As fans watch the unfolding of the NFL preseason, anxiously awaiting the start of the official 2017 season, eyes are on star players that get the headlines. Comparisons are made, debates unfold about who the best player for each position is in the league. For the position of cornerback, there are some big names – and rightfully so. The position is one of the most demanding and it requires the best players to flex into different roles for different plays and to do them all well. Richard Sherman is known by most as one of the best cornerbacks in the game and Malcolm Butler is another who is often represented on most “Best of” lists. Yet, one of the best cornerbacks who is often excluded is Detroit’s own Darius Slay.
There’s no argument at the success of other well-known cornerbacks in the league, but their successes are partially attributed to the supports around them. Look at the defensive line of the Seattle Seahawks – the strength of the line makes Sherman’s plays possible. How can you fail with Pro Bowlers on your side? Even so, his 2016 stats are nothing to call home about – four INTs, 58 combos, and 20 assists. Those are not bad numbers, but again, look at who he has around him.
Malcolm Butler has arguably the greatest coach of this generation in Bill Belichick and the Patriots head coach has certainly been able to bring the greatness out of him. He is supported by the best quarterback all time (Tom Brady), arguably the best tight end (Rob Gronkowski), and an amazing defensive scheme to boot. His stats are similar to Sherman’s – four INTs, 63 combos and 15 assists.
Slay is considered by many to be a “good” cornerback, but he does not often get listed among the “elite” in the NFL. However, his support is minimal, especially when compared to other elite corners. Ziggy Ansah is great, but can he ever stay healthy? Glover Quin is one of the best at safety but with no pressure from the defensive line, a horrible linebacking core, and no one on the opposite side of him, Slay has more on his shoulders than either of those other cornerbacks have. He may have averaged only two interceptions a year for the last three years, but numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“Big Play” Slay isn’t given the luxury that other corners are given. He plays press coverage and is relied on not only to play the best receiver on the opposing offense but to stay on that receiver like glue without much of a pass rush. That means when Aaron Rodgers scrambles around for at least five seconds, Slay must maintain close proximity to said wide receiver.
Did I mention Slay has amazing recovery speed? Against some of the best QB’s in the league, Slay makes it look simple. His 4.36 speed is no joke. But not only is his speed fantastic, he is physical. At 6’0”, Slay may only be a 190 or so pounds but he can defend any wide out that lines up across from him.
If Sherman and Butler left their respective teams, those teams would still be playoff bound. If “Big Play” Slay left the Lions, the defense would fall apart. Slay should receive more recognition for his skills and be considered among the top cornerbacks in the league.