Rashaan Melvin was brought to the Detroit Lions to finally be the team’s long-time answer for the No. 2 cornerback position. The team has long sought a player that was worthy of playing across Darius Slay in the defensive backfield, and with Teez Tabor officially determined to not be the one—the third-year corner was released at the end of preseason—Melvin was supposed to be the guy.
As I mentioned in my film breakdown of the corner last offseason, Melvin was coming off of a 2018 season where he was one of the worst players in the NFL. Detroit was betting on Melvin to get things together playing far away from a bad Oakland Raiders defense and in the Lions’ man coverage-focused defensive scheme.
Things got off the bright start for Melvin in Detroit. He, alongside Slay and fellow new signing Justin Coleman, joined together to be one of the best cornerback groups in the NFL during the first month of the season. A great performance in Week 4 against the dynamic Kansas City Chiefs offense made it look as though they were going to be a force in 2019.
Then it all unraveled after the bye week. Melvin and Coleman both suddenly saw a huge drop off in play and the defense struggled because of it.
Melvin’s main problem is the same as his predecessor, Nevin Lawson. While he usually can do enough to stick to the hip of the receiver he is forced to cover, he struggles when it comes to actual field awareness. Melvin never gets his head around to make a play on the ball. This means that receivers who do not have the route-running capability to beat him with their feet can usually make an easy catch over him anyways.
New York Giants rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton learned this when the two teams met in Week 8.
Working on this film breakdown felt eerie. I went back to read my evaluation of Lawson after last season—which totally coincidentally was published exactly one year ago—and almost everything I could say about Lawson last year could be said about Melvin this season. For both, I entered my film watching session with a negative opinion on the player. For both, I turned out ending with a higher opinion of them, while also realizing they had one fatal flaw that may undo all of their talent elsewhere.
For example, while Melvin may not be as physical as Lawson, but he is just as good as his predecessor off the line in press coverage. He rarely falls for double moves at the start of the play, a problem Slay has, and does not let receivers easily get the better of him.
He does a great job mirroring his opponent early in the route, and then getting in position to force the receiver either towards the boundary or towards the rest of the coverage when follows them downfield.
Melvin does not get beat up easily, though. He is a lot bigger than Lawson, and it shows. He rarely allows himself to get beaten by push offs from stronger receivers and does a good job sticking with them stride for stride through contact.
This all combines to make Melvin a decent cover corner. He rarely gets torched in man coverage and can stick to a man when it is his job.
His lack of awareness does show up in zone coverage, though. He usually is just a step too late when reacting to receivers entering and leaving his zone. Occasionally, you will also see him just abandon his zone outright when he does not need to. Additionally, as we learned when Breshad Perriman cooked him in the Lions’ late-season matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he cannot really handle receivers who are significantly more athletic than him.
Detroit is a team that focuses on man coverage though, so the occasional flaws in zone can be overlooked. His inability to make plays at the point of attack are damning, though, because even the best of overages can be beat with a good throw, especially when the corner has no idea when the ball is coming.
Melvin was on a prove-it deal in 2019. Detroit took a risk on a guy with a good physical profile who was coming off one of the worst seasons a player could had. It was a risk, but the Lions got to evaluate him for a year, and now can move on for free from Melvin.
Moving on would certainly be the correct move. Even if they do not choose to draft a corner early in the draft, they could still find a better player in free agency. Someone like Logan Ryan would be a perfect, albeit expensive, option. Even if the team does want to go cheap, they could find a second or third-tier free agent who can be better than Melvin. Amani Oruwariye will also have another year of NFL experience under his belt, and the Lions may want to throw the young corner into the fire in the upcoming season.
Corner is a huge need and it is unclear what the answer for Detroit is. The answer certainly is not Melvin, though.