The Detroit Lions used their eighth and final pick in the 2022 NFL draft (7th-round pick #237) to select Arizona State cornerer Chase Lucas to add depth to their secondary.
Lucas, a high school track star and US Army All-American running back (who also played some wide receiver/defensive backs), decided based on his “body type” (5-foot-11 1⁄2, 180 pounds). He switched to redshirt in 2016 and landed a job at corner in 2017, but his game began to take off at a rapid pace in 2018 when Herm Edwards — former NFL cornerer and head coach (Jets and Chiefs) — took the job as head coach at ASU. In 2019, ASU added another brilliant defenseman to the coaching staff in Marvin Lewis – another former NFL head coach (Bengals) – which was also a benefit.
“It’s just when they came in and tried to critique the little things I did wrong, whether it was shading with the wrong hand or moving it with the wrong foot, I feel like that’s settled down in the last three, four ten times, ten times over the years,” Lucas told the Lions media at his post-election press conference. “Especially because we kept adding new coaches like Chris Hawkins from SC (University of Southern California) who kind of taught me to be my own man and play my own technique. I feel like when they came they sharpened the edges where I needed to sharpen. I feel like it’s made me better overall, as a player and as a person, everything.”
Lucas chose to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA is granting following the 2020 season impacted by COVID and returned to ASU in 2021 as a sixth-year senior and singing captain.
“I feel like my experience will help me, especially in the NFL and especially having been coached by NFL coaches like Marvin Lewis and (and) Herm Edwards,” Lucas continued. “I’ve been with professionals. I was close to professional trainers. I feel like their competitive nature with the Detroit Lions fits the kind of style I am and how I play. I feel like my experience alone probably even drew me in. i’m just excited I am happy and just grateful for this opportunity.”
Athletically, Lucas has several appealing qualities, with two glaring negatives – his weight and strength (bench) – and both of these issues are evident in his feature film. He tries to overcome these weaknesses by drawing on his other attributes such as experience (49 starts), instinct, explosiveness, quick first step, and direction changing abilities.
Lucas spent the early part of his career outside, but as he gained more experience coaches started letting him take on internal reps. In 2021, in 10+ games, Lucas saw 373 snaps on the outside and 138 snaps in the slot.
“I feel very, very good. I’ve been playing nickel for two years,” Lucas explained. “The 2020 season, with only four games, really got me used to it because if a player dropped out, someone had to move in and fill the spot.”
ASU defenses typically deployed a single-high safety, with defenders underneath playing outside of cover, alternating between man and zone. Off-coverage isn’t always a polished skill for rookie corners — it was one of the traits Ifeatu Melifonwu possesses that caught the attention of Brad Holmes in 2021 — but for the corners that get it, it can at Help transition to the NFL.
By playing outside of cover, Lucas avoids getting into physical fights at the line of scrimmage and lets his instincts dictate cover. Due to his extensive experience, Lucas demonstrates a high level of intelligence, being quick at identifying routes and not panicking as the game unfolds in front of him. No matter where the game takes him, he stays balanced, in control, with little wasted movement and always stays in tune with the game.
In zone coverage, Lucas keeps the game ahead and not only covers his task, but is able to detect when the target is in the adjacent zone, often falling and falling in front of the game.
In man coverage, he’s supple in his back pedal, keeping his eyes on finding QB while staying in phase with his task, routinely turning around when the ball is in the air, locating and playing with the ball.
Great game by #lions NB: Hunt Lucas. Allows short cushioning, transfers from back pedal to carry WR, and keeps an eye on the QB. Uses the touchline to squeeze route, understands when to turn and locate the ball, and rotates his body for PBU.
(Find a hype man like this too) pic.twitter.com/iyMta4AF8Y
— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) May 9, 2022
When the game takes Lucas too deep, he does his best to run with the receiver and stay with them. But he struggles with top speed and complex distance runners in downfield – he had six penalties in 2021 but only seven combined in the four years prior. To compensate, Lucas tries to maximize his speed wherever he can. Sometimes that’s tantamount to a lead, other times he keeps his arms down to maximize his speed when the ball is in the air and doesn’t extend it for at least a second until the ball arrives.
He’s much stronger in short coverage areas where he can use his speed and instinct to drive to the ball. He doesn’t hesitate when entering the game, making running quick-outs, screens and tricks on his side a difficult task for offense.
They say the back pedal is dead!! You lied! Nice work by ASU corner Chase Lucas. Stays square in his pedal. active feet. Nice clean break. No wasted steps. Good reputation pic.twitter.com/Y6ugkME9R8
— CROCK MAN⚡️ (@eric_crocker) December 6, 2020
Lucas is also extremely competitive and it shows from game to game.
“I’m very competitive,” Lucas told the Detroit media. “I love winning everything. I hate losing more than I hate winning. That’s me. My football IQ just comes from my coaches. Just being awake, always having pen and paper with you, just always trying to take notes and learning something new every day, that’s the kind of mindset I’m going to pass on to the team and hopefully it will rub off on others.”
Most of the time, that competitiveness translates into positive results — zero touchdowns were allowed in 2021 and never more than two in the previous four years — but it can also work against him when he’s looking for the big game.
There may also be mixed results with running support. Lucas is a downhill physical aggressor and will consistently stop the run. The problem that comes up too often is that he doesn’t wrap the player, instead he submerges and dives on his legs for body attacks. It’s not clear if this was a technique he was taught or an adaptation due to his frame, but it can often result in missed tackles.
Lucas missed double-digit tackles in 2018 and 2019, but improved his numbers in 2020 to just two tackles missed (just four games played) and just four tackles missed in 2021 (10 games played).
In 2021 he routinely found a way to bring the ball carrier to the ground, either driving through the attacking player’s legs or holding him and ambushing him to the ground. He needs to know more about the NFL.
Lucas must also be able to contribute to special teams to justify a roster spot. Lucas was a 100+ snap special teamer for the first three years of his career, but his role was reduced in the shortened 2020 season and nearly eliminated as a sixth grader.
“You see what he can bring on special teams,” Holmes said of Lucas, “then you speak from a versatility standpoint, I think Chase Lucas can play outside. I think he can play indoors.”
While Lucas may be a capable inside-out cornerer in my opinion, most of his attributes suggest he will find success in the NFL if he makes the slot full-time. This is the least experienced part of its story, but it properly highlights its strengths and mitigates its weaknesses.
By lining up in the slot, Lucas’ high speed struggles will mostly go away, while he will continue to excel with his first step quickness and ability to flip the receiver. His instincts will continue to allow him to react quickly, diagnose instantly and stay on the ball. Finally, while he’s not overly strong, he doesn’t need to be in the slot as his tenacity should help him get the job done.
“I feel very comfortable (in the slot),” Lucas explained. “I feel like my football IQ is a big deal, a big reason I was drafted. I feel like I study a lot and do a lot of film work. I feel like that will have an impact on the Nickel spot and hopefully the rest of my career.”
Now Lucas will certainly be tried at several spots around camp, but if he lands in the slot, the path to a starting role is only a player (AJ Parker, current starting Nickels corner) or three (Will Harris and/or Mike Hughes) away .
“I’m very pumped,” Lucas concluded. “I’m very excited, but I’m also ready to work. I know they’ll get a good corner, a good nickel, a good security, whatever they need from me.”