Today’s question: Darius Slay is considered one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL and after a breakout 2015 season became a surefire No. 1 cornerback for the Detroit Lions. He went through a stretch of the season where opposing quarterbacks were actively throwing away from the former second-round pick who spent his first three seasons learning from the now-retired Rashean Mathis.
The Lions are counting on Slay to be a shutdown cornerback entering his fourth season in the league -- a potential contract year. With Detroit trying to lock up Slay for the next chunk of his career, it leads to an interesting question in a division full of strong offenses: Is Darius Slay the best cornerback in the NFC North? We asked the other writers around the division for their thoughts about the always-excitable corner.
Ben Goessling, Vikings: He very well could be. He was probably the best in the division in 2015, and he should continue to improve. The thing I like about Slay is how effective a cover man he is without committing many penalties; he was flagged only three times last season, and that’s what keeps a player like Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes, for example, from claiming the title as the division’s best corner. He had only two interceptions last year, but it’s not like there’s a ballhawk corner anywhere else in the NFC North right now. Slay probably gives you the best combination of solid coverage without self-nullifying errors (coverage busts or penalties). At the moment, it’s safe to say he’s the best.
Rob Demovsky, Packers: If Sam Shields can stay healthy for a full season, he’d be in that conversation, although the Packers’ No. 1 corner might not be in the “young cornerbacks” category anymore. He’s entering his seventh NFL season even though he’s only 28 years old. Also, I wouldn’t sleep on Damarious Randall, the Packers’ first-round pick last year. He made some impressive plays last year as a part-time player and will be a full-timer this season. But Slay is quickly becoming one of those guys that quarterbacks have to beware of if they’re going to throw his way.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears: My vote is for Green Bay’s Sam Shields. Slay is a close second, though. Slay is blessed with tremendous size and speed. And at only 25 years old, he is a prime candidate to receive a lucrative contract extension in Detroit. However, Shields’ overall body of work is better -- 18 career interceptions and 66 pass break-ups. He is the top playmaker in Green Bay’s secondary. The Packers thought highly enough of Shields to give him a four-year deal with $12.5 million guaranteed. One knock against Shields is health -- he missed four games due to injury last year, and since entering the league in 2010 he hasn't played a full 16-game regular season. But he’s still the best cornerback in the NFC North, with Slay the runner-up.