Draft offers variety if Lions want a cornerback

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
P.J. Williams

With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley gone, the most talked about position of need for the Lions looking ahead to the draft has been defensive tackle.

With the Lions considering moving Riley Reiff from left tackle to right, offensive tackle has been another oft-discussed possibility for the team in the first round.

But one of the other biggest needs for the Lions is cornerback, as it's been for the past several years, and at No. 23, the Lions should have their choice of different playing styles if they want to add a cover man.

Currently, the Lions are slated to have Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis starting again in 2015, but there are questions behind them. In the slot, Bill Bentley and Nevin Lawson, a fourth-round pick in 2014, both suffered season-ending injuries last year.

If the Lions draft a cornerback high, they could look for someone to be the eventual replacement to Mathis, who will be 35 next season. They could also search for a more durable nickel option, and ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. discussed some possibilities for that spot on a teleconference Thursday, listing Florida State's P.J. Williams, TCU's Kevin White, Oregon State's Steven Nelson and Florida State's Ronald Darby among the early-round possibilities.

Michigan State's Trae Waynes has established himself as the top cornerback in the draft, according to most analysts, but he's the only one who seems to be a lock to go before the Lions' pick.

Behind him, Washington's Marcus Peters is widely considered the next best option, but he has off-field concerns after attitude issues led to his dismissal from the Huskies.

A couple other cornerbacks who could come off the board in the 20s are LSU's Jalen Collins and Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson, though Kiper's explanation of Johnson's game makes him sound like a poor fit in Detroit.

"I think (he's) more of an off-corner, could be press if he gets a little bigger and more physical, but I think more of an off-corner," Kiper said of Johnson. "The press guys would be Peters and Collins with Trae Waynes from Michigan State going earlier, probably 11 to Minnesota."

Under defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, the Lions played significantly more press coverage than in previous years.

In addition to having press ability, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew likes cornerbacks with speed. He has said he prefers corners that can run a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash.

Williams ran a 4.57 at the combine, which could hurt his stock for the Lions, but they've already hosted another guy who Kiper listed as versatile enough to play nickel. Nelson ran a 4.49, and at 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, he has size to play inside or out, but he's more likely a Day 2 draft pick.