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2018 Position Breakdown: Cornerbacks

The good: The proper place to start here would be with Darius Slay, who made his second straight Pro Bowl this season. Slay’s interception and pass defended numbers were down from his All-Pro season in 2017, but his play didn’t go unnoticed by his peers and coaches. While Slay didn’t finish in the top 10 of the fan voting for the Pro Bowl, the people who watch film and play against Slay voted him in.

Slay typically travels with the opponent's best receiver, and is one of the best pure cover men in the game. Opposing passers completed 52.3 percent of their passes thrown his way for a passer rating of 80.1. Slay did give up six touchdowns, which is high for him, but he also defended 17 passes and picked off three more, including a pick-six vs. Arizona, his first career touchdown.

The Lions ranked in the top 10 in the NFL (9th) allowing 3,897 passing yards this season. A terrific tackling bunch in the secondary helped the Lions lead the NFL with the fewest yards after the catch allowed all season (1,509).

The bad: Lions general manager Bob Quinn said after the season that he’s on the lookout for more playmakers on both sides of the ball. On defense, that could mean players upfront that can pressure the quarterback, and players in the back end who can turn the ball over. Slay was the only cornerback on the roster this season to intercept a pass. That’s not good enough. The Lions had only 14 takeaways all season long, which ranked 31st in the league.

Then there’s former second-round pick Teez Tabor, who struggled in his second season and was a healthy scratch for portions of the year. The Lions still consider him a developing player, but this is a big offseason and training camp for Tabor heading into his third season. 

Detroit also missed slot cornerback Jamal Agnew, who was lost for most of the season with a knee injury suffered Week 5.

Key stat: Slay defended his 91st career pass Week 17 vs. Green Bay. He joins a pretty select group of cornerbacks since 1999 who defended 90-plus passes before turning 28. That group includes: Joe Haden, Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Flowers, Jonathan Joseph, DeAngelo Hall and Asante Samuel.

Free agents: Detroit’s top three cornerbacks to start the year – Slay, Nevin Lawson and Agnew – are under contract for next season. Still, I expect the Lions to add to the cornerback group to promote competition for the No. 2 and nickel corner roles.

Veteran DeShawn Shead played in 12 games (one start) this season for the Lions, and is an unrestricted free agent.

So is veteran Marcus Cooper, who was signed late in the year and played in four games for Detroit.

Draft: LSU’s Greedy Williams has the length (6-foot-3) and man cover skills that could potentially be a good fit in a predominantly man-coverage scheme like Detroit’s. Considered the top cornerback available in the draft, Williams could be in the mix at No. 8 for the Lions.

There’s also the very experienced Deandre Baker from Georgia, who we’ll see in a couple weeks at the Senior Bowl. He’s not as big (5-foot-11) as Williams, but he has a ton of experience. Both players are considered first-round prospects at this point in the process.

Cornerback names to also keep an eye on in the pre-draft process are Julian Love (Notre Dame), Amani Oruwariye (Penn State) and Byron Murphy (Washington).

MVP: Slay is considered to be among the top cornerbacks in the league by the coaches and his peers. He’s just as good in man coverage as he is in zone, which makes him an ideal fit in head coach Matt Patricia’s multiple-scheme defense. Slay’s in his prime, and Lions fans should enjoy it for the foreseeable future.

Most improved: It was a rather small sample size, but Agnew went from a kick returner and reserve cornerback in 2017 as a rookie to the starter in the nickel this season before going down with a knee injury in early October. Agnew didn’t allow a touchdown through his first five games.

Quotable: “It feels good, man,” Slay said of his second Pro Bowl nod. “Like I said, guys starting to notice me out there. People watching film, paying close attention. Mostly I got to go wherever the best guy goes. Competing at a high level, making plays on some of the top guys in this league. So you ain’t got nothing but to see it. Like I said, I put in a lot of work to deserve this kind of achievement.”

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