Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn speaks to the media on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Indianapolis during the NFL combine.
Detroit Free Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Daniel Jeremiah shook his head and smiled. One personnel executive for an AFC team said he doesn’t seem like a fit for the Lions. An NFC area scout described it as a “legitimate” concern.

Greedy Williams is arguably the best cornerback in this year’s NFL draft.

He’s 6 feet 2 and 185 pounds. He has the length and press-coverage ability teams desire in the modern NFL. He had eight interceptions in two all-SEC seasons at LSU.

But he’s also a casual tackler, disinterested even, and that’s a huge red flag for a Lions team that has the eighth pick of the first round and is in the market for help for its secondary.

“I put a high priority on tackling just in general for our team and I don’t think we can change that depending on whatever position it is,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said Wednesday at the NFL combine. “You’ve got to find the right balance because obviously the biggest thing they’ve got to do is be able to cover in those situations. But understand that some of the players on the other side of the ball are pretty good, too. They’re going to catch the ball and what you want to make sure that happens is that they’re tackled right away and they don’t turn those plays, whatever they are, into bigger plays.”

The Lions allowed the fewest yards after the catch in the NFL last season, and they require plenty of their cornerbacks in run support.

Yes, they value coverage ability above all else in their cornerbacks. Darius Slay earned a mega extension two summers ago because he’s one of the best lock-down defenders in the league.

But in Patricia’s defense, coverage ability alone can only take a cornerback so far.

The Lions were lukewarm on the top cornerback prospect in last year’s draft, Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, because of his deficiencies as a tackler, and Williams is considered inferior in that department despite his tantalizing size.

He could be in the mix for the Lions at No. 8, but two months out from the draft, people across the NFL would be surprised if he’s the choice.

“If that’s where you want to put a lot of your emphasis (on tackling), that’s not his deal,” Jeremiah, an analyst with NFL Network, said of Williams during a private gathering for select media members Friday at the combine. “I’m sure he’s answering a million questions about that this week. He just hasn’t been — sometimes you miss a tackle here or there, but he hasn’t been interested. Hanging onto blocks and not really making an effort at times. So that’s what I had a hard time with.”

Charles Davis, another NFL Network analyst who played four seasons of defensive back at Tennessee, didn’t list Williams among seven players Friday when asked to name his favorite defensive backs in the draft.

“I didn’t mention Greedy,” Davis said. “I like Greedy, I don’t love Greedy. I don’t love Greedy because I see ball skills, but I feel like he’s not a super twitch guy. He’s got length, maybe he’ll be really good as a press guy. He doesn’t tackle very much.”

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In his defense, Williams wasn’t completely inept as a run defender last season, and his flaws are more under the microscope than some other defensive backs because of his status as a potential top-10 pick.

According to LSU, Williams had five run stops in a November win over Ole Miss last season, when he also helped hold D.K. Metcalf, perhaps the draft’s top receiver prospect, to a season-low 37 yards.

Jeremiah said it’s not impossible for Williams to correct some of his tackling issues. Slay, for example, is someone who’s become a more willing tackler over the course of his NFL career.

But that’s something Williams will have to convince teams he’s willing to do at the combine this week and over the next month or so when he travels the country for team visits.

Jeremiah said there are other cornerbacks who might better fit what the Lions are looking for early in the draft. Georgia’s DeAndre Baker “fits that mold,” Jeremiah said, and could be a high first-round pick. Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin, Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams and Michigan State’s Justin Layne are others who probably could be had on Day 2 of the draft.


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“I think what Greedy needs to do is prove that he’s physical enough to be able to support and tackle, because that’s obviously important now in the bubble-screen, short-pass league,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “You’ve got to be able to tackle. That’s been something that’s been very, I think, underrated with corners over the years. If you can’t tackle, you just can’t play with 10 guys and your defense isn’t as good and drives continue on a missed tackle.

“So, again, Greedy can cover. I think he’s struggled at times on throws down the field this year, but that was on rare occasions. Coverage is his strength. His length, his athleticism, all that. LSU’s had a history of producing really good defensive backs. But I think the physicality is why maybe instead of going four or five, maybe he drops down to that 10 to 15, 10 to 18 range (in the draft).”

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