Let’s continue the State of the Roster series by moving to the Defense. Let’s start with the secondary, since that seems to be Quinntricia’s focus in building a defense as opposed to getting pressure on the QB.
*projected starters in italics
*likelihoods are probabilities that they wait until that day to fill that need
Roster Outlook: Average
As much as the Lions emphasize coverage over pressure, this is a pretty pedestrian group they assembled. Of course it was much stronger before they chose to deal away a Top 5 corner in Darius Slay. However, that’s now water under the bridge. What’s left is a decent group that’s missing a front-line guy but is replete with role players.
Trufant does not have the chops to be a #1 corner anymore but he’s still a pretty good corner if he can stay healthy. Coleman had a Jekyll/Hyde season last year. In the first half he was one of the best nickels in football. In the back half he was torched early and often. Here’s hoping he regains his previous form. Amani showed some bright spots last year in coverage and should be a solid #4 corner who can sub in on the outside when needed. Agnew is still a good backup nickel who can sub in if they need Coleman to play outside, and provides value as one of the better return men in the league. Those 4 should be written in pen for the 2020 roster.
Assuming the Lions keep only 6 corners this year (not a safe assumption) and assuming they draft a starting corner (considerably safer), then Roberts, Ford and Virgin are battling for that last spot. Roberts is the strong favorite. He has considerably more starting experience and success than the other two combined. He started 10 games for the Jets last year and was a league average corner. He probably would push Amani hard for the 4th corner spot. That leaves Virgin and Ford, both of whom I think still have some practice squad eligibility, but only one of whom the Lions will likely keep that spot for. Ford got two starts late last season and was not terrible. However, Virgin was a core special teams player for the Lions last year. I’m not sure if Virgin’s special teams utility is more or less valuable than the Lions view of Ford’s coverage ability but it should be an interesting training camp battle (if there is a training camp). There is also a possibility that the Lions will once again carry 7 corners, which would be interesting but likely less than ideal.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 55%
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 40%
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 5%
Possible Targets: I think the obvious Day 1 target is Jeff Okudah (OSU – $uckeyes). Okudah is the best corner in the draft. Okudah is sticky in man-to man and on his tape he is comfortable in press-man and off-man coverage. It’s hard to find corners who excel in off-man, especially corners with his size and length. I can’t see a team that values coverage as much as the Quinntricia Lions do passing on Okudah. I think they can trade down from 3 to 5 or 6 and still get Okudah.
There is also CJ Henderson (UF). Many media outlets are claiming that Henderson is a Top 10 lock and that some teams have him higher than Okudah on their board. Either that’s a giant smokescreen or some NFL talent evaluators really are a mess. Don’t get me wrong, Henderson is a first round talent for sure. He has elite physical tools, even more so than Okudah, and he has a natural, fluid athleticism to him. He stands at 6’1, over 200 lbs with sub 4.4 speed. He is extremely physical and competitive at the catch point, allowing him to match up with both burners and big framed guys. But from a technique perspective, him and Okudah are not on the same planet. Henderson loses inside on just about every in-breaking route on the tape I saw and got absolutely eaten alive by LSU’s receivers, particularly Ja’marr Chase. He probably has more pure physical talent, but being an elite corner is about more than just elite physical talent. Contrast that with Okudah who routinely shut down top receivers last year, including Clemson’s Justyn Ross. Ross absolutely dominated Alabama’s corners in the 2019 CFP Title Game, but Okudah made him an afterthought in this year’s CFP semi-final game.
Day 2 Targets:
Here is my Top 8 CB board:
- Jeff Okudah
- Kristian Fulton (LSU)
- Jeff Gladney (TCU)
- C.J. Henderson
- Travon Diggs (BAMA)
- A.J. Terrell (CLEM)
- Noah Igbinoghene (AUB)
- Cameron Dantzler (MSSU)
Here is what I think the Lions Top 8 CB board is:
- Jeff Okudah
- C.J. Henderson
- Jeff Gladney
- Noah Igbinoghene
- A.J. Terrell
- Travon Diggs
- Kristian Fulton
- Cameron Dantzler
I think the Lions will have Henderson and Noah higher than I do because both come with high level physical traits, athletic ability, and tape showing them doing the things the Lions value in terms of press- man coverage. I’ve already discussed CJ, but I think with Noah, the issues are his lack of fluidity and his inability to find the football. The latter can be attributed to him being relatively new to corner as he is a converted receiver, although one would think that would help him find the ball. The former though I think is just hip tightness that doesn’t show up in press-man, but does in off-man. Not being a great off-man corner can be death in this scheme that Patricia runs and couple that with Noah’s grabbiness at the top of routes, I would be less bullish on him than I think the Lions will be. They will still be enamored with his ability to turn and run with any receiver, and his length to deal with the big boys.
Fulton’s tape is excellent and I saw him match up well with high level competition with a variety of coverages. He looked very comfortable in off-man, press-man and zone and while not as sticky as the young phenom Derek Stingley (LSU), his tape was very good. However, Fulton was suspended for an entire season due to a very bizarre situation where he tried to cheat a drug test, and then passed it anyway with his own urine. For me, this situation would hardly merit a ding, since he still has never failed a drug test and has kept his nose clean since then, and you know the NCAA probably put him through the ringer with drug tests over the last two years. However, Bob Quinn wants a team full of choir boys. So I would not be shocked if they moved Fulton down their board a bit, and possibly completely off, because of that incident. Another major stylistic difference between I and Quinn.
Gladney is super sticky in man-coverage and has great length and speed and I could see the Lions grabbing him in Round 2 if they do eschew taking Okudah early. He’s not super big, but he’s tough and does not mind mixing it up with big receivers one bit. Diggs is a great press-man guy and is perfect for a team that plays that or the Cover 3 style in the Pete Caroll coaching tree (there are quite a few of them now). He also has outstanding ball skills (like his brother Stefon), and so any system that allows him to play primarily zone will put him at his best. But his hip tightness will limit his effectiveness in off-man. I see him coming off the board late in Round 1.
Terrell was absolutely undressed by Chase in the national title game, but that should not overshadow his very solid tape. He checks every box, but just is not the top of the list for any of those categories. He has length, he has good tape in press and off-man, he’s got good speed, and he competes a the catch point. He can pretty much do all the things the Lions would ask of him, but nothing in an exceptional way. Still if the Lions pass on Okudah, Terrell would be more than good enough to step in as a Day 1 starter for us.
Dantzler is a guy that many people project to be good in press man or man because of his length and fluid backpedal, but the tape almost exclusively shows him as a zone guy. He may be more than capable of man and talent evaluators may have worked him out at such when they had the chance, but I base my board mostly off tape.
I don’t see us addressing this as a need on Day 3. We have more than enough depth and projects. We just need a starter.
Roster Outlook: Above Average
The Lions should be all set at safety. They have invested 3rd round picks in Walker and Harris the last two seasons. Walker has looked like a hit so far but Harris not so much. Quinn also went and got Harmon from NE, where he has thrived as a third safety for years now. They re-signed Miles Killebrew to a 1 year $2 million dollar to lead the special teams units (he led them in tackles last year). And then for the final touches, they gave almost $3 million to Jayron Kearse to come in and be the 4th safety. While Patricia is known for liberally using safeties, and loves drafting them, even he has to know that adding anymore would be silly. Right ?
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 1%
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: Knowing them – 20%
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: Again, knowing them – 19%
Possible Targets: I’m not previewing/breaking down any safeties because if we draft any I will be very pissed. There are several safeties though that I know will tickle Patricia’s fancy though so I’m prepared to break down some safety film post-draft in anger.