We know full well about the Lions’ deficiencies rushing the passer over the last two seasons. A morphing scheme such as theirs though can mask those shortcomings with exceptional play from their cornerbacks. What looked like a well-rounded and talented unit prior to the season’s start struggled with consistency and playmaking all season.
Darius Slay has been the best player on the Lions’ defensive back end for the better part of the last half-decade, and at times he was again in 2019. It was not his best season though by far, and his future with the team is up in the air after some rough performances this season.
Slay was absent from most of the team’s offseason program, seeking a lucrative contract extension that he never received. Whether this affected his play is up for debate, but it was not one of his best years. He struggled against talented receivers in games against the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, and Los Angeles Chargers, and Washington Redskins, and picked off just two passes, his fewest since 2016.
Justin Coleman was signed to a sizable free-agent deal during the Lions spending splurge last offseason, brought in to solidify the nickel corner position. While he got off to a hot start and showed a nifty knack for punching the ball free from opposing ball-carriers, his play tailed off as the season progressed. He was likely asked to do more when injuries started accumulating. He had a brutal outing against Anthony Miller of the Chicago Bears and gave up a game-clinching deep reception to Stefon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings.
Another free-agent signee and former New England Patriot, Rashaan Melvin was looking to rebound after a subpar 2018 with the Oakland Raiders. He too started the season well, but didn’t make enough plays and struggled against quicker, skilled receivers in short spaces. He did not record an interception, and it seems doubtful that he will return next season.
One bright spot was rookie Amani Oruwariye, who saw his playing time on defense increase substantially in the second half of the season. He somehow slid to the fifth round of the 2019 draft and could end up being a major steal. Despite some natural rookie mistakes and struggles against talented wideouts, he showed excellent ball skills, picking off two passes in just 215 snaps. He should have a big role next year.
Five interceptions from their cornerbacks and the league’s worst passing defense tells you all you need to know about this position group’s performance in 2019. Their low grade is a reflection of that stark underachievement.