going to have a decision to make regarding Darius Slay and his future with the team this summer. Slay will be going into the final year on his contract and will be looking to get the extension he didn’t get last summer. If Amani Oruwariye can play out the rest of the season as well as he has been the past two weeks, it might make Bob Quinn’s decision to not overpay a 29-year-old cornerback a little easier.