Allen Park — Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay made his debut in the “NFL Top 100,” the annual ranked list of the league’s best as voted by the players, checking in at No. 49.
Slay, who had already established himself as one of the game’s best young cornerbacks, took his performance to another level in 2017 with a league-leading eight interceptions, more than doubling his career total through his first four seasons.
Even more impressively, he did it running the gauntlet against many of the league’s top receivers.
“I handled all the top guys in the league this year,” Slay said on program, which aired Monday night on the NFL Network. “I went against Antonio (Brown), A.J. (Green), Julio (Jones), Odell (Beckham). I had Mike Thomas. Shoot, I had Jordy (Nelson) and (Davante) Adams. I had (Adam) Thielen, (Stefon) Diggs. I had a schedule this year. I think I earned a lot of respect. They ain’t just give it to me, I took it.”
Thielen, who enjoyed a breakout campaign with the Vikings this year, said nothing comes easy against Slay.
“It’s a battle every time you go against a guy like that,” Thielen said on the program. “It’s always going to be a contested catch with him. You’re never going to have a wide-open catch and be able to turn and run on him.”
Slay, who has a habit of playfully exaggerating, discussed the deep research he does on opponents prior to matchups to gain an advantage.
“I do all my research,” Slay said. “Any guy I go against, I’ve got to know what you did in high school, what movies you like, what you talking about on Twitter. What routes are you going to be running this week? Guys be posting their workouts on Instagram and if I know I’ve got to go against you, I’m watching all your stories. I’ve got to watch them all.”
In addition to cracking the Top 100 list, Slay also earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season, as well as first-team All-Pro honors. That’s a strong start for the 27-year-old corner, but he has his eyes on a much loftier goal — the Hall of Fame.
“I be trying to get a gold jacket, so I can’t be playing,” he said.
A second-round pick out of Mississippi State in 2013, Slay is entering his sixth season with the Lions. He has recorded 258 tackles, 74 pass defenses and 14 interceptions. He signed a four-year extension with the team in 2016 and remains under contract through the 2020 season.
Slay is the first Lions player to appear on the Top 100 list this year, but quarterback Matthew Stafford is expected to be in the top 40, which will be announced over the next month. The Lions have had just one player on the list the past two years, with Stafford (No. 31) in 2017 and defensive end Ziggy Ansah (No. 43) in 2016.