The Detroit Lions stayed active after the first wave of NFL free agency last month. While many were winding down after the exciting signings of Trey Flowers, Jesse James and Justin Coleman the Lions went out and added former Oakland Raiders cornerback Rashaan Melvin on a one-year deal worth just over $2 million.
Melvin played in 14 games last season, getting a starting designation in seven of them. The corner intercepted one pass and defended nine others in 2018, but the box score does not tell you a thing about the kind of campaign he had.
His 2018 season was a disaster.
Melvin consistently seemed like he was a step behind the competition last season. He was slow both mentally and physically and often looked as though he did not even belong on the same field as many of the other players. The corner was almost always in the wrong position and never reacted quick enough to get himself in place to make a play.
Melvin seems to only be able to run in a straight line and had trouble when the receiver uses any sort of double move or change of direction. This leaves him vulnerable when the receiver he is matched up against has a good release at the line of scrimmage, like Jarvis Landry of the Cleveland Browns.
Landry takes two steps outside before quickly cutting back and attacking Melvin inside. In only a few steps the receiver has managed to beat the corner, and if not for a misplaced pass by Baker Mayfield, the play would have resulted in a Browns touchdown.
He also struggles at keeping up with receivers when they stem their routes well.
The corner is playing in off-coverage on this play and picks up a receiver lined up bunched inside. Cleveland’s receiver runs directly at Melvin, attacking the pre-snap cushion he gives. He does not do anything too fancy and quickly head fakes inside before breaking his route outside to easily get open for a big gain.
These issues arise because Melvin also struggles to mirror the routes of his opponent in man coverage. He often gets turned all the way around too easily and allows receivers to enter his blind spot. This makes it easy for receivers to take advantage of him for huge gains, like the Denver Broncos’ Emmanuel Sanders did here:
Melvin is lined up split wide against Sanders. The receiver begins to run a slant route, attacking the corner’s inside shoulder. In trying to keep up, Melvin opens up too much inside, and Sanders quickly flips his hips and breaks back outside. He gets the corner turned around, and Sanders is easily able to get into acres of space behind him for an easy open catch and a big gain.
While all above the above plays happened in man coverage, his struggles existed in zone coverage as well. He consistently reacted late to receivers entering his zone and was rarely able to close off receivers in his area when he was targeted. He physically did not have the quickness to control his zone, and he mentally did not have the awareness and reaction time.
The Raiders drop back into deep thirds on this play, with Melvin responsible for the far side third. Denver attacks it well, running an in route on Melvin’s side to pull the corner away from the boundary, and a deep-in on the other end to exploit the room he vacates.
Oakland’s safety carries the deeper receiver all the way up to Melvin, and then attempts to hand him off in coverage. The corner is late to realize a receiver is about to enter his zone—his teammate even points on his man for him—and gives up a deep catch. He was both slow to recognize what the offense was doing and slow to react on this play.
There is not really anything positive to pull from Melvin’s 2018 season. He was poor in both man and zone coverage. He was poor in both off and press coverage. His tackling was not great and he did not provide much support against the run either.
About halfway through watching some of Melvin’s 2018 film, I decided to jump back to his 2017 film when he was with the Indianapolis Colts. Personally, I remember Melvin as a replacement-level corner for the Colts, so watching his 2018 film was shocking.
While his 2017 film showed a lot more to be excited about, some of the same issues we saw in 2018 existed. Melvin was often a second late reacting in coverage and still did get beat on double moves a little more often than one would like. He was not as much of a liability, though, and I did chart at least a few positive plays from him.
In 2017, Melvin was a below-average cover corner who struggled to play the ball. In 2018, there were times where it felt like a traffic cone may have been a better defender.
So why did Detroit sign him?
While the question initially posed asks whether Melvin will be a formidable starter in 2019, he may not even be a lock to make the roster. Detroit could give the corner the entire preseason to fight for a job, and if he does not show enough improvement this summer, they can move on while carrying on just $700,000 in dead cap.
Similar to the DeShawn Shead signing in 2018, Detroit has brought in a veteran corner on his last legs and given him one last chance to prove himself. Similar to Shead, many believe that he is a lock to make the 53-man roster, while that may not be the case at all.