Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster and evaluating how the team might address each unit. Today: Cornerbacks.
► Current roster: Justin Coleman, Desmond Trufant, Darryl Roberts, Amani Oruwariye, Jamal Agnew, Mike Ford, Dee Virgin, Michael Jackson, Tony McRae
► Short-term need: Seven out of 10
► Long-term need: Eight out of 10
► Top prospects: Jeff Okudah, C.J. Henderson, Kristian Fulton, Trevon Diggs, Jaylon Johnson
► Mid-round options: Troy Pride Jr., Damon Arnette, Amik Robertson
► Late-round fits: Reggie Robinson, Lamar Jackson, Luq Barcoo
► Analysis: Instead of re-upping with three-time Pro Bowler Darius Slay, and making him the highest-paid corner in the NFL, the Lions opted to part way with the finger-wagging playmaker, trading him to the Philadelphia Eagles for a pair of draft picks.
To backfill the newly created roster hole, the Lions brought in another former Pro Bowler in Trufant. He's on the cusp of his 30th birthday, but his two-year, $21 million contract represents a significantly lower investment.
Trufant is coming off a year where he intercepted a career-best four passes, despite playing in just nine games due to injury. Unlike Slay, Trufant plays to one side (left). He's unlikely to follow the opponent's best receiver around the field, requiring the Lions to find a solid starter to handle the opposite side.
Right now, the options are underwhelming. Roberts, another free-agent addition, is hyper-athletic and has 26 starts under his belt, but the early-career production has been average. There's also last year's fifth-round pick, Amani Oruwariye, who flashed some playmaking ability during last year's late-season audition, but he also rarely drew top-tier assignments, so his ability to hold up against better competition is a projection.
The Lions are set in the slot. They paid big money to bring in Justin Coleman a year ago, and despite an up-and-down debut season in Detroit, he proved to be a solid tackler with a rare ability to dislodge the ball. He's all but locked into that nickel job for 2020.
All added up, especially with the schematic emphasis on the secondary, the Lions figure to still be in the market for a starting-caliber cornerback in the draft. And even though nothing is guaranteed, Jeff Okudah remains the front-runner to be the solution. The Ohio State cornerback is a polished performer with elite athletic traits coming out of a program that has a knack for producing NFL-ready contributors.
If the Lions pass or miss out on Okudah, there is some decent depth down the board. The team will likely be looking at options who thrive in man coverage, regardless of where they fill the need. In the second round, LSU's Fulton, Utah's Johnson or Clemson's A.J. Terrell would fit the bill.
Later in day two, Pride, who impressed at the Senior Bowl while being coached by the Lions staff, would offer solid value. And from the department of undersized, small-school playmakers, Robertson and Barcoo are both interesting.
Robertson's numbers for Louisiana Tech last season were ridiculous, allowing a passer rating under 20.0 while in man-to-man coverage. He also produced at least four interceptions each of his three seasons for the Bulldogs.
If he was 6-foot, 200 pounds, we'd be talking about a first-round talent. The problem is Robertson is 5-foot-8. That wasn't a problem in college, but the size and strength difference could be too much to overcome at the next level, shoehorning him into a nickel role where he'd be less useful to Detroit in the immediate future.