Darius Slay – 2017
Statistics: 16 games played, 8 interceptions*, 1 fumble recovery, 60 total tackles
Retrospective: Long before his acrimonious departure from the Lions this past March, Darius Slay spent several seasons living up to his “Big Play Slay” nickname. Never was that more true than 2017, when he led the NFL in interceptions and solidified himself as one of the NFL’s best defensive backs.
Slay had steadily built a reputation as one of the game’s better cornerbacks over the previous three seasons, routinely locking horns, and more often than not locking down some of the best receivers in the league. Still, interceptions had been hard to come by, as he had picked off just six passes in his first four seasons. Boy, did he reverse that trend in year five.
After an excellent Week 2 outing against the New York Giants, Slay would corral a pair of second-half picks in a tight loss against the Atlanta Falcons. Both picks would come while Slay was in zone coverage, demonstrating his ability to make plays even when not playing in a man format, his primary strength.
He rebounded from a rough Week 5 performance against the Carolina Panthers with a better showing against the New Orleans Saints the following week. He was able to wrestle a reception away from star receiver Michael Thomas as both players fell to the ground, with Slay coming up with the interception.
Despite the Lions’ sluggish second half of the year which spoiled their playoff chances, Slay continued to play at a high level. So much so, that opposing quarterbacks were rarely challenging him by year’s end. He punctuated his season with a pair of interceptions against the Chicago Bears in Week 15.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin would rarely take Slay off the field; he didn’t play less than 92% of the team’s defensive snaps in a single game all year. His outstanding play culminated in an All-Pro selection, the first Lions defensive back to gain that mark since Lem Barney in 1969.