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Detroit Lions

Can Teez Tabor help Lions as a rookie cornerback?

Detroit Lions cornerback Teez Tabor watches during an NFL football practice in Allen Park, Mich., Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The Detroit Lions need help at cornerback, and general manager Bob Quinn addressed that when he took Florida’s Teez Tabor in the second round.

Now head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin must figure out how fast Tabor will be able to boost Detroit’s secondary.

There are obvious positives on the former Gator’s side. At 6 feet and 200 pounds, he’s the physical prototype of a modern cornerback. He also has great quickness, allowing him to shadow receivers, and the patience to wait for them to commit to a break before following them.

That quickness also allows him to jump routes. He intercepted nine passes in his college career and broke up 28 in his final two seasons. In all of those ways, he’s exactly the type of player that the Lions need to line up across from their top corner, Darius Slay.

However, there is one massive question mark hanging over his NFL career – his straight-line speed. Tabor ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at the combine, and it simply confirmed something that scouts had already seen – he struggles against high-level speed. Even in college, he gave speedy receivers a deep cushion and was forced to grab them instead of being able to turn and run with them.

That was a problem in college, but it will be a much bigger issue in the NFL. Instead of seeing one or two receivers that can run 4.4, he’ll face them every week with offensive coordinators doing everything in their power to set up one-on-one matchups.

The Lions have coaches and training staff who are already working with Tabor on improving his speed. The fact that he has the quickness and instincts will help, but he still has to be able to run down the field with receivers who were track stars in college.

If he can’t do that, it limits what the Lions can do with him. They can use him as a slot corner, but teams will still try to find ways to isolate him against speed. There’s no easy solution, which is why Bob Quinn also brought in D.J. Hayden in free agency to compete with Nevin Lawson for the No. 2 spot.

Speed isn’t Tabor’s only weakness, though. While he’s got great size, he doesn’t always use it. He tends to use his technical skills in coverage at the expense of his physical ability, which allows bigger receivers to take advantage of him in jump-ball situations.

Playing small is also a problem when he’s forced to defend the run. He’s not a sure tackler, nor a particularly brave one. That’s never good for a cornerback, but it is a major issue for the Lions, who already struggle badly against the run.

Finally, Tabor admitted at the draft combine that he failed one drug test and skipped at least one more while at Florida. That, combined with a practice-field fight with a teammate, are the reason he wears a “Choices” bracelet. He says that the reminder has helped him clean up his act, but he’s going to have to prove that at the pro level.

That leaves Tabor with a lot of work to do if he wants to be a first-year contributor. He’s going to have to accept a lot of coaching and keep a good attitude. If he can do that, though, he might be a valuable piece for a defense that needs as much talent on the field as it can get.

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