As we continue our Wild Card series, we start to look at players that on the surface might seem safe in both their roster spot and their job. When you start to peel back the layers, however, it becomes increasingly clear that these guys are not only in danger of losing their starting position, but losing their spot on the team altogether. We started by looking at Travis Swanson and today we look at the defensive side of the ball and incumbent starting cornerback, Nevin Lawson.
Why it’s obvious he’s safe
Nevin Lawson started nine games for the Detroit Lions at outside corner after Rashean Mathis suffered a brain injury early in the year that was exacerbated by the travel to London. He notched 37 tackles through his nine starts and 14 games total, but still failed to register a single interception, forced fumble, or even a sack. In fact, his seven pass deflections were only one more than nickelback Quandre Diggs or linebacker Tahir Whitehead. A play-maker he was not. Still, plenty of cornerbacks have been productive in shutting down their opposition without notching flashy plays like takeaways, so it’s possible Lawson was that type of player.
Why there’s trouble
The problem is that Lawson wasn’t that type of player. Like Josh Wilson, who played nickel early in the year, Lawson was both not making plays and giving up more than his fair share. With Darius Slay out of his early season funk by the time Lawson took over and Quandre Diggs fully settled in at nickel, it should have been an easier task for Lawson to make plays since he’d be seeing the lion’s share of the targets. Unfortunately he gave up a lot of plays both in the passing game and against runners. He was decent in man coverage, maybe even above average at that, but struggled in every other phase of the game outside.
Adding to his job security concerns is the breadth of young talent the Detroit Lions have at the cornerback position. Every one of them, including the famously poor-measured Quandre Diggs (1.43 RAS), have an athleticism advantage over Nevin Lawson (1.34 RAS). Only two pro bowlers since 1999 have had a lower RAS than Lawson’s. Quandre Diggs is pretty much guaranteed a spot for his excellent nickel coverage as is Alex Carter who has yet to see the field after an injury in 2015. With Darius Slay, that adds up to four cornerback slots locked in already on a team that normally only carries five. Newly acquired special teams ace Johnson Bademosi has played in several DB spots throughout camps so far, but he’s listed as a cornerback and has a likely path to the roster due to his ability on teams. That also calls into play free agent acquisition Darrin Walls, who probably didn’t play as well as Lawson in 2015 but is much larger and athletic -- both traits the Patriots valued in their cornerbacks while Bob Quinn was there. There’s a lot of young talent in that secondary that all know their easiest path to starting is through Nevin Lawson.
What are his chances?
Lawson has a fairly easy route to the 53-man roster if he picks up his game from 2015. His familiarity with the defensive scheme and willingness to do whatever is asked of him are both big advantages, but a string of poor play or continued penalty problems could lead to time on the bench that he can’t afford. Add to that the inherent health concerns that come with playing in the NFL, and Lawson could see his starting job go to Diggs, Carter, or anyone else in the preseason. Should that happen, his shot of making the roster drops to nearly zero if he doesn’t develop some top tier special teams ability stat. A move to safety is unlikely given the present roster, but if he loses his starting ability at corner he would have a much better shot trying to beat out Rafael Bush or Tavon Wilson for a spot than he would fighting at corner and special teams at the same time.