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Lions NFL Combine preview: Defensive backs

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

This is the first in a multi-part series previewing the NFL Scouting Combine. The event will be broadcast over four days on the NFL Network, Thursday, Feb. 27 through Sunday, March 1. Today, we'll look at the defensive backs.

Lions pre-free agency needs

► Cornerback: You can never have enough talent at cornerback, but the Lions might need more than depth, depending on how the team intends to proceed with Darius Slay, and how it feels about the starting potential of last year’s fifth-round pick Amani Oruwariye. It would be surprising if the team didn’t draft at least one corner.

► Safety: The Lions have spent third-round picks on safeties the past two years and those selections, Tracy Walker and Will Harris, are projected to be starters in 2020. There’s little to worry about with Walker, but Harris will need to make a developmental jump after an inconsistent rookie year.

From a depth standpoint, veteran Tavon Wilson is set to be a free agent, while C.J. Moore, an undrafted rookie a year ago, was on the field for just 79 defensive snaps. There’s room to add depth in the draft, especially if Wilson isn’t re-signed.

Metrics to monitor

40-yard dash, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle

No trait gets more attention at the combine than straight-line speed and a good 40 time is critical for cornerbacks. Anything 4.5 seconds or under is passable for the position. Beyond track speed, teams want excellent change of direction quickness and leaping ability in the defensive backfield. That trio of skills helps players react and recover in coverage, while providing the necessary ability to compete for balls in the air. 

Jeffrey Okudah

Top prospects

► Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State

As polished of a cornerback prospect as there’s been in the past few years, Okudah is legitimately in play for the Lions in the first round, whether the team sticks with the No. 3 pick or is able to move back a few spots with a trade. Dominant in man coverage, Detroit’s preferred scheme, a good combine performance would rubber stamp his unquestionably impressive tape.

► C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida

Listed at 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, Henderson’s size and length check the boxes. In 30 games over three seasons for the Gators, he intercepted six passes and broke up another 20. Don’t be surprised if his vertical sets the bar for the position group, while a fast 40 should lock him into the middle of the first round.

► Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

The parts of the combine we don’t see – the team interview and medical examinations – will be important for Fulton, who missed a season for a drug-related suspension and additional time for multiple injuries. He put those issues in the rear-view in 2019, playing at a high level for the champs. He appeared in all 15 games, breaking up 14 passes.

► Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama

A versatile talent, McKinney can be sent on a blitz, cover the slot or patrol deeper portions of the field. He stuffed the stat sheet last season, recording 95 tackles, 3.0 sacks, three interceptions and four forced fumbles.

Grant Delpit

 Grant Delpit, S, LSU

Possibly due to a nagging ankle injury, Delpit didn’t cap his college career the way many expected. An excellent athlete, he can re-establish himself as the clear-cut best safety in this class at the combine, especially if he’s able to clock in under 4.5 on his 40.

► Ashtyn Davis, S, Cal

Given the track background (he came to Cal on scholarship), there’s good reason to believe Davis will test well. Pair that with a solid 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame and teams should be all over the toolsy, still-developing defender.

Sleepers to watch

► Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne

Small school, big body. The 6-foot-1 Dugger weighed in at 217 pounds at the Senior Bowl. It was in Mobile where he further proved he has the ability to be a solid performer at the next level. He put up big numbers against lower-level competition, including as a return man, and can really solidify his stock by testing well in Indianapolis.

► Troy Pride Jr., CB, Notre Dame

Another prospect who played and performed well at the Senior Bowl. Pride’s stock should be on the rise with how often he was making plays on the ball against a talented group of receivers in Mobile. Another track standout, he was unofficially clocked running a sub-4.4 40 as far back as two years ago.