Even though Martin Mayhew is gone as the Lions' general manager, his mark is still being felt on the roster--for good and for bad. One bright spot on the team the last two weeks has been the play of the young cornerbacks. Injuries have thrust second year player Nevin Lawson and rookie Quandre Diggs into starting roles and they've both been making the most of it. Third year cornerback Darius Slay, now the veteran of the group, has made big strides throughout the season but maybe had his best two games as a pro the last few weeks.
The Lions have little room to breathe in the secondary and an injury to any of their cornerbacks could be devastating going forward. But for now, it's nice to see the young group get a chance to get some experience in an otherwise meaningless second half of the season. Their play hasn't been perfect by any means, but there are also some really nice takeaways from the previous two games.
Diggs has been steadily getting more reps throughout the season, but when Josh Wilson went down with a season ending injury it was clear he was finally going to get his shot to play some quality reps. So far, he's done a really nice job in the slot.
"He's a competitor, man," quarterback Matthew Stafford said of Diggs during training camp this past July. "He gets in there. I think he's most comfortable inside. He does a heck of a job. He's got natural feel.
At 5-foot-9 and just a shade under 200 pounds, Diggs isn't physically imposing to stand across the line from, but he is a physical, scrappy player that the Lions need in the inside. Against the Raiders, He was targeted five times, gave up three catches for only 17 yards, and had a pass defended.
He also had an interception late in the game that could have sealed the game for the Lions, but it was negated by a questionable holding call on Nevin Lawson.
So far Lawson has been bit of mixed bag. Like Diggs, he isn't the prototypical tall, lengthy cornerback that is en vogue throughout the NFL today. But don't let his size fool you, he may be the most physical of all the cornerbacks on the Lions roster. He isn't afraid to make contact, a trait that helped hold Packers wide receiver Davante Adams to just 3.8 yards per target despite having 21 total targets throughout the game.
Plays like this one show Lawson's ability to be physical enough to disrupt the receiver without drawing a penalty.
Slay has really started to shine this season. In the past two games he's only given up one catch for eight yards. It's that type of play that starts to earn you recognition across the league, including from Aaron Rodgers.
"He just told me, when I came and shook his hand, 'Slay, you're one of the young best (corners),'" Slay said, per Justin Rogers of MLive.com.
Slay has also started to track opposing teams top receivers rather than being regulated to one side of the field.
"He has the ability to play and play against some of the best ones in our league and you won't see that every single week with us, but it just so happened here the last couple weeks he's been able to handle it and handle it pretty well." Caldwell said of Slay after Raiders game.
It will be interesting to see how the Lions deploy their secondary against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving, and whether or not the trend of solid secondary play and wins can continue.