By now, you’ve undoubtedly seen a number of mock NFL drafts with the Detroit Lions landing all kinds of different players in the first round. One position that rarely comes up in connection with their seventh overall selection is cornerback. But should it?
The Lions’ former regime used the third overall pick in last year’s draft to select Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, the consensus best cornerback in that year’s class and one of the highest-regarded defensive back prospects over the last decade. As with most rookie corners, Okudah struggled, though his troubles were largely due to injuries, the lack of an offseason program, and the Lions’ overall defensive ineptitude.
Okudah still has a lot of upside and will get every opportunity in 2021 to prove that he was worth such a high pick. However, in a league where defending elite passing attacks is pivotal to success, you can never have enough talented cornerbacks. At present, the Lions don’t meet that standard.
Aside from Okudah and Amani Oruwariye, who had an up-and-down second NFL season in 2020, the Lions have question marks at the position. Veterans Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman were also underwhelming in 2020 and would represent a total savings of over $18 million according to Spotrac should the Lions decide to move on this offseason.
There are a number of younger free-agent cornerbacks that could interest the Lions, and they would need to sign several should they part ways with either Trufant or Coleman or both of them. That kind of move may not be enough to effectively restock the unit though, both in the short and long term.
This draft has a talented crop of corners, particularly at the top of the class. So much so, that NFL.com draft expert Daniel Jeremiah placed six of them in his latest top-50 draft prospect rankings.
It’s also a diverse group, with players like Northwestern’s Greg Newsome, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, and Alabama’s Patrick Surtain quickly gaining momentum in draft circles and capable of playing in practically any scheme. They also wouldn’t necessarily need to play heavy snaps right away, thanks to the experienced players ahead of them and the Lions’ inevitable rebuilding project.
Despite the talent, positional value, and versatility of this group, it’s hard to see the Lions opting for a cornerback with a top-ten pick for the second year in a row with so many other needs on the roster. It’s not out of the realm of possibility though and it’s a move they may consider. A trade down in the first round makes it an even more plausible scenario.