The Detroit Lions had a tough season on the field, and the play of several players was in question as it relates to the consistency of the team.
One spot the Lions struggled the most was at cornerback, and the play of Jeff Okudah became a lightning rod of criticism for the team. That has spilled over into the offseason, where the NFC North draft class was recently graded by NFL.com writer Gennaro Filice.
Filice took aim at Okudah in his breakdown, shredding his play as a disaster last season, and saying he was the most disappointing first-round pick from the draft. He gave the Lions a C- in the draft, and was
“The last draft class of the Bob Quinn era did nothing in Year 1 to depress Detroit’s thriving “Rebuilding Since 1957″ merch market. Given his Ohio State corner pedigree and lofty draft slot, Okudah had to be the most disappointing first-round pick in the 2020 draft. With the elite lockdown skills he displayed in the Big Ten, the No. 3 overall pick seemed like an ideal piece for Matt Patricia’s man-heavy scheme. But after missing the season opener with a bum hammy, Okudah was eviscerated in his debut at Green Bay, giving up seven catches on 10 targets for 121 yards. Now, everyone deserves a mulligan, especially when you’re a cornerback opening up your professional career against Aaron Rodgers. But Okudah’s play just didn’t get much better over the remainder of the year. In fact, Pro Football Focus charted him with yielding a league-worst 2.1 yards per cover snap at outside corner. Not to mention, a core muscle injury ended his season in November. Just an all-around disaster of a rookie campaign.”
As for the rest of the rookie class, this is likely where the rating climbed up a bit to the grade it eventually received. Filice said that Swift has some solid attributes and well as some positives from Cephus, this pair could help the class be much better in the end.
He also wrote:
“(D’Andre) Swift got off to a rough start, too, dropping a would-be game-winning touchdown pass with six seconds left in Detroit’s Week 1 loss to the rival Bears. But unlike Okudah, Swift bounced back to put some encouraging play on tape in Year 1. A boffo performance in the Lions’ Week 10 win over Washington — 16 rushes for 81 yards; five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown — showed off Swift’s enticing all-around skill set, but he needs to stay healthy going forward. Jackson turned out to be exactly the kind of solid-if-unspectacular third-round pick most expected him to be, starting all 16 games at guard. Cephus made a beautiful 49-yard touchdown catch in Detroit’s last win of the season, Week 13 at Chicago. The Lions will need more of that in 2021, with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola all set to hit free agency next month. Even if Golladay gets the franchise tag, this receiving corps looks light heading into next season.”
The criticism of Okudah, however, is obviously the mot interesting part of the breakdown. It shows how much ground the Lions’ young corner has to make up next season. Obviously, whether Okudah is a bust or not will determine the direction this class takes.
Why Jeff Okudah Can Improve for Lions
If there’s one thing that can be said, it’s Okudah will get back in the lab and try to improve quickly from the messes he has seen this season. Entering the 2020 draft, Okudah was described as a football junkie by his Ohio State coaches Okudah isn’t likely to burn the tape from his rookie debut season on the field, but rather use it to improve and study it intently to find out what he can do better. It’s likely he will be even more frustrated by his debut this season than the angriest fans will be.
Last offseason, Okudah was said to already be studying wideouts he will match wits with routinely such as Davante Adams. Natrually, Adams burned him this season, but Okudah was learning on the job, so the reality was things would always get worse before they got better. In time, as Okudah gains more confidence and understands the league more, some modest strides could be expected to be made. Coaching could also help him accomplish this faster.
The significant bet is Okudah will improve greatly in time following what was a rough debut in 2021. It could be clear that the old staff was a major reason why the cornerback had a tough first year in the NFL.
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Lions Rookie Class Solid Overall
Though Okudah gets his fair share of the heat for his up and down play this past season, the Lions quietly have the makings of a solid rookie class overall. The team has D’Andre Swift from the second round who figures to play a huge role moving forward. They’ve also got Jonah Jackson playing well along their offensive line, Quintez Cephus at wideout and John Penisini as a solid rotational piece up front.
As a whole, the Detroit draft class could turn things around in a big way with their play in 2021. Until then, they are just seen as average. Okudah’s struggles are a big reason why.
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