Until last year’s draft the Detroit Lions continued to neglect a putrid secondary. Names like Kalvin Pearson, Gerald Alexander, Jamar Fletcher, C.C. Brown, and Jonathan Wade donned blue and silver just a few years ago.
In last year’s draft the Lions finally threw three mid-to-late round picks at the need. Many were still displeased with the team’s resistance to address the need atop the draft or with any high profile free agents. However, just a year after being the NFL’s worst pass defense, the Lions stood 14th in passing yards per game allowed.
Fans may have not yet heard of a couple backs on this year’s roster, but that is not because the team is filled with washed up, never-was talent. This 2013 set brings youth and actual potential to the turf.
Let’s take a look at the projected secondary:
Chris Houston (5-foot-11, 178 pounds) will be relied on once again to be the team’s ace corner after being resigned. The 28-year-old did not disappoint with a fine encore to his breakout 5 interception season in 2011. His only real sign of weakness came during against the Falcons in a Saturday Night Football meltdown. Julio Jones and Roddy White torched Houston and the Lions’ secondary for 3 touchdowns, bringing his great season back down to earth. Houston is not an elite cornerback and is probably better served as a solid number two; however, he has shown that he is plenty serviceable as a no. 1 option facing most teams.
No. 1 CB Grade: B-
Bill Bentley (5-foot-10, 176 pounds) comes back from a season ending injury that came in week 4 against the Vikings. In the 2012 preseason Bentley flared talent across the field from the get-go against Cleveland. An acrobatic interception highlighted his first game and impressed us all. Once the regular season began, the third round rookie bit on a few too many fakes and clearly looked like a 1st year player who needed to fine tune his game. Until he improves his game he will need to play a tad more reserved, but with another good offseason he could break out.
No. 2 CB Grade: C+
Darius Slay (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) is going to fight Bentley for the number two spot on the depth chart. If the two look evenly matched, the Lions will likely slot Bentley at the nickel where he is better suited. This rookie second rounder has speed to burn: he ran the fastest 40 time (4.36) of all corners in this year’s draft. Slay grabbed an impressive 5 interceptions playing alongside fellow 2nd rounder Jonathan Banks in the fierce SEC last year. At 6-foot-1 he displays rare ball-hawking abilities that make him a likely fixture atop the Lions’ depth chart for seasons to come.
No. 3 CB Grade: B+
Jonte Green (5-foot-11, 184 pounds) did his best to replace the injury riddled secondary last season. As the season went on we saw the 6th round rookie go from confused puppy to serviceable corner that the Lions can rely on at the back end of their depth chart in the future. Unlike Bentley and Slay, Green has 15 NFL games under his belt which could give him decent playing time. He did not make many plays (1 int), but with an admirable 4.51 40 time and nice quickness, he has the skills necessary to shore up many of the inconsistencies he displayed, especially early on last season.
No. 4 CB Grade: B-
Chris Greenwood (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) has a high ceiling for being a mere 5th round pick. After suffering a season ending abdominal injury last year, the 23-year-old Detroit native is getting a second chance at a rookie campaign. Greenwood mixes great size and speed, much like Slay, giving him significant potential to be an impact player. Although don’t expect much quality play just yet as Greenwood is still wet around the ears when it comes to understanding the intricacies of the game. Unlike Slay, Greenwood played college ball in a small conference with much lighter competition at the Division III level. He needs more experience, but the ability is there.
Ron Bartell (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) brings veteran competition and leadership to the younglings. Another Detroit native, he was signed last December by the Lions a week after he was released by the Raiders. Hopefully youth will win out to bolster the Lions’ depth chart for the future, but if one or more of the corners above falter, the Lions will not hesitate to give Bartell abundant playing time. Detroit wants to win now, and Bartell’s 210-pound frame is nothing to sneeze at. He will not make the same mistakes younger boys inevitably will, but, at the same time, he does not have the same big-play impact or potential at 31 years old.
Glover Quin (6-foot-0, 207 pounds) is the best free agent the Lions signed all offseason. Forget about the flash of Reggie Bush; Quin is as consistent as they come at his position, and that is exactly what the Lions have so desperately needed. Fans can count on a full season from the 27-year-old vet with several plays in coverage that will make up for follies Lions corners have been punished for in the past.
SS Grade: B+
Louis Delmas (5-foot-11, 202 pounds) needs to stay healthy! The 26-year-old budding stud shows glimpses of brilliance before getting knocked out every other game. When on the field Delmas plays with a boom or bust mentality. His menacing style of play can make opposing skill players quiver in the open field. This is Delmas’ greatest strength but also his greatest weakness. He goes for big hits too often which can lead to overshooting targets creating big plays for the opposition. With all of that said, if Delmas can stay healthy, he and Quin would give the Lions a formidable duo of safeties in their prime.
FS Grade: B+
Overall Secondary Grade: B
Overall Summary: A solid, young core with no stars. An injury-free year with a breakout season or two could make this group a real strength early on and for the future.
After countless seasons of bringing in 30-year-old journeymen, the Detroit Lions finally have a collection of promising youths who can grow together.