A Breakdown of Lions Cornerback Situation

May 20th, 2013


Chris Houston sits atop the Lions depth chart at cornerback

By: Beast

Projected CB Depth Chart

LCB: Chris Houston

RCB: Darius Slay

NB: Bill Bentley

Bench: Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood, Ron Bartell,

PS: DeQuan Menzie

Cut: Lionel Smith, Ross Weaver

Chris Houston

Chris Houston started out in his career playing for the Atlanta Falcons after getting drafted in second round.  He was placed into the starting role early on, and struggled mightily.  Falcons fans frequently complained that Houston has trouble locating the ball and doesn’t turn his head around when the ball is in the air.  He was ultimately traded to the Lions for a 6th round pick and a swap of 5th round picks.  Since moving to the Lions, he has blossomed into a very good starting corner.  He consistently covered WRs well and finally learned to turn his head around while the ball is in the air.  To me, he’s a solid #1 starting CB who arguably played at a Pro Bowl level in the last two seasons with the Lions.  Houston has loose hips and has the speed/athleticism to stick with fast and quick WRs.  Against the run, he is aggressive at the boundary and is willing to stick his nose against the ball carrier.  As good as Houston has been for the Lions, he struggled against a bigger and physical WRs.  He lacks the size and strength to combat against them and it shows when he got burned by Julio Jones and Roddy White.  This is part of the reason why the Lions front office is looking for a bigger, athletic and physical CB in the draft.  With that being said, Houston is firmly implanted at #1 CB position on the depth chart.

Darius Slay

Darius Slay was drafted at 2nd round this past off-season, and the Lions staff felt comfortable that he is the CB of the future with a quick selection when they were on the clock.  Slay offers good size, physicality and athleticism that the Lions covet.  He has long arms to lock up WRs at the LOS and is very physical who is adept in man press coverage.  He has the athleticism to keep up with WRs step for step, and showed explosive burst when breaking onto the ball.  Slay displayed smooth backpedal then transition out of it quickly to run with the WRs.  He is a willing tackler and will do his best to take down ball carrier.  As a bonus, he has returning experience at Mississippi State and has run back for TDs via interceptions twice.  As good of a prospect as Slay is, he has weaknesses that the Lions staff must address at rookie camp, OTA, and mini-camp before the season starts.  The most obvious is his injury since he is coming off a torn meniscus in which he had surgery that caused him to sit out of rookie camp.  However, it shouldn’t be a big deal since it’s a meniscus repair and the expectation is he will be ready by pre-season. Slay struggles in off-man coverage, in which he has a tendency to give up too much cushions.  The Lions tend to play a lot of off-man and if Slay doesn’t fix the cushion issue, WRs will eat him alive. Because of the fact that he is relatively new to football, he is a bit slow to diagnose plays and come up a beat too late.  This is a direct result of him being new to playing CB position.  Finally, for a physical corner he struggles to get off blocks and has a tendency to dive and swipe at ball carrier’s legs.

Darius Slay fits the profile of big, physical and athletic CB that Mayhew/Schwartz have coveted after trying to trade up for a couple years to get Patrick Peterson, Stephon Gilmore, Dre Kirkpatrick, etc.  He will start immediately at #2 CB opposite Chris Houston in my opinion. Slay only played football for 5 years, but he outshined his more hyped/highly touted teammate, Johnthan Banks.  Last season, opposing QBs tried to avoid Banks and pick on Slay, but Slay more than held on his own.  Slay offers higher upside and is a better athlete than Banks which is why he was drafted ahead of him.  Expect a huge learning curve to begin the season and even with his ability to locate the ball well, most rookie CBs struggles to do so because the game is too fast for them and they’re reacting instead of relying on their instincts.  Throw in the fact that he only played for 5 years steepens the curve.  Once he gets it all together, I expect him to cover big and physical WRs while Houston gets the more shifty WRs at the end of the season or next season.

Bill Bentley

Bill Bentley has almost become a forgotten man, but people forget that he outright won the starting job and will be expected to battle for the #2 CB spot.  If he does win the job, I’d expect Lions to move him to NB when they go to 5 DBs package with Slay lining up at outside.

The Lions fans remember him mostly for the PI penalties and failing to turn his head around when the ball is in the air.  However, he showed a lot of good things during his short time as a starter before it was cut short because of his shoulder injury.  One, he is a very confident player who believes in himself which is a good thing because corner must be confident and have a short memory.  Bentley is a very physical corner who is at his best in press man coverage.  He also displayed the ability to flip his hips and run with WRs.  His aggressive style and size would dictate that his best fit is at nickel corner.  If Bentley were to win the starting job (again), he must show improvement in techniques and ball location.  In my opinion, both are fixable with coaching and experience.

Jonte Green

Jonte Green came to the Lions as a 6th round draft pick from New Mexico State.  He wasn’t expected to see time on the field and was the 3rd CB taken by the Lions.  Because of injuries at CB position, Green was thrust into the starting line up early on, and it wasn’t pretty with Green looking lost in coverage and getting routinely burned.  As the season progressed, Green got better and better, and showed enough that he has starting CB potential for the Lions going forward.   However, the Lions staff doesn’t seem to trust Green during the course of last season, but Green has shown enough that he can start for the Lions this season.  He should be in competition along with Bentley and Slay for the #2 CB position.

Green is a tall corner who can run.  He has a pretty good hips and can turn and run with WRs in transition.  Green is a very athletic corner who relies on being able to mirror WRs step for step.  He does give up too much cushion and WRs were able to have success in quick hitting plays.  Green isn’t a physical corner and often shies away from contact.  He isn’t an aggressive tackler which can lead to big plays if the runners are in his area.  His technique still needs work, but Green has shown the potential to be a starting CB for the Lions.

Rest of the CBs

Ron Bartell should make the 53 man roster as a reserve corner, but he only played one game a year ago after the Raiders waived him.   Then there is an unknown corner in Chris Greenwood.  He is a big corner who is very athletic, but played in a small school, Albion College.  Greenwood was injured in OTAs and had to spend the entire year on PUP list.  Apparently the Lions coaches are really high on Greenwood’s potential that he cannot be discounted from #2 CB spot competition.  For this reason, he makes the 53 man roster.

The Lions claimed DeQuan Menzie from waiver wire when he was a victim of a new regime change at Kansas City.  Menzie offers versatility at DB and can play either CB or S position, but his best fit may be at nickel corner spot and help out at S position if Delmas gets hurt.  He is a physical corner who likes to press.  Menzie has an understanding of what is expected of him and does a great job of playing within himself.  However, he lacks the speed to keep up with WRs which is why I feel he is better suited at nickel corner where it can hide his deficiencies better than at outside.  I still believe that he would be placed at PS so the Lions can develop him and the CB position may be crowded for Menzie to make the team.

I won’t pretend to know Lionel Smith and Ross Weaver and won’t go into further details on their game, but they’re the two CBs who are likely candidates to be cut by the Lions staff.


Overall Impression:

I think the Lions staff has done a great job of improving the talent level as well as the depth of the cornerback position from last year where they were plagued by injuries and had to sign street FAs to play corner for them.  The only certainty from CB position is Chris Houston who is firmly implanted as a starting CB.  The interesting camp battle would be between Bentley, Slay, Green and Greenwood for the #2 CB position.  Regardless of what happen at the #2 CB position, Bill Bentley would be the nickel corner when they go 5 DBs to combat the spread offense package. Essentially, the nickel corner is another starting spot on the defensive lineup.  The Lions have 4 legit starting corners on the roster which is more than anybody can say when you compared it from last year.  With better S behind them in Quin and Delmas, I expect Gunther Cunningham to be a bit more aggressive with how the CBs are being played in any given play call, meaning more press, press and bail, off man, zone and to name a few.

It’s pretty obvious that the Lions staff is looking for bigger and athletic CBs as evidenced with their recent signings and drafts of Darius Slay, Chris Greenwood, Jonte Green, etc.  However, Bill Bentley is the exception to the rule in terms of size, but he fits the profile of a physical and athletic CBs.

Beast is well known by Lions fans on Twitter for his poignant and forceful Lions and draft opinions. This is his first piece for DetroitLionsDraft.com. You can follow him at @Beast1530 and you won’t be sorry. 

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2 Responses to “A Breakdown of Lions Cornerback Situation”

  1. Colonel P Rump Roast says:

    Love the site!

    You’re not giving Ron Bartell enough credit. He played well for the Raiders until the injuries, and I like his upside. I really feel like he will probably win the 2nd CB position, though Slay or another guy could win it by the end of the season.

  2. Rick Jones says:

    Greenwood aint winning shit. He should be grateful for the practice squad roster spot he’ll get this year.

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