Head coach Dan Campbell was asked Monday if it's tough to assess the cornerback position in Detroit for the future given the injuries suffered at the position this season.
Third-year cornerback Amani Oruwariye entered the season as a starter on the outside, and he's been the only player at the position who has played in every game this year. He leads the team with five interceptions.
Outside of Oruwariye, injuries have ravaged the Lions at cornerback and forced the team to rely on a number of different players. While not ideal, it's also given them a chance to evaluate a lot of different players with game tape as their guide.
Starter Jeff Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick in last year's draft, entered the season as a starter opposite Oruwariye, but was lost for the season Week 1 with an Achilles injury.
He was replaced by this year's third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu, but Melifonwu suffered a serious thigh injury in his first start in Green Bay Week 2, and missed the next nine games while on injured reserve.
Detroit moved on to safety turned cornerback Bobby Price with mixed results in Weeks 3 and 4, before turning to undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs Week 5. Jacobs turned out to be a terrific find for the Lions, starting nine straight games and being one of the defense's most consistent performers. Unfortunately, Jacobs suffered a serious ACL injury Sunday in Denver and his season is over. He's looking at about nine months of rehab, so the hope is he'll be back in the mix around the start of the 2022 season.
With Melifonwu back from the thigh injury, but placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last week, Detroit put veteran Nickell Robey-Coleman in for Jacobs on the outside.
At the nickel cornerback spot, undrafted rookie AJ Parker won the job out of training camp and played pretty well as a starter his first nine games of the season, before suffering an ankle injury and being placed on injured reserve.
The Lions made the decision to move safety Will Harris to the slot to replace Parker, and he's played pretty well, especially against the Broncos. Will the Lions consider having him compete for that job permanently moving forward?
Every coaching staff would like to have three cornerbacks (including the nickel) earn a job out of camp and build some great chemistry starting all 17 games, but that's not always realistic with the injuries that can affect the cornerback position in particular.
Playing as many cornerbacks as the Lions have this season should actually benefit them moving forward.
We'll have to see how Okudah comes back off a major injury and if affects him athletically at all, but if not, he's certainly expected to be in the mix at cornerback. Oruwariye has become a big-time playmaker at the position. He looks like he's here to stay.
The Lions might not know what they have in Jacobs if not for the injuries to Okudah and Melifonwu. Jacobs is expected to be in the mix at cornerback after his rehab.
Melifonwu will get to make his mark the final month of the season, if he's able to come back healthy off the Reserve/COVID-19 list. He should get some quality playing time with Jacobs out. Parker will be in the mix in the slot moving forward.
That's all before any free agency and draft additions at the position this offseason.
Campbell has always talked about a next-man-up mentality when it comes to injuries. That's been the case for the Lions at cornerback this season. But in the long run, it might actually have helped them get a really good look at a lot of different players, and should foster a lot of really good competition this offseason that should only make everyone better.