Lions 2024 draft: A cornerback for every round

USA Today

Next up in the Lions 2024 NFL draft “prospect for every round” is the cornerback position. It’s a very deep position in the draft, with several worthy prospects in each round for the Lions to consider.

The Lions aren’t going to draft a cornerback in each round, of course. The goal here is to show which types of talents are fits for the Lions in each round of the draft to help identify talents and also relative value that projects to be available for GM Brad Holmes.

Detroit has devoted a lot of offseason attention to cornerback. The Lions added Carlton Davis in a trade with the Buccaneers and Amik Robertson in free agency. Detroit also brought back Kindle Vildor and Emmanuel Moseley as free agents. Brian Branch is back as the slot corner, though he could also play some safety.

First round: Cooper DeJean, Iowa

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

The first round is a tough projection for cornerbacks at No. 29. Presuming Terrion Arnold and Quinyon Mitchell are gone, the rest of the potentially available pool is strong but imperfect in some critical way. I opted for DeJean more for his positional versatility and playmaking, as well as his outstanding athletic potential.

What I like:

–Proven high-level versatility to play either outside CB or free safety

–Exceptional height/weight/speed combination

–Very good at attacking the ball in the air

–Big hitter with disciplined attack angles in the run game

–Sound open-field tackler and he’s quick to come off his cover mark to help when the throw goes elsewhere

Negatives:

–Not the most fluid mover laterally. Doesn’t play on train tracks, but quicker/shiftier receivers can give him trouble

–Tight hip flips when he has to turn and chase in man coverage

–Might be a better safety prospect than cornerback

DeJean might not last to No. 29 after his outstanding pro day testing, but he’s a great fit for Aaron Glenn’s aggressive man and varying zone shells. The Iowa speedster has a higher floor at safety than corner, and that’s a nice fallback plan if playing outside CB doesn’t work out.

Second round: Ennis Rakestraw, Missouri

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

What I like:

–Really good jam at the line in press-man coverage

–Carries himself with confidence and feisty competitiveness

–Very good fluidity and balance even when at top speed

–Understands how to play to his help and to the sideline

–Wasn’t afraid to take on the best competition

Negatives:

–Play speed is only average and he lacks a real closing burst to the ball

–Injury concerns: missed most of 2021 with a torn ACL, missed 4 games in 2023 with a groin injury and then had core muscle surgery.

–Measured in lighter (183) and shorter (5-foot-11) than expected with tiny hands (8.5″)

–Will need a lot of work to avoid illegal contact and holding penalties

–Inefficient mover in reacting to routes and passes in front of him

Rakestraw is at his best playing up in the face of a receiver, confidently jamming and disrupting routes before the release. He’s willing as a tackler, too. Questions about his size to play that style, his durability and his long speed figure to keep Rakestraw on the board when the Lions can pick him in the second.

Third round: Max Melton, Rutgers

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What I like:

–Explosive athlete with twitchy reactions and movement skills

–Uses inside leverage well in both the slot and outside

–Decent man coverage instincts and enough quickness to recover if beaten off the release

–Has a chase gear in the open field and pretty good closing burst to the ball

–Has shown ball production and the ability to locate the ball in the air

Negatives:

–Lack of playing strength despite being a well-built 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds

–Struggled some with outside-in routes, notably in the red zone

–Rises up in his backpedal too often

–Astronomical missed tackle rate (27%) in 2023 and his tackling form got visibly worse each season

Fourth round: Kris Abrams-Draine, Missouri

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What I like:

–Converted from WR after his first year at Missouri and the ball skills and route recognition savvy are readily evident

–Very high football IQ

–Feisty, gritty competitor who isn’t afraid despite being smallish

–Got better in man coverage situations the more he played it and looked very comfortable in man situations during the Senior Bowl week

–Tackles well above his weight class, both after the catch and in run defense

–Very fast feet and above-average playing speed and long speed

Negatives:

–Slightly built at 5-foot-11 and 179 pounds

–Still learning the nuances of playing overall defense; the coverage is strong, but things like run defense angles, containment and getting off blocks are works in progress–and there is definite progress

–Loses fluidity to his movement at top speed

–Hasn’t shown he’s got the short memory to quickly get over personal losses

Abrams-Draine is one of my favorite players in the draft. He graded out higher for me than his teammate, Rakestraw, but I doubt the NFL agrees. Ascending talent who fits the Lions grit mindset and locker room exceedingly well. Consider Abrams-Draine as a second third-round option since the Lions (right now) lack a fourth-rounder.

Fifth round: M.J. Devonshire, Pittsburgh

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What I like:

–Really long wingspan and strong shoulders for a 5-foot-11 outside CB

–Excellent ball production including three pick-6s and 18 PDs in the last two seasons

–Pretty good mirror skills without being grabby

–Good instincts in both man and zone concepts and can anticipate routes well

–One of the best in class at matching speeds and quickness

–Brings some attitude and enthusiasm to his game

Negatives:

–Was quite a bit better all-around in 2022 than 2023

–Doesn’t play with a lot of strength

–Lacks length (5-foot-10 3/4″) though his long wingspan helps mitigate

–Consistently tackles too high and with too long of a launch point

–Stops his feet when changing direction or losing his technique at the route release point

–Turns 24 before the start of the season

Devonshire is a player I loved entering the season after a great 2022 campaign at Pittsburgh, but offenses adjusted to attacking him deeper and more inside in 2023 and he wasn’t as impressive. Projects as a capable No. 3 outside corner who can also back up the slot and maybe play free safety at times.

Sixth round: Willie Drew, Virginia State

Jan 31, 2024; Mobile, AL, USA; National defensive back Willie Drew of Virginia State (0) signals on defense during practice for the National team at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

What I like:

–Impressive size (6-feet, 191 pounds) and twitchy athleticism

–Outstanding with the ball in the air at attacking either the ball or the receiver’s ability to catch it

–Mirrors well and stays low and cat-quick in man coverage

–Dominated at the D-II level playing man coverage almost exclusively

–Good closing burst to the point of attack

Negatives:

–Can be overconfident in his athletic ability

–Has good playing speed, but he tends to only have one speed; doesn’t break down or decelerate well

–Played at a lower level and didn’t face any future NFL competition until the Senior Bowl week, where he was hit-and-miss

–Had a serious knee injury in 2019 that forced him to transfer from James Madison

–Age isn’t known, but was high school class of 2018

Drew is the top D-II prospect in this draft and showed enough promise at the Senior Bowl to merit drafting. It’s a big jump in level of competition from the CIAA to the NFL and Drew is six years removed from high school, so his development curve might be maxed. His man-coverage, try-hard style and playmaking background should endear Drew to the Lions.

Seventh round: Decamerion Richardson, Mississippi State

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What I like:

–Outstanding length at 6-foot-2

–In-your-face long speed and gets to top gear very quickly; 4.34 40-yard dash with a blazing 1.48 10-yard split.

–Very fundamentally sound tackler who eliminates YAC adeptly

–Uses his length and strength well in pressing

–Fundamentally sound and engaging run defender

Negatives:

–Poor pre-snap route recognition at times

–Really cumbersome transitions and change-of-direction skills

–Only three PDs and no INTs in over 130 targets in college; to say “poor ball skills” undersells it

–Struggles to balance keeping track of both the receiver and the quarterback, even in zone concepts

Richardson is a “traits” prospect who did show some improvement in coverage as his Bulldogs career progressed. He’s akin to Antoine Green as a Lions prospect last season but on the other side of the ball.

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