The Detroit Lions are in the fortunate position of having an overflow of depth at cornerback for a change, even after releasing Bill Bentley last week. In the past, this position has consistently been one of the Lions' biggest weaknesses, but this year they are going to have some tough decisions to make when the time comes to assemble their 53-man roster.
From a numbers standpoint, based on the way the roster currently looks, it seems likely that the Lions will keep six cornerbacks, at least initially. Last year, they opened the season with five cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, but that was mainly because they kept five safeties as well. This year, it's tough to imagine the Lions going with fewer than six cornerbacks when you consider just how much depth exists at the position:
Starters (2): Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis
Contenders for nickelback job (3): Josh Wilson, Quandre Diggs, Nevin Lawson
Rookie backup (1): Alex Carter
Other backups (3): Chris Owens, Mohammed Seisay, Crezdon Butler
Of this group, three players seem like absolute locks to make the team: Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis and Alex Carter. In addition, Quandre Diggs seems like a near-lock given that he was just drafted this year and has drawn pretty positive reviews so far this offseason. That's four spots at cornerback right there.
In addition to those four players, it seems pretty likely that veteran nickelback Josh Wilson, who signed with the Lions in April, is going to make the 53-man roster based on the early returns on him from OTAs and last week's minicamp. Not only is he practicing as the No. 1 nickelback, but he's also getting work on at least one No. 1 special teams unit. That combination is usually a sign that a player isn't going to be released.
If Slay, Mathis, Carter, Diggs and Wilson do in fact make the team, then there's likely only one spot left for Nevin Lawson, Chris Owens, Mohammed Seisay and Crezdon Butler. Here's a closer look at those four players:
Lawson: Was drafted in the fourth round by the Lions last year and was poised to be their No. 1 nickelback after Bentley went down with a torn ACL. Just one week later, however, Lawson suffered a season-ending injury of his own.
- Owens: Signed with the Lions in May after playing in 11 games for the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Has started at least one game in every season since entering the NFL in 2009.
- Seisay: Joined the Lions as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska last year and appeared in 13 games.
- Butler: Signed with the Lions in January after playing in 11 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. Made three starts with the Bucs and has been in the NFL since 2010.
There's a very good chance that training camp will clear up this position battle, but at this point in time it's extremely tough to have only one spot available for these four cornerbacks. They all have decent enough resumes, and you could make a strong case for each of them.
So who gets the sixth spot at cornerback for now? I guess I'd have to give Lawson the edge. He was just drafted last year, and the Lions seem to like his upside. It could be valuable to keep a veteran like Owens or Butler around, and Seisay has upside as well. However, there's just not room for everyone, and I can't imagine the Lions will be willing to move on from Lawson this early in his career after spending a fourth-round pick on him a year ago.
Of course, considering Lawson is coming off a season-ending injury, health could play a big role in determining who sticks around at cornerback. Based on his participation in the offseason training program, it seems unlikely that an extended stay on the PUP list is in Lawson's future, but I suppose that would be one way to temporarily solve this logjam at cornerback.
In any case, I guess the moral of the story is that this is a good problem to have. The Lions will likely be cutting multiple cornerbacks this year who would probably make the 53-man roster in past seasons. I suppose the overview of this position could always change as injuries begin to pop up and training camp gets rolling, but at least for right now, this is the strongest the cornerback position has looked for the Lions in a very long time.