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Top 5 Detroit Lions training camp battles: No. 3 - Nickelback

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This is how you remind me of an exciting camp battle.

Philadelphia Eagles v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Our countdown of the top five Detroit Lions training camp battles of 2017 continues. Here’s a recap of where we’ve been so far.

For our No. 3 camp battle, we stick with the Lions secondary, but move to the crowded nickelback spot.

Detroit Lions camp battle No. 3 - Nickelback

The case for Quandre Diggs

This year’s incumbent will face a tough challenge this season. Though Diggs played for most of the 2016 season before succumbing to a torn pectoral injury that ended his season, he will have much tougher in-house competition this year.

After an unexpectedly impressive rookie season, Diggs took a bit of a step back in 2016. Just how bad of a step back? Take this nugget from Pro Football Focus:

Lions SCB starter Quandre Diggs earned a coverage grade of just 47.9, 98th among 110 eligible CBs in the 2016 season. Diggs surrendered a catch rate of 91.3 percent and passer rating against of 124.4.

But Diggs had little help from the linebackers around him last year. Detroit’s coverage over the middle was atrocious, and to put all of that on Diggs would not be fair. Things only got worse after Diggs was placed on injured reserve.

Diggs’ rookie year cannot be completely overlooked. He was dominant down the final stretch of the season, and made believers out of just about everyone.

The case for D.J. Hayden

The Lions made a big investment in Hayden this offseason, signing him to a one-year, $3.75 million contract. More importantly, $2.25 million of that contract is guaranteed. That seems to indicate that the Lions fully expect him to contribute this year.

Hayden has had a rough go since being drafted by the Raiders in the first round back in 2013. Injuries and inconsistent play forced him in and out of the lineup in Oakland. The Raiders declined to give Hayden a fifth-year option and showed little interest in re-signing him this offseason. From Silver and Black Pride:

He had almost constant issues. Only flashes of good coverage were eclipsed by issues with not getting his head turned around in coverage along with penalty after penalty for holding and pass interference. After the 2015 season the Raiders had given up on him as a starter, opting not to pick up his 5th year option and signing Sean Smith to start across from David Amerson.

But Jerry McDonald of The Mercury News paints a slightly different picture, especially after Hayden moved to the nickel position.

Although he had no interceptions this year and just three in his Raiders career, Hayden had shown improvement as the slot corner, particularly in terms of tackling and bringing down receivers before the first down marker.

Raiders head coach called Hayden’s season-ending injury “a big blow” to the team, but apparently not big enough to warrant a second contract in Oakland.

The case for Jamal Agnew

Coming from a small school, Agnew has an uphill climb to be able to make an immediate impact. However, he has all of the physical tools needed to be an effective slot corner. He may be a little small, but his athleticism is off the charts, which is why he’ll get a good look at the returner jobs.

Agnew would have to have an amazing preseason to really compete for this starting job, but his highlight reel reveals some great instincts and impressive ball skills. He could certainly challenge for this job further down the line in his career.

The case for Nevin Lawson

As of now, Lawson is sitting pretty comfortably as Detroit’s outside corner opposite Darius Slay. But that could change quickly depending on the career trajectory of second-round pick Teez Tabor.

Tabor is currently on the Lions’ NFI list due to an undisclosed injury—he sat out of earlier practices because of a lingering hamstring issue, but it’s unclear if this is related. But if Tabor can make it back on the field and push Lawson for the No. 2 cornerback job, the Lions would be wise to move Nevin inside.

But I don’t really expect that to happen. Not only will Tabor take some time to develop as an NFL cornerback, but Lawson now has two pretty decent seasons as an outside cornerback. Lawson caught a lot of flak from fans, but he graded out extremely well with PFF and was in position to make plays on the ball more often than not (only Darius Slay had more passes defended on the team).

Who has the advantage entering training camp?

Follow the money. D.J. Hayden has to be considered the favorite to take over as the team’s starting nickelback. Quandre Diggs is, in my opinion, the only other true option. Agnew will just not be ready at any point this season, and I don’t see Tabor or Lawson sliding inside this year, either.

That being said, I think Hayden vs. Diggs will be one of the most heated camp battles this year, and I have no idea who will come out on top.

Poll

Who will be the Lions’ starting nickelback this year?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Quandre Diggs
    (193 votes)
  • 54%
    D.J. Hayden
    (331 votes)
  • 3%
    Jamal Agnew
    (19 votes)
  • 8%
    Nevin Lawson
    (52 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (14 votes)
609 votes total Vote Now