The Detroit Lions used their eighth and final selection in the 2022 NFL draft (pick No. 237 in the seventh round) to select Arizona State corner Chase Lucas to add depth to their secondary.
A high school track star and US Army All-American running back (who also played some wide receiver/defensive back), Lucas decided to switch to cornerback full time at ASU because of his “body type” (5-foot-11 1⁄2, 180 pounds). He redshirted in 2016 and earned a starting job at corner in 2017, but his game started rapidly developing in 2018 when Herm Edwards—former NFL corner and head coach (Jets and Chiefs)—took the head coaching job at ASU. In 2019, ASU added another brilliant defensive mind to the coaching staff in Marvin Lewis—another former NFL head coach (Bengals)—which also was a benefit.
“Just having them come in and try to critique the little things I was doing wrong, whether it was shadowing with the wrong hand or moving with the wrong foot, I feel like that just progressed 10 times, tenfold over the last three, four years,” Lucas told the Lions’ media in his post-selection press conference. “Especially because we kept adding new coaches like Chris Hawkins from SC (University of Southern California) who kind of just taught me to be my own man and play my own technique. I feel like when they came, they kind of sharpened the edges where I needed to sharpen. I feel like it made me better as a whole, as a player and as a person, everything.”
Opting to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility provided by the NCAA after the compromised 2020 season due to COVID, Lucas returned to ASU in 2021 as a sixth-year senior and vocal team captain.
“I feel like my experience is going to help me, especially in the NFL and especially because I was coached by NFL coaches like Marvin Lewis, (and) Herm Edwards,” Lucas continued. “I’ve been around pro guys. I’ve been around pro coaches. I feel like their competitive nature at the Detroit Lions is going to fit my type of style of how I am, (and) how I play. I feel like just my experience alone probably even got me drafted. I’m just excited. I’m happy and just thankful for this opportunity.”
Athletically, Lucas has several appealing traits, with two glaring negatives—his weight and strength (bench)—and both those issues show up in his game film. He tries to overcome those weaknesses by leaning on his other traits, such as experience (49 starts), instincts, explosivity, first-step quickness, and change-of-direction skills.
Lucas spent the early part of his career on the outside, but as he gained more experience, coaches had him start taking reps inside. In 2021, over 10 games, Lucas saw 373 snaps on the outside, with 138 snaps in the slot.
“I’m very, very comfortable. I’ve been playing nickel for the last two years,” Lucas explained. “The 2020 season only having four games, that was when I was really getting introduced to it because if one player went down, somebody had to move in and fill the spot.”
ASU’s defense typically deployed a single-high safety with the underneath defensive backs playing off-coverage, shifting between man and zone. Off-coverage is not always a polished skill for rookie corners—it was one of the traits Ifeatu Melifonwu possesses that caught Brad Holmes’ attention in 2021—but for the corners who understand it, it can help with their transition to the NFL.
By playing off-coverage, Lucas avoids getting into physical battles at the line of scrimmage and allows his instincts to dictate coverage. Due to his extensive experience, Lucas shows a high level of intelligence, recognizes routes quickly, and does not panic as the play unfolds in front of him. Regardless of where the play takes him, he stays balanced, under control, with little wasted movement, always staying square to the play.
In zone coverage, Lucas keeps the play in front of him, and not only covers his assignment, but is capable of recognizing when the target is in the adjacent zone and will often fall off and drop in front of the play.
In man coverage, he is smooth in his backpedal, keeps his eyes trained to find QB while staying in phase with his assignment, routinely gets his head around when the ball is in the air, locates, and makes plays on the ball.
Terrific play by #Lions NB Chase Lucas. Allows short cushion, transfers from backpedal to carry WR, and keeps eyes on the QB. Uses the sideline to squeeze the route, understands when to turn and locate the ball, and torques his body for the PBU.— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) May 9, 2022
(Also, find a hype man like this) pic.twitter.com/iyMta4AF8Y
If the play takes Lucas deep, he does his best to run with the receiver and stick with them. But he does struggle with elite speed and complex route runners downfield—he had six penalties in 2021, but only seven combined the four years prior. To offset this, Lucas tries to maximize his speed wherever he can. Sometimes that equates to playing off, other times he will keep his arms down to maximize his speed when the ball is in the air, and only extends at the least second when the ball arrives.
He’s much stronger in short areas of coverage where he can use his quickness and instincts to drive on the ball. There is zero hesitation when he keys on the play, which makes running quick-outs, screens and trick plays on his side a difficult task for offenses.
They say the backpedal is dead!! They lied! Beautiful job by ASU corner Chase Lucas. Staying square in his pedal. Active feet. Nice clean break. Zero wasted steps. Good rep pic.twitter.com/Y6ugkME9R8— CROCK-MAN⚡️ (@eric_crocker) December 6, 2020
Lucas is also uber competitive and that shows up on a play-by-play basis.
“I’m very competitive, Lucas told the Detroit media. “I love to win everything. I hate losing more than I love winning. That’s just kind of how I am. My football IQ just came from my coaches. Just being up, always having a pen and paper with you, just always trying to take notes and trying to learn something new every day, that’s the kind of mindset I’m going to take to the team and hopefully, it’ll rub off on others.”
Most of the time that competitiveness produces positive results—zero touchdowns allowed in 2021 and never more than two in any of the four years prior—but it can also negatively impact him when he gambles looking for the big play.
It can also produce mixed results in run support. Lucas is a physical downhill aggressor and will fill to stop the run on a consistent basis. The issue that too often arises is instead of wrapping up, he submarines the player, diving at their legs for body tackles. It’s not clear if this was a technique taught to him, or an adjustment due to his frame, but it can often lead to missed tackles.
In 2018 and 2019, Lucas missed double digit tackles, but improved his numbers in 2020 to just two missed tackles (just four games played) and only four missed tackles in 2021 (10 games played).
In 2021 he routinely found a way to get the ball carrier to the ground, either by driving through the legs of the offensive player or holding on and dragging him down from a trailing angle. He’ll need to be more wrap up proficient in the NFL.
Lucas will also need to be able to contribute on special teams in order to justify a roster spot. Over the first three years of his career, Lucas was a 100+ snap special teamer, but his role was reduced in the shortened 2020 season, and almost eliminated as a sixth-year senior.
“You see what he can contribute on special teams,” Holmes said of Lucas, “then you talk about from a versatility standpoint I think Chase Lucas can play outside. I think he can play inside.”
While Lucas may be a capable inside-out corner, in my opinion, most of his traits point to him finding success in the NFL if he shifts to the slot full time. This is the least experienced part of his history, but it properly highlights his strengths and softens his weaknesses.
By lining up in the slot, Lucas’ struggles with deep speed mostly go away, while he will continue to excel with his first-step quickness and ability to mirror the receiver. His instincts will continue to allow him to react quickly, diagnose instantly, and drive on the ball. And finally, while he’s not overly strong, he won’t have to be in the slot, as his tenaciousness should help him get the job done.
“I feel very comfortable (in the slot)”, Lucas explained. “I feel like my football IQ is a big thing, a big reason why I was drafted. I feel like I do a lot of studying and a lot of film work. I feel like that’s going to translate to the nickel spot and hopefully, to the rest of my career.”
Now, Lucas will surely get tried out at multiple spots in camp, but if he does end up in the slot, the road to a starting role is only a player (AJ Parker, current starting nickel corner), or three (Will Harris and/or Mike Hughes) away.
“I’m very pumped up,” Lucas concluded. “I’m very excited, but I’m also ready to work. I know they’re going to get a good corner, a good nickel, a good safety, whatever they need of me out of this.”