Going into the 2014 season, the Detroit Lions seemed to be in fine shape at the nickelback position. They had a player with previous experience in Bill Bentley, and they had a promising rookie behind him in Nevin Lawson. Well, that was the case for less than two games, anyway.
Once the season actually began, the Lions lost Bentley to a torn ACL after only three plays, and Lawson went down with a nasty foot injury a week later. The end result was the Lions' top two nickelbacks missing the rest of the season and various players moving in and out of the position as it became a real weak spot in Detroit's defense.
This year, the Lions are looking to turn things around at the nickel spot with three main candidates in the mix to take over this role. The most notable candidate coming out of the spring is rookie Quandre Diggs, who has quickly put himself in position for playing time despite being a sixth-round pick. He seemingly impressed his new coaches quite a bit during OTAs and the Lions' minicamp, and he could very well be a Day 1 starter.
If Diggs doesn't start at nickelback, chances are that will be because veteran Josh Wilson won the job. Wilson joined the Lions this offseason after most recently playing for the Atlanta Falcons, and he's definitely the most experienced cornerback in this particular camp battle. That may give him a bit of an edge given that Diggs is brand new to the NFL, although perhaps the Lions will ultimately go with a younger player with more upside instead.
Speaking of which, let's not forget about Lawson. Assuming he's healthy, Lawson will be right back in the mix for the nickelback job, and he shouldn't be counted out. After all, he was in line to be a starter as a rookie after Bentley got hurt last year, and chances are that job would have belonged to him on a full-time basis had he not suffered an injury of his own. This year, if he's 100 percent, Lawson will have another opportunity to make his case for the nickelback job.
Who has the edge right now?
Following the release of Bentley, and based on Diggs and Wilson splitting the No. 1 reps at nickelback this spring, I would say one of them is the favorite at this spot going into training camp. Who is my pick? I guess I'll go with Diggs. Wilson may have more experience, but Diggs seems to have a big fan in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and going with upside may be the wiser move for the Lions in the long term. There will almost certainly be growing pains along the way, but Diggs could develop into the Lions' top nickelback for years to come if he's given an opportunity to play.
Previously: Backup quarterback, starting running back, No. 4 running back, starting fullback, No. 3 wide receiver, No. 4 offensive tackle, starting left guard, starting center, No. 5 interior offensive lineman, No. 3 defensive end, second starting defensive tackle, starting strongside linebacker, No. 6 linebacker