The Detroit Lions cornerback group went through some serious changes this offseason. With disgruntled Darius Slay shipped to Philadelphia, the Lions had to put in serious work to offset the serious loss. First came veteran Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant, then Detroit spent the third-overall pick on Jeff Okudah.
And they didn’t stop there, either. Detroit sought out to improve the depth by adding a couple of other key free agents. Put it all together, and it may be the best group of top-to-bottom cornerbacks the Lions have had in quite some time.
That all being said, there are plenty of things that need to be worked out before the start of the regular season.
Here’s our 2020 Detroit Lions training camp preview of the cornerbacks.
Roster locks: Desmond Trufant, Jeff Okudah, Justin Coleman, Amani Oruwariye
On the bubble: Darryl Roberts, Tony McRae, Mike Ford, Dee Virgin
Long shot: Mike Jackson
Key departures: Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin
How soon does Jeff Okudah take over?
With the shortened offseason and Okudah entering August with essentially zero practice reps with the team, is it possible that he’ll be ready to start by the Lions’ season opener? Will the Lions ease him into the first-team defense or will he be considered a starter from the moment he walks into Allen Park? Will he be the No. 1 cornerback or will veteran Desmond Trufant take on the role?
It won’t be an easy transition for any rookies this year—who already have to deal with a shortened offseason due to NFL Draft training—but we’re talking about the No. 3 pick in the draft here. He’ll be part of the conversation sooner rather than later. And while that may not mean stepping onto the practice field for the first time as CB1, expect Okudah to—at the very least—be a starter by Week 1.
Can Justin Coleman bounce back?
Coleman has a strong start to his Lions career before Detroit broke for the bye week in Week 5. However we he came back, he—and the rest of the Lions secondary—struggled immensely.
The Lions handed Coleman a big contract last year knowing that nickel cornerback is an extremely important position. Given the league’s increase in speedy, shifty receivers, Coleman’s job won’t get any easier this year.
Last year, Coleman struggled a bit in training camp, and we saw that bleed into the regular season. If he comes back playing more like he did in his impressive years with the Seahawks, the Lions secondary could be much improved.
Who wins the depth jobs?
While the Lions’ top for cornerbacks seem pretty set in Trufant, Okudah, Coleman and Oruwariye, the depth beyond that is anything but.
As always, special teams will play a big part in rounding out this position group. Mike Ford and Dee Virgin were big players in those roles last year, but incoming corners Darryl Roberts and Tony McRae held onto those roles with their respective teams last year. Roberts brings the added value of having serious experience at outside corner (26 starts), while McRae was a special teams standout for the Bengals and has a built-in relationship with new Lions special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs. McRae also looks to be the team’s best slot corner backup option (not including some safeties).
So will the Lions go with the players they know in Ford and Virgin, or the players that potentially offer more in Roberts and McRae?
Give me the four “roster locks”, Tony McRae for his special teams and backup nickel skills, and Darryl Roberts for his moderate success as a starter. Last year, the Lions kept seven cornerbacks, but I’m keeping it at six to allow for an extra linebacker, as previously discussed.
If you’re keeping score, that means four of the six cornerbacks on the team would be new to the roster this year. Given last year’s struggles, I think that’s warranted.