Detroit Lions: Bradley Roby

Part of the reason the Detroit Lions essentially ignored addressing the secondary in the 2014 draft was because of the faith general manager Martin Mayhew had in the potential of his young cornerbacks.

That trust is sure to be tested now.

The Lions have released their top cornerback, Chris Houston, after an inconsistent 2013 and offseason surgery for a toe that just wouldn't heal. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis would now likely be the team's opening day starters at cornerback and the move increases the pressure on an untested group of players.

Houston
Houston
Bill Bentley has experience in the slot and is probably best suited there instead of on the outside. Jonte Green started games the past two seasons when players went down to injury, but has not been consistent. Chris Greenwood can't stay healthy and has minimal experience. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, but was used to primarily used to provide depth at cornerback in Indianapolis.

The one pick the Lions did use on the secondary, corner Nevin Lawson in the fourth round, should have been more of a developmental selection.

At least one of those players will need to be counted on this fall. The early guess would be Vaughn, who has some experience and had moments where he looked extremely sharp in the spring. He likely won't be a starter, but he at least feels like part of the reason the team could have felt comfortable releasing Houston without even seeing him in training camp.

Now, unless the Lions sign a cornerback before camp, they will have to use this group to forge a cornerback corps. It is a unit with some talent, but short on experience. In a division with receivers like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, that is not the type of situation you want to have.

Yet this is where Detroit is in the middle of June.

Something like this -- and Detroit had to have an inkling of concern here considering Houston did not play well in 2013 and had surgery -- was part of why it was so confusing how the Lions handled the secondary in the draft. Yes, Justin Gilbert was off the board when Detroit picked, but the team wasted little time before drafting tight end Eric Ebron, who the team opened up money to sign by cutting Houston.

They didn't seem to consider either selecting or trying to trade down to nab cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard or even Jason Verrett from TCU or Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Or the team could have drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville at safety and moved Don Carey, the team's third safety, to cornerback -- a position he previously played.

After Ebron, the team went with an interior lineman, Travis Swanson, in the third round and traded their fourth round pick to move up for Kyle Van Noy. The move possibly cost them one of the litany of defensive backs who went off the board before the team took Lawson with a supplemental pick in the fourth round.

Any of those first three picks could have been used on a secondary player that could have helped.

Of course all of this is hindsight now. Yet the Lions knew this possibility existed because of Houston's past few months. And that possibility became reality Friday -- even if it was somewhat predictable after Houston was excused from mandatory minicamp.

It leaves Detroit either hunting on the free agent wire or sticking with what they have – a group of young cornerbacks that could end up deciding Mayhew's future.

This is a sequence -- between the draft strategy, how's Houston's injury and eventual release was handled -- that should be used to judge Mayhew if Detroit struggles this season.

Mayhew put his faith with a group of young cornerbacks early. With Houston gone, Mayhew will now need them to prove he was right all along.
The NFL draft is a day away, which means soon enough the Detroit Lions will have to reveal whether all of their Sammy Watkins attention and visits from Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack had substance or were designed to throw everyone off.

But the draft will be more than just one round for the Lions, who will need to use the three days in May to build depth on a roster that is big on stars but small on those players beyond the big names that can turn the Lions into a playoff team.

Every day up until the first day of the draft, we’ll look at a different position grouping and see what Detroit has and what the team could end up looking for during the 2014 draft.

Today continues with the cornerbacks.

Other previews

Players Lost: None.

Players Signed: Rashean Mathis (re-signed); Cassius Vaughn (signed from Indianapolis); Aaron Hester

Players on the roster: Chris Houston; Darius Slay; Bill Bentley; Jonte Green; Chris Greenwood; Akwasi Owusu-Ansah; Mathis; Hester; Vaughn.

Draft priority: High

Potential Rounds: Any

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech; Bradley Roby, Ohio State.

Analysis: Since the end of last season, cornerback has been an obvious and major need for the Lions. That has not changed and, if anything, has heightened in the past few weeks as Houston continues to heal slowly from a toe injury.

That both Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell have expressed concern about Houston getting back to his 2012 form could be telling that the Lions believe they need to make a move on a cornerback, be it in the first, second or third round.

Add to that something else Mayhew said Monday – that by the third season, a cornerback is either going to get it or he won’t. Bentley, Green and Greenwood are all entering their third seasons. Slay is moving into Year 2. Owusu-Ansah will be in his fourth season in the league, but third with any experience. Between the five of them, the Lions have to hope they can find two good cornerbacks.

They re-signed Mathis as an insurance policy if the same thing happens in 2014 that happened in 2013, but the Lions would probably like to have him as a strong depth and fill-in performer instead of as their No. 1 corner, which he was in 2013.

Then there’s Houston, whom the Lions could be stuck with no matter what in 2014 because of the potential salary-cap hit if he were cut. But he is also in a play-or-be-cut season this year as well since the Lions are in a win-now mode anyway.

All of this means expect Detroit to once again take a cornerback fairly early in the draft, although the first round could be a stretch at No. 10. If the Lions trade down, though, or trade back up into the first round – cornerback could be a targeted possibility.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: The ideal option in my head would be for the Lions to trade back to eventually take Fuller. But Fuller is probably too much of a reach at No. 10 to reasonably pull off. So if the Lions pick at No. 10 or trade up, watch for Stanley Jean-Baptiste from Nebraska in the second round.

Jean-Baptiste has the height defensive coordinator Teryl Austin covets – he wants corners over 6-feet – and has the experience playing big-time college football. He would be a good addition for the Lions, who have to deal with receivers Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in the division, among others.

Possible targets: Gilbert; Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State; Fuller; Roby; Jean-Baptiste; Keith McGill, Utah; Phillip Gaines, Rice; Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma; Jaylen Watkins, Florida; Ross Cockrell, Duke; Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State.
Good morning and ROOOAAARRR!!!!!

The NFL combine has officially concluded and the entire NFL world gets a year break from descending on Indianapolis -- unless their team plays the Colts in 2014. So as the focus for teams transitions from scouting rookies to evaluating and planning for the March 11 start of free agency, here's a quick look at how the last group of players did during their combine workouts.

For the Detroit Lions, this is of massive importance since they will be looking for both cornerbacks and safeties during free agency and the draft as they try to upgrade the back end of their defense. This has been a consistent issue for them throughout most of the last decade, something that has not been solved no matter who has been drafted or signed.

Here are some key numbers from this year's rookie class (all from NFL.com).

40-yard dash: Top performer: Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) 4.37 seconds. Others of note: Bradley Roby (Ohio State) 4.39; Jaylen Watkins (Florida) 4.41; Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) 4.49; Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State) 4.51; Keith McGill (Utah) 4.51; Lamarcus Joyner (Florida State) 4.55; Loucheiz Purifoy (Florida) 4.61; Marcus Roberson (Florida) 4.61

Vertical jump: Top performer: Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska) 41.5 inches. Others of note: McGill 39.0; Roby 38.5; Fuller 38.5; Joyner 37.5; Roberson 37.5; Purifoy 35.5; Gilbert 35.5.

Broad jump: Top performer: Pierre Desir (Lindenwood) 11-feet, 1-inch. Others of note: McGill 10-9; Fuller 10-8; Gilbert 10-6; Joyner 10-4; Roby 10-4.

3-cone drill: Top performer: Daniel Sorensen (BYU) 6.47 seconds. Others of note: Roberson 6.84; Fuller 6.90; Gilbert 6.92.

20-yard shuttle: Top performer: Sorensen 3.95. Others of note: Roby 4.04; Roberson 4.08; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) 4.16; McGill 4.18; Fuller 4.19.

60-yard shuttle: Top performer: Sorensen 10.80. Others of note: Clinton-Dix 11.63.

And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
Good morning and ROOOOAAARRR!!!!

Players at one position of need for the Detroit Lions worked out Sunday, including some impressive performances from wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, and players at two other obvious needs will be trying to show off Tuesday.

Defensive backs will work out in the final day of the combine and the Lions have needs at both cornerback and safety, two positions the team could target in the first round in May.

So who should you watch? The familiar names are out there, like safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) and Calvin Pryor (Louisville) along with cornerbacks Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Bradley Roby (Ohio State) and Marcus Roberson (Florida).

A trio of other names to definitely watch will be Jaylen Watkins (Florida), Lamarcus Joyner (Florida State) and Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech). All could be options for Detroit at some point.

The defensive backs completed the bench press Monday and, from NFL.com, here are how those players did: Watkins 22 reps; Gilbert 20; Pryor 18; Roby 17; Dennard 15; Joyner 14; Fuller 12 and Roberson 8.

And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:

Exploring Detroit's backup quarterback options. Meet the free agents -- defensive tackle Andre Fluellen. The Lions should focus on cornerback, not receiver, in the first round from colleague KC Joyner.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press breaks down who might be available at No. 10 when Detroit drafts.

Cornerbacks could be too tempting to pass on, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.

Mike Evans makes sense for the Lions, writes Kyle Meinke of MLive.

 

 

 
The all-star games are over. The combine, which is the next area for potential draftees to prove something, is less than a month away.

Many of the players selected in May’s draft will come from these three all-star games or from underclassmen who decided the time was right to turn professional. Over the next two weeks, pairing with our position outlook series, we’ll offer a quick preview and look back at some names to become familiar with over the next four months as the NFL draft process crawls along.

Today continues with cornerbacks. This is a position of high need for the Lions. Expect them to go after a top cornerback in the draft.

I'm also changing the format of this a little bit since the all-star games have concluded.

Previous looks: Quarterbacks; running backs; wide receivers; tight ends; offensive tackles; interior linemen; defensive ends; defensive tackles; linebackers.
  • Justin Gilbert (6-foot-0 1/4, 199, Oklahoma State) Gilbert had 42 tackles and seven interceptions for 123 yards this season. He also had seven pass-breakups. No. 1 cornerback. No. 11 overall.
  • Darqueze Dennard (5-11 3/4, 189, Michigan State) Won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Started at corner for three years. Had 14 defended passes, including four interceptions. Also had 62 tackles. No. 2 cornerback. No. 18 overall.
  • Loucheiz Purifoy (6-0, 185, Florida) Had 24 tackles, seven pass-breakups, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Also had two sacks. No. 3 cornerback.
  • Marcus Roberson (5-11 1/2, 195, Florida) Has injury concerns with both his knee and his ankle. Had 11 tackles and three pass-breakups in his seven games this season. No. 6 cornerback
  • Bradley Roby (5-11 1/8, 193, Ohio State) Roby had 69 tackles, three interceptions for 120 yards and 13 pass-breakups this season. He also blocked two kicks. No. 7 cornerback.
  • Keith McGill (6-3, 214, Utah) Had 37 tackles and one interception this season. Also had 13 passes defended and a quarterback hurry. No. 8 cornerback.
  • Bashaud Breeland (6-0, 195, Clemson) Made 74 tackles, had two sacks, 13 pass-breakups and forced two fumbles. No. 9 cornerback.
  • Kyle Fuller (5-11 1/2, 189, Virginia Tech) The Lions will be able to get a great read on him, as he is the brother of current Lions receiver Corey Fuller. Had 24 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass-breakups. No. 11 cornerback.

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