General manager Bob Quinn is a firm believer that the more a player can do, the more valuable the player is to the 53-man roster, and more importantly, to the 46-man gameday roster.
That belief applies across the board at a number of different position groups, but where we've really started to see it take hold in the formation of the Lions roster is in the secondary with the players Quinn recently signed as free agents or selected in the last couple of drafts.
Having players with varying skill sets allows the Lions to play the multiple scheme defense they do. It also fits the way the NFL is trending on defense. Across the league last season, defenses were in sub packages 73 percent of the time. Hybrid safeties with the strength to hold up in the run game, but also have the speed and ability to play in space in the passing game are extremely valuable in today's NFL. Cornerbacks who can play both inside and outside have tremendous value.
"Like, if the guy's an outside corner, then that's great, he's got to be a really good outside corner because position versatility when it comes down to picking your 46-man roster is hard," Quinn said after the draft.
Darius Slay is that really good outside cornerback for the Lions. Looking at some of the other players that now make up the secondary – both at safety and corner – adaptable is probably the word that most appropriately describes them.
Quandre Diggs can play both safety spots and began his career as a very good nickel corner. Like Diggs, second-year defensive back Tracy Walker can play both safety spots, and showed the ability as a rookie to come down and cover tight ends and running backs in the slot. Head coach Matt Patricia told fans at the Members Summit earlier this year that Walker's skill set includes some things we have yet to see in a game setting.
Tavon Wilson has played both safety spots and the nickel in his career. Justin Coleman, one of Detroit's big free-agent signings this offseason, has played both inside and outside cornerback spots over the course of his first four seasons in the league.
Will Harris, Detroit's third-round pick in this year's NFL Draft, was an interchangeable safety at Boston College. He has terrific size (6-1, 207), ran the 40 in 4.41 seconds at the Combine, and amassed 158 tackles the last two seasons. He appears to be a good candidate to be an early sub package player and potential moveable piece on defense.
"You've got to have guys with position flex," Quinn said. "They can play strong safety, they can play free safety, they can cover a tight end.
"You know, if something happens, they have to go out and play corner, at least a guy runs a 4.37. You can go out there and kind of run with those guys. So, that's something we definitely take into account for sure."
Amani Oruwariye, who has great size (6-2, 205) and speed (4.47), was selected in the fifth round. He played outside cornerback at Penn State, but could have some position versatility with the physicality in which he plays with at the line of scrimmage.
Over the course of the last year especially, Detroit's focused on adding interchangeable parts at the linebacker position with the players they've brought in upfront that can slide up and down their line and play multiple techniques. There are very few players currently on this defense that just do one thing, and if they do, they do it at a Pro Bowl level, like Slay and defensive tackle Damon Harrison Sr.
When looking at players who are fits on this roster moving forward, position versatility seems to be a big factor.
"I think our defense, when I look at it, is a lot of pieces that the coaches can use in different spots," Quinn said. "A lot of guys that can play two positions, we've got some guys that can play three positions. So, it's going to give us a lot of options come to the week-to-week game-plans that coach will put together with the defensive staff and give us a lot of options."