2024 NFL Draft: Terrion Arnold is the ideal cornerback for Aaron Glenn’s Lions defense

The 2023 Detroit Lions were perhaps the NFL’s most fun and fascinating team last season, and they very nearly made it to Super Bowl LVIII despite a cornerback group that allowed 172 completions in 291 targets for 2,583 yards, a league-high 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 104.4. Among cornerback groups last season, only the aforementioned Cardinals (107.8) were worse.

So, when general manager Brad Holmes and his crew went into the 2024 NFL draft, it was pretty clear what needed to happen. First, the Lions simply needed better cornerbacks. Secondly, they needed cornerbacks capable of playing press coverage and man coverage. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who was a cornerback in the league from 1994 through 2008 with three Pro Bowl nods, and spent his pre-Lions coaching tenure as a defensive backs coach with the Browns and Saints, would prefer that his secondary be more aggressive than it was in 2023. But when your cornerbacks allow 77 catches on 140 targets for 1,250 yards, 12 touchdowns, one interception, and an opponent passer rating of 110.7 in man coverage… well, let’s just say that Glenn’s options were limited in that regard.

Step 1 was to take Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold with the 24th overall pick. Step 2 was to add to that with the second-round selection (69th overall) of Missouri cornerback Ennis Rakestraw, Jr.

I’m a bit of two minds about Rakestraw, because I can’t get the image of Florida receiver Ricky Pearsall beating him badly in coverage more than once last season. But when you watch Terrion Arnold? That’s a different breed of cat, and his attributes should allow Glenn to better match his personnel to what he wants to call on the field.

“Yeah, he’s sticky,” Holmes said of Arnold. “He can play man coverage. The thing about Terrion, what’s great about him – some of these guys, they are what they are or you might say, ‘Well, the ceiling might not be as high.’ The thing about him is you go back to his ’22 film, you go back to earlier this season, and you saw an incremental improvement just every single game. So I think the first time I watched one of his games was I think it was the LSU game, that’s when I first kind of saw him and I was like, ‘OK, I see skillset.’ But then you start getting down – you start getting to those late games in the college football playoffs and you see him against Georgia and you’re like, ‘OK, it’s on the come.’ And that as well with the skillset. We feel really good about his floor, but we feel even better about his ceiling.

“He’ll get in your face. He’s got a challenge mentality. He will tackle. He’s got the right mindset that we’re looking for. He fits us like a glove. He fits us to a tee exactly how we want to play. We couldn’t be (more) thrilled. Like you guys know, it’s kind of a – when guys don’t play hard, when guys aren’t physical, it’s hard to play here when those guys aren’t wired that way, but he’s one of those guys that are wired that way.”

Arnold doesn’t have to be as wired that way as a lot of cornerbacks do, because when he’s pressed up on a receiver, that receiver is going to have a terrible time dealing with Arnold’s quickness, ability to match step for step, and scalding playing demeanor to the ball. Arnold’s closing speed was a primary ingredient in his five interceptions and 13 pass-breakups last season. Some of the NCAA’s best receivers found it too much to deal with.

And yes. if you catch a ball underneath, good for you, but Arnold will be on his way quickly to make you reconsider.

Every NFL team needs at least one cornerback who becomes frighteningly offended at the thought of any receiver daring to catch the ball against him. The Lions haven’t really had that guy since Darius Slay in 2019. But in Terrion Arnold, they might just have that guy who can make 2024 just a bit more Super Bowl-conversant.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire