While divisional rivals have taken aggressive measures to compete in what is shaping up to be a tough NFC North, Allen Park has remained relatively quiet. Much to the chagrin of the Detroit faithful, Bob Quinn and the Lions have spread their cap space around and refrained from making splash signings.
Fans once excited about “the Patriot Way” coming to Detroit – first, with the hiring of Quinn, and then again with the arrival of Matt Patricia – have found themselves massively disappointed with what that entails. The Patriots have seldom been big buyers in free agency. The house that Belichick made was built brick by brick. New England teams have, year after year, been lined with steady contributors acquired for cheap. And I believe Quinn and company have unearthed a diamond in the rough in former Seattle Seahawks cornerback DeShawn Shead.
At 6’2”, 225 lbs., Shead fit the bill for the Seahawks, who have long valued big and lengthy press corners in their Cover-3 heavy system. An undrafted free agent out of Portland State in 2012, Shead was initially brought aboard as a strong safety and glorified special teamer. He rode the Oregon pine his first year in the league before seeing light special team during Seattle’s Super Bowl run in 2013.
In his third season, he played 323 special teams snaps, but injuries ultimately thrusted him into the starting lineup in 2015. Since then, Shead started 21 games at cornerback for the Seahawks, including 15 of 15 in 2016, a year in which he was a team captain and earned a PFF grade of 77.1.
Unfortunately, Shead tore his ACL in a playoff game against Atlanta after helping dust off Detroit. He subsequently missed the entire 2017 season and became a free agent after the Seahawks declined to tender him. Now, he’s a Lion. And should he regain form, Patricia is getting an athletic, strong, tough player with the ability to play a variety of roles well.
Athleticism and Coverage Skills
What surprised me most about Shead’s 2016 tape – 10/16 vs. Atlanta, 10/23 at Arizona, 10/30 at New Orleans, 11/13 at New England, and 12/11 at Green Bay – was how athletic he was. For a man his size, Shead is an especially good athlete with impressive hip fluidity, burst, and change of direction skills.
With the exception of a certified burner in JJ Nelson, who posted a 4.28 40 time, Shead had little trouble working to the top of vertical routes from both press and off man. He’s also comfortable in trail coverage with the short-area burst and length to erase separation. Best of all, his size and strength enabled him to matchup with tight ends. Needless to say, the Lions haven’t had a player who could do that since Deandre Levy.
When surveying play development from an off position, he demonstrated good reactiveness to routes breaking in front of him. It was in this area that his ball skills really showed. Although he has serious difficulties turning his head and locating the ball downfield, Shead does a very good job of playing throws when he’s in trail coverage or facing the quarterback. His length allows him to seriously constrict passing windows and he aggressively plays through receivers hands when he sees it coming.
Despite being a solid man coverage talent, Shead has room for improvement as he continues to grow into the position. He plays with too much of a buffer in his bail technique, which compounded issues he had with dropping his hips to squeeze comebacks and stop routes against the sideline. I also think his press skills have been overstated, possibly due to the reputation of the system he played in.
Shead’s long-levered arms were a death touch on jams, but he didn’t consistently execute the brand of press Seattle plays. Impatience in his kick-steps led to free releases a bit too frequently, and he’ll have to clean that up moving forward.
But, the way Shead is wired is appealing. His mental processing in zone coverage was good and he did well to diagnose run plays when working from the slot and around the box. And I was particularly impressed with his competitive toughness. He routinely came up with big plays late in games and was giving maximum effort at the end of a grueling overtime game against Arizona (in which he played 92 defensive snaps). Green Bay made it a point to attack him deep, but he kept his composure after getting beat deep by Davante Adams and didn’t come unraveled.
That said, perhaps Shead’s competitive toughness is more evident in his run support than any other facet of his game. As a former safety, Shead brings a physical mentality to the position and was an elite run supporter in 2016, as evidenced by the fact that he had far and away the best run stop percentage of all cornerbacks in 2016 (3.4%), per Pro Football Focus.
He keys well and eagerly steps into his run fits with purpose, and he had no problem lassoing talented backs like Mark Ingram and David Johnson around the line of scrimmage. His length grants him a wide tackling radius and he’s a solid wrap-up tackler. Furthermore, his borderline elite play strength allows him to bang around with the big uglies at the point of attack without getting blown out of his gap. He’s also a good open-field tackler who consistently cuts down players of all shapes and size, although he becomes something of a launcher in space.
It remains to be seen whether or not Shead will look like his old self come opening kickoff, but I love what Quinn has done here. He’s taken a flier on an athletic, smart, physical player who offers positional versatility. Shead can play outside, in the slot, or in the box, and do so effectively. It’s not a sexy signing by any means, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this move is ultimately talked about as one of the best values of the offseason.