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.)
Set starters: Darius Slay (2016), Nevin Lawson (2017), Quandre Diggs (2018)
Backups: Alex Carter (2018), Johnson Bademosi (2017)
On the bubble: Darrin Walls (2016), Crezdon Butler (2016), Ian Wells (2018)
Long shot: Charles Washington (2018), Adairius Barnes (2018), Keith Lewis (2016)
The Detroit Lions cornerbacks are defined by their youth. The average age of their 10 cornerbacks is just 24.8 years old, with no player on the wrong side of 30. The Lions' three projected starters (three because they play the majority of their defensive snaps in the nickel formation) are all 25 years old or younger. But the question remains: how talented are these guys?
We basically know the answer to that for Darius Slay, who has quietly become one of the best shutdown corners in the league. But for Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs and Alex Carter, that remains an unknown. Diggs has had the best season of the group, but he has only started four games and was not the prominent nickelback until later in his rookie year. He is way too new to be considered a dominant player.
The starting job opposite Slay appears to be Lawson’s to lose, but like Diggs, he remains an unknown commodity. Lawson lost the majority of his rookie year to a foot injury and only started taking over starting cornerback duties after Rashean Mathis suffered a concussion halfway through the season. Former third-round pick Alex Carter has yet to step on a professional football field.
Outside of that young group, the Lions also signed a few veteran backs to help add depth and experience to the lineup, but which of those players will end up sticking around? Johnson Bademosi has notoriety as one of the best special teamers in the league and has ties with general manager Bob Quinn. Darrin Walls is actually the most experienced corner on the team, having five season under his belt with significant contributions in the last three (15 starts in the last three season).
Additionally, Crezdon Butler -- the Lions oldest cornerback at 29-years-old — has managed to hang around the league, playing for eight different teams since joining the NFL in 2010. Butler managed to plug-and-play with the Lions last year, but he offers little other than depth. He has only started three games in his career.
Of the remaining cornerbacks, only Keith Lewis is not an undrafted rookie. Lewis went undrafted in 2014 and has already jumped around rosters of three different teams. He has yet to make an active gameday roster. Of the remaining three undrafted rookies, only Ian Wells seems to really have a chance at this roster, as one of the more notorious UDFA pickups.
Need going forward?
The biggest need for the Lions at cornerback is a long-term contract with Darius Slay. The Lions have a lot of potential talent on their roster, but Slay seems to be the only proven starter on the team. His contract is up at the end of this year and the Lions would be wise to lock him up before he hits free agency.
Outside of that, the Lions may simply have to play wait-and-see with their current slew of defensive backs. The trio of Lawson-Diggs-Carter all have their potential benefits, but the Lions need time to actually see them on the field before they can properly assess where they are at the cornerback position.