The Detroit Lions finished the 2011 season ranked 23rd in points allowed (24.2), 23rd in yards allowed (367.6), 22nd in pass yards allowed (239.4), and 23rd against the run (128.1).
Prior to the 2011 campaign, national pundits lauded the Lions front four and there ability to mask deficiencies in the secondary. While the defensive line remains a strength, the secondary woes progressed with injuries to Louis Delmas, Chris Houston, Aaron Berry, and Eric Wright.
It's easy to forget that there was success, albeit short lived, early in the season. The secondary averaged one interception per game this season, while the front seven added five total interceptions of their own. As important as turnovers are, they only tell a portion of the story.
Eric Wright is a physical corner, and I believe under valued this season, yet was far more efficient in the slot. Chris Houston made plays early on, but was hampered by nagging injuries that proved pivotal down the stretch. Gunther Cunningham has taken some heat for the wide-nine approach, but that had little to do with what hand he was forced to play with the secondary.
After being hobbled, Houston wasn't capable of jamming at the line of scrimmage. Teams took what they Lions gave them, generating yards through a quick passing game and subsequently, yards after the catch. This fact also impacted the defensive line by not allowing the necessary time to truly put pressure on oppossing quarterbacks.
As electric as Alphonso Smith has proven to be the past two seasons, he has also repeatedly been burnt by gambling and coverage technique mishaps. The Lions were clearly different in both the pass and run game without Louis Delmas; his value was more evident than ever when he went down with a knee injury. Amari Spievey, however, struggled much of the season defending hybrid wide receivers (we used to call them tight ends); he was also consistently out-of-position, and often beat deep (re-watch the Saints games).
The following players are projected 3rd to 7th round draft picks, or rookie free agents that have potential to help the Lions secondary. CB Dwight Bentley - La. Lafayette is excluded from the list, because I mocked him in my "2012 NFL Draft Prognosticating" piece.
CB Josh Norman - Coastal Carolina - 6'1 203 lbs. (4.56 40 time). - Projected 3rd round selection
Norman impressed me at the East, West Shrine Game. His size and athleticism, fluid hips, and ball skills will translate to the next level. The combine will be important for Norman's stock, and it's possible he won't remain a sleeper much longer.
CB Coryell Judie - Texas A&M - 5'11 190 lbs. (4.48 40 time). - Projected 4th round selection
Judie is a zone corner that lacks straight-line speed, but has above average ball skills, is physical in the run game, and is able to jam WR's at the line-of-scrimmage. Judie leaps well, and his build allows him to get off of blocks. Judie could be a Lions target in the mid-rounds, as he fits the physical mold Jim Shwartz loves in corners.
CB Casey Hayward - Vanderbilt - 5'11 185 lobs. (4.53 40 time). - Projected 3rd to 5th round selection
Very physical, which can lead to penalties. Hayward battled elite SEC WR's, and consistently held his own. Hayward is a big hitter, fluid in-and-out of his breaks, and may have some of the best ball skills of any secondary player in the draft. Hayward has been mocked to the Lions (walterfootball.com), and it shouldn't surprise anyone to see Detroit look his way.
CB Omar Bolden - Arizona State - 5'10 195 lbs. (4.49 40 time). - Projected 5th or 6th round selection
Bolden is fast. It's the first thing I noticed about him. Technique wise, Bolden has all the tools necessary to succeed at the next level. Bolden tackles, is fluid, has above average ball skills, a great attitude, top end closing speed, but struggles in press coverage to jam at the line. Someone will land a rotational player with potential starting ability in Bolden.
S Brandon Taylor - LSU - 5'11 202 lbs. (4.57 40 time). - Projected 4th or 5th round selection
I like secondary players out of the SEC. Taylor is no exception. Taylor is physical and more than capable in run support. He was an underrated part of LSU's dominate defense in 2011. Look for him to make an immediate impact on special teams, with starting secondary potential going forward.
S Darius Prelow - Lousiana-Monroe - 6'1 212 lbs. (4.57 40 time). - Projected FA Rookie
Prelow had 4 INT's and 77 tackles in 2011, and was an All-Sunbelt Conference First Team selection. This guy is physical in the run and pass game. Call me crazy, but I have a hunch.
More to come soon. If you have any questions or comments, I'll do my best to return them.
By: Dustin Quarrella