Carlton Davis may finally unlock full potential of Detroit Lions defense

Carlton Davis has promised to be a lockdown corner for the Lions, and his presence may finally allow Aaron Glenn to do what he wants to.
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During his introductory press conference after the trade to acquire him was official, Carlton Davis promised to be exactly what the Detroit Lions need.

"You about to get a lockdown corner,” Davis said. “You about to have one side (of the field) just, like, unavailable. That’s what I do. I’m here to take the No. 1 receiver on these teams. I’m here to deny the ball, I’m here to take the ball away.”

"I’ve done it, taken guys out of the game before. Check the film,” Davis said. “Turn on the Tampa Bay film. Turn on me against top receivers and see their stats when I’m on them. Not when they’re in zone. Not when they’re in the slot running away from me. Not when I’m in zone. When I’m man-on-man, press. Turn on that film, and then let me know what you think.”

Indeed, Davis man coverage numbers are very good.

Going a little further into PFF data, Davis' 73.1 coverage grade was No. 12 among cornerbacks who played over 400 snaps in man coverage last season.

Carlton Davis may unlock the full potential of the Detroit Lions' defense

By the end of last season, the Lions had a struggling Cameron Sutton and a fringe NFL player in Kindle Vildor playing nearly every snap as their outside corners. The results against the opponent's best wide receiver over the last six games (including the playoffs) speak for themselves.

  • Justin Jefferson: Six receptions, 141 yards, one touchdown
  • CeeDee Lamb: 13 receptions, 227 yards, one touchdown
  • Justin Jefferson: 12 receptions, 192 yards, one touchdown
  • Puka Nacua: nine receptions, 181 yards, one touchdown
  • Mike Evans: eight receptions, 147 yards, one touchdown
  • Deebo Samuel: eight receptions, 89 yards

Over the last seven regular season games last year, the Lions allowed 38 pass plays of 20-plus yards.

In each of Aaron Glenn's three seasons as the Lions' defensive coordinator, they've been in the top-12 in the league in blitz rate. Last year they finished 11th, but early in the season they had among the lowest blitz rates in the league as Glenn navigated having a better secondary. Issues came in marrying pressure and coverage schemes, no doubt due in part to the struggles in the secondary.

Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, during an interview with The Athletic in February, hinted at Glenn getting away from blitzing.

"I was talking to AG and I feel like he was saying he got away from himself a little bit (early in the season),”Hutchinson said, “He got away from himself. His identity is blitzing. His identity is being aggressive, applying that pressure.”

At the league meetings this week, Dan Campbell talked about what Davis' presence means for the Lions' defense.

"Your ability to tilt from him a little bit at times and just say, ‘Hey, you’ve got this side of the field’ or ‘you’ve got this player,’” Campbell said. “And now we can—Kerby (Joseph) and Iffy (Ifeatu Melifonwu)—and we can kind of move them a little bit more the other way and help out the middle of the defense, or even on the other side. So it just gives AG more flexibility in his calls is what it does.”

Davis' ability as a man coverage corner is inherently obvious in a domino effect sense. Other players in the secondary can move around and do other things without having to help him, with how good Ifeatu Melifonwu was as a blitzer down the stretch last season as a notable example.

Campbell noted how Glenn having someone like Davis to take away one side of the field is "really something we felt we haven't had here since we've been here." The Lions needed a legit No. 1 corner this offseason, and they clearly feel they've got one now.