Justin Coleman looked like one of the best players in the NFL after Week 4. The corner had just put together an incredible game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and his defensive playmaking nearly led the Detroit Lions to a huge early season upset that would have pushed Detroit to an impressive 3-0-1 record at the bye week.
Coleman earned praise from all around the league for his performance. Jonah Tuls, draft scout and cornerback expert over at The Draft Network, even called him one of the league’s elite corners.
Things were good for both Coleman and the Lions as they entered their Week 5 bye week. The corner looked like he was worth every penny and then some of his huge offseason contract. Detroit was being recognized as one of the favorites in the NFC North, and even a dark horse Super Bowl pick. USA Today placed the Lions at #4 in their weekly power rankings, and the team even climbed to #10 on the rankings here on Pride of Detroit.
The Lions have been a disaster ever since.
Detroit is 1-7 since the bye week and their defense has cratered into one of the league's worst. Even the one win in that span—Week 8 against the New York Giants—was a disaster for their defensive backfield as they let rookie Daniel Jones throw all over them in a 322-yard, four-touchdown effort. They reached a low point last week, falling to a Washington team that has become one of the league’s laughing stocks.
While there are many factors that led to the Lions collapse—injuries to Matthew Stafford and Kerryon Johnson, poor offensive line play, the horrible linebackers—Coleman’s steep drop off in play since the bye week has played a huge role. A player who looked like he was going to earn first-team All-Pro votes at one point has been one of the worst players on the defense over the past few months.
Coleman’s playmaking instincts have seemingly disappeared. He was never the kind of corner that absolutely shut down one side of the field, but his ball skills were unmatched. The corner was instinctive and great at tracking the ball and using his hands at the point of attack.
All of that seems to have disappeared, though. He is often just a step too late to make a play, and his inability to keep up with some of the league’s better route runners has become an even bigger problem when he is not making plays at the point of attack.
Per ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, Coleman has become one of the biggest defensive liabilities in football.
Justin Coleman has allowed more passing yards than anybody football as the nearest defender in coverage this year.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) November 28, 2019
According to Tuls, the drop in play may be a result of a loss in confidence.
“The cornerback position is all about confidence,” Tuls told Pride of Detroit. “The talent is definitely there, but he’s not being as aggressive breaking on the ball or trusting himself to make plays.”
The player who confidently let a wide receiver stand up in front of him only to punch the ball out in quick succession has lost that swagger. While he was daring and almost fearless early on in the year, now he seems less eager to break on passes and take risks to make the big plays he has become known for.
Football is an incredibly violent sport, but a high football IQ will take you far in the game!— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) September 30, 2019
He lets the receiver get his knees off the ground as to not be ruled down, THEN punches the ball out! Astounding.
Coleman’s drop in play is just one of many huge disappointments the Lions have suffered this season. While 2019 is a lost cause for the team at this point, Coleman still has three more years on the huge deal worth $36 million he signed last offseason. They will need the corner to return to his early season form going forward, or the move may prove to be a free agency disaster for the team.
Tuls is confident that Coleman can get it together, though.
“Don’t be surprised if he turns it around, though, because when he’s at his best, he’s one of the league’s top nickel corners,” he said.
Bob Quinn is hoping that Tuls is right, as another free agency failure may spell doom for this team, and Quinn’s future, going forward. This is especially true as star corner Darius Slay seems to have one foot out the door in the Motor City, and the team may need to find two new starting outside corners. If that is the case, Detroit needs Coleman to be the leader of the unit going forward.
For now, though, the Lions will need Coleman to be better as he has proven to be one of the many issues on the roster this season. Detroit’s 2019 has been a disaster since Week 5, and they need to hope it’s just a blip on the radar rather than a problem that will carry into next year.