The Detroit Lions report to Allen Park, Michigan, at various points this week to start the 2017 season -- rookies early in the week and veterans on Saturday leading up to the first day of practice this Sunday. To get you ready for that, we’ll give a little bit more insight into each position group throughout the week.
Now, we’ll look at the cornerbacks.
Roster locks: Slay, Lawson, Tabor
Who wins the nickel job: This is the main job up for grabs in the secondary. The Lions drafted Agnew, signed Hayden in the offseason and have Diggs as the incumbent. All three received a good amount of reps there in the spring and should continue to do so throughout camp. Diggs would seem to have the inside track to the job -- but that’s a very small inside track at this point. Hayden should push him and Agnew might be the long-term solution at the position, but both have their own questions. Hayden’s injury problems were an issue in Oakland, causing him to be a free agent. Agnew is a rookie from a FCS school, so the change in the level of competition is going to be a problem. This sets up for Diggs to have a real shot at being the Week 1 starter in the nickel for another season. The unknown here would be if the Lions choose to try Tabor on the inside or if Tabor were to beat Lawson for the outside corner job, giving them a chance to move Lawson to nickel -- a position he could handle well.
How much impact can Teez Tabor have: During the draft, GM Bob Quinn seemed to be pretty invested in Teez Tabor. He said he watched more film of him than any prospect during his career. Then he took him. He’ll start his first training camp on the non-football injury list, but he participated for much of the spring. That said, the injury will be something to watch as cornerback is one of the harder positions to transition to from college to the NFL. It’s unlikely he beats Lawson out for a starting job opposite Slay but with Lawson in a contract year, 2018 could be the main goal. That said, he’ll be on the roster and should have a special-teams role at least. Considering how often corners get hurt in the league -- something the Lions have dealt with yearly -- there’s a chance Tabor will have a chance to play meaningful snaps at some point in 2017.
Will Darius Slay reach the next level: Slay is being paid like one of the top corners in the league and over the past two seasons, he’s played like one of the better coverage cornerbacks in the NFL. For him to reach the true elite level of corner, he needs to start forcing turnovers. This is something he’s long recognized. It’s one of the few legitimate reasons to explain why he hasn’t made a Pro Bowl yet. He’s exactly what Detroit needs at corner, a fast player with good instincts and strong ball skills. The rest of the league understands how good Slay is. Considering his big personality and friendliness with fans, higher turnover totals could transition Slay into a household name.
What happens with Nevin Lawson: He will be one of the more intriguing questions for Quinn this offseason. While Lawson often receives the brunt of fan criticism among corners because of teams throwing away from Slay, he had a good 2016 season. He’s a smart player who is also good when the ball is in the air and has enough speed to hang with most receivers. If he plays well again this season, the Lions might have a decision to make with him in trying to re-sign him or trusting Tabor with the position long-term. The likelihood is that this clarifies itself on the field throughout the season. The other wrinkle here -- mentioned above -- is if the Lions try to move Lawson back to the slot. If they do and he succeeds there, that could be his future home and he could still be paid well there. So a lot of options surround Lawson. This season should dictate what happens.