Lions could tackle long-term secondary needs in draft
Allen Park — Over the past several days, leading up to the NFL draft, we’ve taken a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster situation, evaluating how the team might address these positions during the event. Today we close out the series with the secondary.
Current roster: Darius Slay, Teez Tabor, Nevin Lawson, DeShawn Shead, Quandre Diggs, Jamal Agnew, Adairius Barnes, Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Miles Killebrew, Stefan McClure, Rolan Milligan, Charles Washington
Top prospects: Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Justin Reid, Denzel Ward, Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson
Day 2 options: Jessie Bates, Kyzir White, Anthony Averett
Late-round fits: Quin Blanding, Aaron Davis
Short-term cornerback need: Two out of 10
Long-term cornerback need: Six out of 10
Short-term safety need: Four out of 10
Long-term safety need: Eight out of 10
Analysis: The Lions have built up a deep, versatile and talented secondary in recent years. There’s star power in Darius Slay, the young, shutdown corner who led the NFL in interceptions last year, and at free safety, where Glover Quin remains one of the league’s most cerebral defenders.
Elsewhere in the back end, the Lions have a number of moving parts that will give new coach Matt Patricia and his staff a slew of options as he game plans each week.
Quandre Diggs took a significant step forward last season in his traditional nickel role, then turned heads when he made a midseason shift to safety, delivering some thunderous hits and snagging the first three interceptions of his career.
The man Diggs was filling in for, strong safety Tavon Wilson, is back on a new deal and seems likely to push Diggs back to the nickel spot.
On the outside, opposite Slay, the Lions re-signed Nevin Lawson, brought in 6-foot-2 DeShawn Shead from Seattle and are expecting last year’s second-round pick Teez Tabor to play a bigger role after marinating on the bench much of his rookie season.
Another second-year player, Jamal Agnew, doesn’t have an obvious path to playing time beyond his current role as a Pro Bowl return man, but it’s easy to forget the ball skills he showed in college, breaking up a school-record 48 passes during his four years at the University of San Diego.
Finally, there’s safety Miles Killebrew, who didn’t have the season many expected last year, but still offers plenty of potential and will be one of the most interesting players to see how he is utilized by Patricia.
Most of the team’s defensive backs are capable of lining up at multiple spots, including Shead, who has seen time at all five positions in the secondary. So Detroit’s immediate needs, at both cornerback and safety, aren’t pressing.
But looking beyond this season, things are more uncertain. Diggs and Shead will be free agents at season’s end. Quin is under contract for another year, but turns 33 in January. With a sizeable cap hit in 2019, and minimal dead money, his return won’t be guaranteed. Similarly, the team will also have a financial decision to make with Wilson.
Finding a replacement for Quin could be an under-the-radar priority in this draft. The Lions have been linked to Stanford’s Justin Reid throughout the pre-draft process. If the team happens to trade back a few spots in the first round, there’s even more reason to believe he could be in play.
On Day 2, Wake Forest’s Jessie Bates checks off all the boxes for a Patricia safety. Bates is smart, instinctive and comfortable lining up in multiple spots.
And while it seems less likely, given the loaded depth chart, you can never rule out drafting a cornerback. You simply can never have enough talent at the position. And, let’s be honest, no one outside the building really knows how the Lions intend to utilize Diggs or Shead this season.