By Chris Morgan
CBS Local Sports presents 32 Players in 32 Days, a daily feature focusing on one impact player from each NFL team.
Darius Slay, Cornerback, #30
Weight: 192 lbs
Hometown: Brunswick, Georgia
College: Mississippi State
Experience: Second Year
The Detroit Lions' struggles last season cost Jim Schwartz his job, and another disappointing season could do GM Martin Mayhew in. When Lions fans and NFL analysts discussed the team's issues and needs, the secondary came up more often that not. Yet, Mayhew decided to pretty much stand pat in this regard. They didn't really sign a cornerback in free agency, and they didn't draft one until the fourth round. In fact, they released Chris Houston, their highest paid cornerback. Detroit is going to lean on the cornerbacks they already had last year, when their secondary was a trouble spot. If they are going to have any success, Darius Slay is going to have to really pick up his play.
Unlike in this year's NFL Draft, the Lions did use an early pick on a cornerback last season when they selected Slay with the 36th pick. It was considered a minor reach by many, even though the team needed a cornerback. Then, he struggled during his rookie season. He had 34 tackles and zero interceptions in 13 games and four starts. That only gives part of the picture, but generally Slay did not really impress, which makes him no different than pretty much anybody else in Detroit's secondary.
However, there is no reason to be terribly concerned about Slay. Rookie cornerbacks notoriously tend to struggle in their first season. Even great corners have their issues. Additionally, Slay had knee surgery in between being drafted and the start of the season. Thet may have slowed him down as well. Slay succeeded in college, and he has speed and some size. With a year under his belt, Slay should certainly improve this season.
He definitely needs to, as well. It is expected that Slay will be one of Detroit's two starters at cornerback in their new defense, along with veteran Rashean Mathis. If Slay isn't any better than last year, there is a good chance he'll be torched, especially in Detroit's division. Two games against the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers will really test Slay. Furthermore, if Slay struggles, who is there to step into his place? They have no experience on their bench. Bill Bentley has some skills, but his size could relegate him to being a slot cornerback. He can't really compete physically with the likes of Brandon Marshall. Slay may be able to.
It's unlikely that Slay is going to blossom into a Pro Bowl caliber cornerback this year. It's only his second season, and in truth he does not have the pedigree that suggests excellence going forward. He could, however, become a good player. This year, if he's even serviceable, that would be an improvement for the Lions. Detroit is still a team built on offense, and the strength of their defense is the defensive line. However, this is an increasingly pass heavy league, so you need some degree of competency in the secondary. Slay is the one player on Detroit's roster that has the opportunity to really change their fortune in the passing game. This makes him a crucial player in 2014.
Chris Morgan has been a diehard Detroit Lions fan through the good (Barry Sanders) and the bad (Matt Millen) and that love has led him to take jobs writing about sports, including as a fantasy sports "expert." His work can be found on Examiner.com. .
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