2016 training camp preview: Cornerback

Posted Jul 22, 2016

Tim Twentyman previews the cornerback position heading into training camp.

On the roster: Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, Alex Carter, Johnson Bademosi, Darrin Walls, Ian Wells, Crezdon Butler, Charles Washington, Adairius Barnes, Keith Lewis

Key loss: Rashean Mathis (retirement)

Making the cut: Slay, Lawson, Diggs, Carter, Bademosi

On the bubble: Walls, Wells, Butler, Washington, Barns, Lewis

Best competition: Alex Carter vs. Nevin Lawson for No. 2 CB spot

Lawson is the favorite to start opposite Slay after the way he played the second half of last season. Opponents completed just 55.7 percent of the passes thrown his way the second half of last season for just a 9.8 average.

Carter, the team’s third-round pick last season, missed his entire rookie campaign due to injury. There’s a reason he was drafted 80th overall, however. He’s long, athletic and fast. Carter was getting a look both on the outside and in the slot this offseason and even saw a few first-team reps during some open OTA and minicamp practices. His performance was a mixed bag.

Lawson has proven he can play at a high level and the job is his to lose.

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2015 Stats: Cornerbacks
Darius Slay 16 59 2 13 0
Nevin Lawson 15 47 0 7 0
Quandre Diggs 16 38 0 6 1
Alex Carter^ 9 25 351 14.0 68
Johnson Bademosi# 16 27 0 2 0
Darrin Walls> 13 10 0 3 0
Ian Wells* 12 35 2 8 0
Crezdon Butler 8 3 0 0 0
Charles Washington* 11 40 0 6 0
Adairius Barnes* 13 50 1 11 1
Keith Lewis^ 0 0 0 0 0
^ did not play      # with CLE      > with NYJ      * college stats     

Twentyman’s take: This a young, talented cornerback group with a lot of upside.

Slay has developed into one of the best cover cornerbacks in the league and his confidence is at an all-time high entering year four in the league.

Lawson proved he could play in this league when he took over starting duties for Rashean Mathis (concussion) starting Week 8 in London. He’s tough and physical, which Teryl Austin loves in his defense.

Diggs was very good afterreplacing Josh Wilson (IR) in the slot. He has terrific instincts for the position and plays beyond his years. He’s also not afraid to stick his shoulder in there and make a hit.

We don’t know much about Alex Carter the football player just yet. Training camp and the preseason will kind of determine his role, but it’s expected to be a reserve one at this point.

GM Bob Quinn signed Walls, Bademosi and Butler to add some veteran experience to the camp competition and the group as a whole. Bademosi is expected to make the roster more on his special teams prowess than as a cornerback. He led the NFL in special teams tackles last season.

More than being young and talented, Slay, Lawson and Diggs -- the top three cornerbacks on the roster -- get along great and love playing together. That’s more important than some people might think it is, especially in the secondary.

By the numbers:

59: Opponents completions of 20-plus yards last season, which was sixth most in the NFL.

2: Slay was given the second-best grade among all cornerback by Pro Football Focus for his performance in the 2015 season.

9: Total interceptions by the Lions defense last season. Only Chicago, Dallas and Baltimore had fewer.


“Nevin Lawson played well, Quandre Diggs played well, those guys are improving,” Austin said this offseason. We’ve got to remember they were both basically rookies last year, and now as they go there’s a lot of room for growth and they’ve shown it.

“They’re starting to recognize things like veterans and call out formations. They really understand what’s going on, so I think that those two guys are doing a good job in terms of their individual growth. They have very good football sense and I think they’re going to help us win.”