Detroit Lions: Is the cornerback position now a strength of the defense?

July 29th, 2020 in Lions By Bob Heyrman

After signing Desmond Trufant and using the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to select Jeff Okudah, is the cornerback position now a strength despite trading away All-Pro Darius Slay?

The Detroit Lions traded away disgruntled All-Pro corner Darius Slay this offseason after the organization decided to sign former Pro-Bowler Desmond Trufant.

Trufant turns 30-years old in September. He’s spent the first seven years of his career with the Atlanta Falcons, who drafted him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The talented corner became a casualty of a the salary cap in Atlanta, allowing the Lions to pounce, adding a much-needed outside corner to a defense that struggled to generate a pass rush last season leaving their corners out on an island.

After a string of injuries occurred, slot specialist Justin Coleman was forced to slide from his station inside to work on the outside, where he struggled mightily.  As soon as teams started attacking Coleman vertically on the outside, forcing him out of his comfort zone, he proceeded to struggle.

It’s challenging to assume the Detroit Lions cornerback group will be more substantial than it was last year after losing one of the better corners in the league but adding a player like Trufant who may not be Slay. Still, he’s much better than Rashaan Melvin, who the Lions plugged in as their CB2 last season.

We can’t expect Jeff Okudah to walk in on day one and be one of the top corners in the NFL as a rookie. Still, after being drafted third overall, the Lions are banking he will grow into one of the best players at his position before he signs his second contract.

Okudah will start from day one in this Matt Patricia heavy man-to-man coverage scheme, and having a player like Trufant to learn from this summer is hugely beneficial for the young man.

Last season Trufant played in nine games for the Falcons and recorded four interceptions and successfully defended seven passes.  Trufant chipped in with 18 tackles, a career-low.  According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Trufant earned an overall rating of 70.2 last season, and his coverage grade came in at a respectable 70.3.  In comparison, Slay received an overall mark of 56.4 and a coverage grade of 56.9.  Trufant is comfortable playing the right corner position, which works out perfectly for the Lions as they expect to roll out Okudah at the left corner spot on day one.

The hope is that second-year corner Amani Oruwariye proves to be a reliable depth corner in hopes of becoming a starting corner as soon as next season.  Last year in limited duty, Oruwariye recorded two interceptions, 17 tackles, and produced a stellar 75.3 overall grade per PFF.

Oruwariye excelled playing 44 snaps against Washington, and again logging 59 snaps against Chicago but faltered playing just 13 snaps against the pass-heavy Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.  He bounced back in weeks 16 and 17 against the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers.

If the young second-year man gains some confidence, the Detroit Lions are sitting pretty with Okudah and Oruwariye for the future.

The Lions also brought in free agent Darryl Roberts way of the New York Jets.  He’s a perfect nickel corner.  He can play inside and out.  Last season he made one interception and 58 tackles for the Jets.  He produced his worst career overall rating of just 56.6, but look for better production from Roberts in more of a rotational role this season with the Detroit Lions.

The conclusion here is that even despite losing Darius Slay, it’s a Lions secondary that’s much improved from a year ago, and I can’t wait to see this group go to work.