Cornerback depth in draft gives Lions lots of options
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL draft, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster situation and evaluate how the team might address these positions during the event. Today: Cornerbacks.
Current roster: Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, D.J. Hayden, Johnson Bademosi, Adairius Barnes, Alex Carter, Ian Wells
Top prospects: Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Marlon Humphrey, Kevin King
Mid-round fits: Fabian Moreau, Chidobe Awuzie, Adoree’ Jackson, Ahkello Witherspoon
Late-round options: Brian Allen, Brandon Wilson, Shaquill Griffin
Short-term need: 4 on a 1-to-10 scale
Long-term need: 9 on a 1-to-10 scale
Analysis: If you need a cornerback, and what NFL team doesn’t, this is the draft for you.
This class of prospects is chock full of prototypical size/speed options and some analysts are calling it the best group they’ve seen in the past decade.
And while the Lions aren’t as desperate as they’ve been for corners in previous years, there’s certainly room to upgrade the current roster.
General manager Bob Quinn moved quickly last season, locking up Slay long-term. At 26 years old, he still hasn’t come close to his ceiling. There’s Pro Bowl potential if he can continue to improve his ball skills and increase his turnover production.
On the opposite side is Lawson, a solid, still-ascending young talent. His weaknesses were more apparent when asked to fill in for an injured Slay last season, but as a physical, No. 2 option, Lawson is adequate. The biggest downside is a lack of interceptions. He’s still looking for his first after 25 starts.
The nickel situation is shakier. Before suffering a season-ending injury last season, to say Diggs was struggling in coverage would be an understatement. On passes his direction, he allowed a staggering 89.5 percent to be completed.
To add depth, Quinn went out and signed former first-round pick Hayden, a versatile option who can play inside and out. He’s looking for a fresh start after failing to live up to expectations in Oakland. As long as he can clean up his issues with penalties, he’s could push both Lawson and Diggs for playing time.
But Hayden, signed to a one-year contract, is a temporary solution. And Lawson is also entering the final year of his rookie deal. While the Lions could conceivably get by with what they have in 2017, there’s a long-term need at the position.
Up to six corners could be selected in the first round. Lattimore is expected to come off the board first, potentially even in the top five. The rest of the group is all about personal preference. Lattimore’s college teammate, Conley is a technician and most ready to contribute immediately, where King and Humphrey are high-end athletes who possess elite speed.
Moreau and Colorado teammates Awuzie and Witherspoon are all solid Day 2 options. Each stands at least six-foot tall and run the 40 in 4.45 seconds or better. Jackson, at 5-foot-10, is a nickel fit with impressive return skills.
And if you’re looking for a bargain and can be patient, Washington’s Sidney Jones, who tore his Achilles at his pro day, was previously viewed as a clear-cut first-round talent.
Later in the draft, there should be some athletes with upside. Wilson, a two-way player, put on a show at his pro day with a 4.36 40 and a 41-inch vertical. Those are the types of metrics that catch the eye of Quinn, who likes chart-busting measurables with his corners. Wilson also has some kick returning on the resume.
You almost can’t go wrong in this draft at cornerback. You can snag an elite one in the first round or sit tight and find good value in the early stages of Day 3. But with Slay the only lock to be on Detroit’s roster in 2018, the Lions should look to take advantage of this glut of talent and improve the long-term outlook of the team’s secondary.