The Detroit Lions have their top corner set in stone, but Cameron Sutton’s partner in crime is still a work in progress.
The Lions’ secondary has been brutalized by injuries this season. Free agent signing Emmanuel Moseley was projected to be the CB2 across from Sutton, but he tore his other ACL two snaps into his season. C.J. Gardner-Johnson was slated to be a dynamic option in the secondary, but an early injury forced him to miss most of the season.
While rookie Brian Branch has stepped up and shined in Gardner-Johnson’s absence, it is Moseley’s spot that has been far more difficult to replace. Jerry Jacobs had been the go-to corner for a majority of the season, but his struggles came to a head and resulted in his benching against the Denver Broncos. To make matters worse, Jacobs suffered a hamstring injury and did not return. The cornerback with the next-most snaps is Will Harris, but aside from Week 7, Harris has been limited to a slot corner role—and even that has been modest.
The Lions have not had a reliable option across from Sutton, and they decided to experiment against the Broncos. Behind Sutton outside and Branch in the slot, the cornerbacks with the most snaps on Saturday were Khalil Dorsey (44 of 64 snaps) and Kindle Vildor (18 snaps). Dorsey had missed the first month of the season with a scary life-threatening muscle injury and had been almost exclusively a special teamer. Vildor was signed to the Lions practice squad on November 14, 2023 before getting officially promoted on December 5. In last week’s game against the Chicago Bears, Vildor spelled Jacobs for 17 snaps on defense.
The rag-tag duo was surprisingly effective. Per PFF, Dorsey gave up two catches on three targets for 13 yards, while Vildor’s lone target was incomplete. Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson finished the day with 223 passing yards, yet the cornerbacks were on the hook for very few of those yards. It was as close to a shutdown performance as we have seen this year.
Depending on the severity of Jacobs’ injury, the Lions now have multiple options at CB2 to consider going forward. There is also the injury of Gardner-Johnson that could factor into the decision. If he returns before the season’s end and the playoffs, the Lions might have to shuffle their secondary. Ifeatu Melifonwu has played phenomenally since replacing Tracy Walker at safety, but would the Lions bench him or Branch upon Gardner-Johnson’s return? Would the Lions consider the bold move of shifting Melifonwu back to corner?
Those are just some of the options the Lions could explore at cornerback—there is no easy answer.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Who should be the Lions’ CB2?
My answer: Kindle Vildor.
On paper, moving Melifonwu outside to cornerback could give the Lions their most talented secondary with him, Brian Branch, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Kerby Joseph, and Cameron Sutton. However, the learning curve between safety and cornerback is a steep one, and Melifonwu has already spent over a year transitioning to safety. Suddenly moving him back to corner might negate any of the progress he has made—he is playing well as a safety, but that is no guarantee he would play well as a corner. He could play in a pinch, but I think a lot would need to go wrong before that point. Although experienced in the slot, neither Branch nor Gardner-Johnson have much experience as outside cornerbacks. The Lions’ CB2 won’t come from this group.
While Dorsey got the start against the Broncos, I think Vildor might be the best option in the long run. Vildor has 22 career starts under his belt, and that experience might be enough to give him the edge. Vildor is still new to the team, and the Lions are likely still easing him into the lineup. Dorsey was the next experienced man up, since the coaching staff has seemingly moved away from Harris. I think after two solid outings to start his Lions’ tenure, the Lions will give Vildor the nod. The training wheels can come off.
Who should the Lions pick to be their CB2 with the playoffs fast approaching? Let us know in the comments below.