The Detroit Lions made Jeff Okudah the No. 3 pick in the draft a few months back, and the time has almost come for the rookie to start his first season in the league.
Okudah, however, won’t have an easy go of it as he starts his career. According to ESPN analyst Bill Barnwell, Okudah is going to be one of the most compelling people to watch in the league this season as a result of where he was drafted and who he figures to line up against. Okudah came in at No. 35 on Barnwell’s list of the 40 most compelling personalities in football this season, and he explained that his early slate of challenges is a big reason why.
“It’s foolish to count on most cornerbacks to do much during their rookie season. Okudah has no choice but to jump right into the fire. The highest-drafted cornerback of the past two decades, he joins a Lions team that traded away Darius Slay and has played more man coverage under coach Matt Patricia than anybody in the league besides New England. He starts with Allen Robinson (Bears), Davante Adams (Packers), DeAndre Hopkins (Cardinals) and Michael Thomas (Saints) before the Lions’ Week 5 bye. No pressure.”
Robinson, Adams, Hopkins, and Thomas is merely just the start. The rest of the season, the Lions will also see several other similarly elite names such as T.Y. Hilton, Julio Jones, Adam Thielen, Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks and A.J. Brown. It’s not the easiest slate, which is why Okudah will have to rely on his teammates to help him adjust through the ups and downs that are sure to come.
Life is going to come at Okudah very fast as he’s soon about to learn, which is probably the reason the Lions have not completely committed to him being the starter as of yet. Smart money remains on Okudah playing a big role for the team as a whole this season. The impact he makes, however, could be another story.
Okudah seems ready based on his mindset, but until he reacts after being thrown into the fire and dealing with these challenges, there’s simply no way of predicting what will happen.
Cory Undlin Impressed by Jeff Okudah
The talent of the rookie corner has been evident early on in camp for Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin. Speaking with the media over the weekend, Undlin was asked about Okudah’s trajectory. As he said, he has started slow, but the rookie hasn’t been on the field a ton for the team either.
“He’s a rookie and he missed a couple practices there early in camp. He’s really been on the grass 7 times. For me myself, I got to keep the perspective where it should be. Without OTA’s, and I know you can meet on Zoom and we spent all that time on those Zoom meetings, it’s not the same. When it starts and it’s live, there’s an adjustment that’s got to take place. Not to mention the running around with the wideouts we have on offense. But at the end of the day, after 7 practices for him or 8, he is on a steady incline which is all we can ask. I like the direction he’s heading in. We aren’t there yet. I don’t think any of us are there yet.”
A coach pressing pause on the hype machine for a rookie is nothing new, and in this case it’s not only justified but probably important. Okudah is transitioning to the league at a very difficult position to play. How much the team elects to get him involved is anybody’s guess, but it’s fair to say that the team will be prepared to lean on him at some point fairly early on.
While the start has been slow, Undlin still sees good things going for Okudah.
Lions Cornerback Battle Fierce
Detroit has a good competition brewing in the second level, where Amani Oruwaryie and Desmond Trufant have stepped up early and shown their stuff. Tony McRae has also taken steps toward showing he can be a key veteran contributor, and prior to injury, Mike Ford was looking like a player who was going to carve out a role on the roster for the team. All told, the team has fairly good depth at the spot.
Where does Okudah fit in with this? Likely near the top of this group when all is said and done and camp eventually concludes, but cornerback can be a difficult position to master at the next level. The team is probably very smart to be starting him slow, especially given the way the offseason has played out in 2020.
Jeff Okudah Prepared for Davante Adams
Okudah always wants to be prepared, a trait he learned early in his football career while at Ohio State. Part of that is doing all the work to try and master the position. As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press explained in a piece, Okudah did some heavy research into wideouts during his time in college, and a name he will now face off with came up in Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers courtesy of his former position coach Jeff Hafley.
Here’s Birkett’s window into Okudah’s mind:
“Often, Okudah would ask about the best cornerbacks in the NFL, and what made them so great. And the best receivers.
At one point, he asked Hafley which NFL receivers were best at getting off the line of scrimmage. Hafley, who coached defensive backs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012-13), Cleveland Browns (2014-15) and San Francisco 49ers (2016-18), pulled up tape of Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams, whom Okudah will face twice this fall with the Lions.
“Then what he has to do, he wanted me to show him DBs that did a good job against him and how they did it and why they did it,” Hafley said. “Trust me, at this point we were like in the middle of game week, so I pulled out, whatever film I watched I probably had a couple clips from the Niners that I had and probably showed him a couple guys being patient and get him at the line of scrimmage.”
Such an intricate mind for his craft is likely what landed Okudah high on Detroit’s wish list this offseason. Half of being a successful cornerback is talent, but the other half involves having the right mindset for success as well as the right mind for preparation. It’s clear Okudah has this in a big way to be putting in this kind of effort in college.
Elite players are coming for Okudah a few times a year, but the cornerback will at least have an idea going in what he’s up against. As a result, it will be interesting to see what plays out.