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2022 NFL Combine preview: 12 cornerbacks the Lions should be watching

Who and what to watch from the cornerbacks during the 2022 NFL Combine.

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NCAA Football: Murray State at Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL Combine on-field workouts and drills begin on Thursday, March 3 with the offense on display over the first two days. When the weekend arrives, the defense will take the field for their drills. The interior defensive line, edge rushers, and linebackers go through the process on Saturday, March 5, and the defensive backs close out the event on Sunday, March 6.

This is the latest in a series of articles that will explore the participants at the Combine that the Pride of Detroit staff believes the Detroit Lions should keep a close eye on during positional activities. Previously, we reviewed the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, interior defensive line, EDGE rushers, and linebacker groups.

Next up: Cornerbacks

Team need

Detroit’s roster has plenty of developing talent, but there are a few concerns (can the youth continue to develop? Can Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs return to health in time? Will Amani Oruwariye return to the team in 2023?) that could have the Lions searching for more competition.

What to watch for

One of the easiest ways to tell if a player is a future NFL corner or safety is how they flip their hips. Corners do this with little wasted movement and are often smooth as butter. Safeties tend to have a bit of a hitch, which is usually an indicator they are better flowing forward and laterally to the ball.

At the Combine, watch those hips. Do they transition smoothly? Are they balanced? Is their backpedal fluid? Quick? Can they accelerate quickly when changing direction? Do they track with their eyes? Are they a natural pass catcher? The drills will tell you a lot about a player and their natural ability.

Now, on to the prospects.

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati, 6-foot-2, 200

Suggested by John and Morgan

The Detroit native is tall, long, sticky in coverage, and physical—all the traits you look for in a CB1. One thing to watch for at the Combine is his ability to flip his hips. He needs to stay lower in his hips so that he can explode out of his backpedal. If he can answer that bell—along with LSU’s Derek Stingley skipping drills while he recovers from a Lisfranc injury—Gardner could leave Indianapolis as the top corner in this class.

Coby Bryant, Cincinnati, 6-foot-1 12, 191

Suggested by Jeremy

Gardner’s partner in the secondary is no slouch himself. Bryant is highly intelligent and instinctive, but not quite the athlete his teammate is. Still, he has a starter-level ceiling and could be a bargain in the third round. Speed could be an issue—keep an eye on his 40-yard dash time—but there are ways to mitigate that for a smart corner like Bryant.

Kyler Gordon, Washington, 6-foot-0, 195

Suggested by Ryan

Like Bryant, Gordon gets a bit overshadowed by his secondary running mate (Trent McDuffie) but he is a lock for Day 2, has plenty of upside, and could challenge to start on the outside or in the slot as a rookie. He is expected to test very well at the Combine and should be at his best when asked to put his foot in the ground and drive.

Kaiir Elam, Florida, 6-foot-2, 195

Suggested by Hamza

Dave Birkett of the Free Press mocked Elam to the Lions at pick No. 34 in his most recent mock draft, and as I said in my breakdown, “he’s tall/long and fluid, but he got complacent this season, coasting on his talent and his play suffered.” His testing numbers should impress, as should his performance in on-field drills, but the most important thing he does in Indianapolis will be in meeting with teams.

Tariq Woolen, UTSA, 6-foot-3 12, 205

Suggested by Mike

One of the big winners of the Senior Bowl, Woolen got on our radar after The Athletic’s Dane Brugler and Chris Burke suggested he would be a great fit with the Lions (he was on the roster they coached). The former wide receiver has only been at corner for two seasons and is still raw at the position, but he has plenty of upside and should measure/test very well at the Combine. He is incredibly tall and long (a Senior Bowl measured 33.5-inch arm length is identical to Tracy Walker’s), and his 22.45 MPH was the fastest GPS speed in Mobile, regardless of position.

Joshua Williams, Fayetteville State, 6-foot-2 12, 193

Suggested by Erik

Another small school corner who is tall, long (32.25-inch arm length), and fast—his 21.75 MPH GPS speed was the second fastest on defense and third fastest overall (Danny Gray, SMU, was second), regardless of position. Like most tall corners, keep an eye on his change of direction drills, and if he can stay low when he flips his hips.

Lions Senior Bowl starters

  • Roger McCreary (Auburn, 5-foot-11, 189) can play both on the outside and in the slot, and while the talent is there, his sub-30-inch arm length will turn teams away and will likely drop him into Day 2.
  • Akayleb Evans (Missouri, 6-foot-2, 201) has the desired height and length (32.38-inch arm length) NFL teams covet, but unlike Woolen and Williams (above), he doesn’t have elite speed. His extremely high character and upside could get him a look mid-Day 3 from the Lions.

Quick thoughts

  • Marcus Jones (Houston, 5-foot-8, 185) is a nickel corner and elite returnman, with nine career returns for touchdowns (six on kickoffs and three on punts). He’ll need to fly in the 40-yard dash.
  • Cam Taylor-Britt (Nebraska, 5-foot-10 12, 200) has started at corner and safety, which is a skill set the Lions are likely to be interested in.
  • Alonte Taylor (Tennessee, 6-foot-0, 196) has the potential to be another corner/safety hybrid due to his comfort in zone coverage. He’s also a terrific special teams contributor.
  • Kalon Barnes (Baylor, 5-foot-11 12, 183), you have my attention:

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