2024 NFL combine: Lions set to invest another draft pick in RB despite 1-2 punch

ALLEN PARK — Not every draft is Brad Holmes’ to address pressing needs at the top of the pack. Though even if Holmes stays there at No. 29, Detroit does have a serious need at cornerback, and there should be a number of decent ones still available.

There are many talented cornerbacks in this class, but Missouri’s hard-hitting Ennis Rakestraw Jr. stands out as a prospect who may fit the Detroit Lions’ gritty attitude.

During a video conference on Tuesday afternoon, ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller stated, “If you’re looking for a prototypical Detroit Lions-type player, I think that physicality at the line of scrimmage, he’s a great tackler in space as well, especially for not being the biggest guy.” “He’s probably going to weigh in at around six feet and 190 pounds, maybe even 195 pounds with luck.” If you only consider his height, weight, and strength, he isn’t a particularly physically gifted player. However, he plays as one of the most physically gifted corners in this selection, if not all drafts. He is on par with some of the top corners I’ve studied when it comes to playing physicality at the line of scrimmage.

Although the Lions have one of the strongest rosters in the league going into the offseason, their 27th-ranked pass defense still has work to be done. In their march to the NFC title game, they gave up five consecutive 100-yard receivers and finished dead worst in the league with 11.6 yards per pass.

Brian Branch is coming off a spectacular rookie season in the slot, but personnel upgrades are badly needed out wide. Their top cornerback, Cam Sutton, allowed the second-worst passer rating among all corners who played at least half their team’s defensive snaps last season. Their projected CB2, Emmanuel Moseley, played just two snaps before tearing another ACL. Moseley’s replacement, Jerry Jacobs, was so bad that he was eventually benched for midseason pickup Kindle Vildor, who in turn was on the wrong end of two of the most notable plays of the season. Vildor fell to the ground on a 92-yard touchdown catch by CeeDee Lamb in Dallas, while a ball bounced off his helmet and into the hands of Brandon Aiyuk for a 52-yard catch in the NFC championship game against San Francisco.

The good news is there should be plenty of good cornerbacks in the draft, with guys like Iowa’s Cooper DeJean, Clemson’s Nate Wiggins, Alabama’s Terrion Arnold, Georgia’s Kamari Lassiter and Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry all joining Rakestraw as possible first-round prospects.

“I’m looking at it right now, and I have six corners with a first-round grade,” Miller said. “So we could see a run on the corner position, most definitely. It is a year in which I think a lot of teams need a corner, and then a lot of corners who are really good players. So the match up of need (with) value is really special at corner, and also offensive tackle.”

Among them, Rakestraw stands out as a good fit for the Lions, who under Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell have made grit-oriented players a priority in their player acquisition process. Rakestraw was a Texas native who was poorly recruited. He started playing cornerback in the SEC right immediately and ended the previous season at Missouri with 35 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and four passes defensed. He is an intimidating player in man-to-man coverage and a hard-hitter at the line of scrimmage.

His most impressive game of all might have come against LSU, when Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels targeted Rakestraw just once all afternoon.

“Rakestraw is my guy,” Miller said. “Like, that is my draft crush this year. I think all of us who do this for a living, we get a guy or two where you kind of light up whenever you get a chance to talk about them. His toughness at the line of scrimmage is fantastic. I go back and watch the LSU game all the time. LSU’s offense absolutely crushed everybody they played. They threw at (Rakestraw) one time. It was incomplete, and they never went back at him the rest of the game.”

Rakestraw isn’t the biggest cornerback in the draft, and there are some concerns about his top-end speed. He also suffered a torn ACL that limited him to four games in 2022. But Rakestraw returned to deliver his best season yet last year, and did so despite playing through a sports hernia for much of the season. That kind of toughness could appeal to the Lions.

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