In the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected Darius Slay. The number two cornerback at Mississippi State was upstaged by Johnthan Banks most of the season. However, the Lions decided to pass on Banks and take the much faster Slay instead.
At first glance, there are many problems with this pick. Banks was considered the better cornerback. The Lions worried too much about upside and not enough about immediate impact. Lastly, the pick is also an injury concern, as Slay tore his meniscus prior to the draft.
However, the selection of Slay is all about speed for the Lions. Slay turned in the fastest 40 yard dash time among cornerbacks at the 2013 Scouting Combine. Slay’s 4.36 showed off his speed and helped him vault up draft boards into second round discussion. Slay’s speed and ability to leap for 50/50 balls led to many interceptions at Mississippi State.
In high school, Slay was an All-State running back and defensive back. Slay’s speed led to many touchdowns on the ground and from interception returns. Slay was recruited by Mississippi State, but ended up at Itawamba Community College due to academic problems. While in junior college, Slay was a cornerback and also returned kicks and punts.
This is where the pick makes sense for the Lions. After seeing Stefan Logan struggle in kick and punt returns for much of the 2012 NFL season, the Lions finally benched him and looked for other options. The Lions have already said that Slay will be in the competition for the return man, but in my opinion it is his to lose. Logan was not re-signed by the Lions and the possibility of Reggie Bush returning kicks doesn’t make sense to me.
During his pre-draft visit with the Lions, Slay met with new special teams coach John Bonamengo. Slay was happy to discuss the thought of him returning kicks and punts. With depth at the cornerback position, playing special teams will be good for Slay to get playing time for the Lions and slowly transition in. He will also see time at cornerback and could matchup well with speedy wide receivers.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew was so impressed with Slay that he actually had him listed as a first round caliber pick. When Slay was available in the second round at pick #36, Mayhew refused to trade back despite several calls.