As we start to look ahead to training camp, we're going to take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions roster. Next up is the cornerback position. (The final year of each player's contract is listed in parentheses.)
Of all the positions on the Lions roster, cornerback probably brings about the most concern going into the 2014 season. I say that because with an injured Chris Houston being released last month, the Lions are left with Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis as their starters at cornerback. Slay had a rough rookie season despite showing some promise toward the end of 2013, and the Lions are now going to have to rely on him. And Mathis, despite being the Lions' best cornerback last season, will be 34 in August. There are a lot of question marks surrounding those two players.
There are not as many question marks surrounding the Lions' nickelback spot at this point. Bill Bentley is expected to remain atop the depth chart for that particular role, assuming he stays healthy. He has struggled at times in his young career, but he's a safe bet to hold off rookie Nevin Lawson at that spot.
Moving down the depth chart at the outside spots, the Lions need Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green to make some big strides this offseason. It's getting to the point where if neither player shows improvement this year, it may be time to move on, especially with a fifth-year player like Cassius Vaughn joining the team this offseason and guys like Aaron Hester and Mohammed Seisay looking for a chance to get on the field.
Need going forward?
Even before Houston was released, the Lions had a need for a legitimate No. 1 cornerback thanks to his offseason toe surgery. With him now completely out of the picture, that's an even bigger need going forward. In a perfect world, Slay will step it up this year and fill that need, but there's certainly no guarantee that will happen. If he struggles and Mathis' age starts to catch up with him, the Lions may have to sign a free agent like Terrell Thomas just to get by at cornerback. That actually may be a wise idea anyway just for added insurance considering how prevalent injuries have been at this position in recent years.
Basically, cornerback will remain a need for the Lions until the players already on the team prove us otherwise. In the short term, it will be worth monitoring the free-agent market at cornerback for players who could potentially help the Lions this year. In the long term, cornerback will likely remain a top need for the Lions unless Slay and some of these other young guys show some serious improvement in 2014.