Detroit Lions News: Jeff Okudah’s awful rookie season abruptly ends

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

Rookie Jeff Okudah’s ugly rookie season is over.  He hasn’t performed nearly as well as expected after the Detroit Lions used the third overall pick on his services.

It’s hard to justify the pick of rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah third overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.  It is starting to look like a swing and miss for former general manager Bob Quinn after just one season.  The Detroit Lions were expecting to plug-and-play Okudah in at the starting left corner position in Matt Patricia’s predominantly man-to-man defense, replacing Darius Slay.

After missing some time due to a shoulder injury, Okudah is being shut down after suffering a groin injury.  The young cornerback will have surgery to repair the injury this week.

Okudah had been the highest cornerback selected in the NFL Draft since 1997, when Shawn Springs, also a product of Ohio State, selected by the Seattle Seahawks third.

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Although I thought Okudah had the ability to step in and become the teams’ top outside corner understanding, Desmond Trufant, serviceable but firmly on the decline, and second-year player Amani Oruwariye had been the only other options.

If you watch most of the games, it won’t take you long to realize that Okudah struggles mightily in coverage week in and week out.  But have you taken a second to realize just how bad the rookie has been in 2020?

Per Mlive, of all the NFL cornerbacks that qualify (minimum 215 coverage snaps), Okudah ranks dead last in yards allowed per route.  According to Pro Football (PFF), Okudah’s atrocious 41.8 rating ranks 116th out of 122 at his position in all of football.

If not for a stellar 86.2 grade defending the run, that overall number would be much closer to mirroring his awful 30.1 coverage grade.  I admire Okudah’s willingness to stick his nose into the backfield and make a play on a ballcarrier that flashes to his side of the field.  The problem is, he’s paid and had been drafted for his coverage skills, and he hasn’t shown the ability to shadow NFL receivers.  NFL quarterbacks have a tremendous 112 rating when targeting Okudah in the passing game.

Okudah has yielded a 76% catch rate allowing a whopping 38 completions on 50 targets, 15.2 yards per reception, and 579 yards.

Using the third overall pick on a cornerback was a risky decision understanding the value of the position.

Where would the Detroit Lions be if they selected Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa, Derrick Brown, or Isaiah Simmons?  I would love to write in Justin Jefferson, and that would have proven to be a tremendous selection, but going 22nd overall, he wasn’t even considered a top-ten pick, so he can’t be mentioned in the top-five.

We can compare Okudah to C.J. Henderson, the second corner taken in the draft, ninth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Henderson has earned a PFF rating of 57.9 and a coverage mark of 58.3 while playing 474 defensive snaps.  Quarterbacks maintain a very similar 111.7 rating when targeting Henderson in coverage, and both corners have recorded one interception in 2020.

Although Henderson is having a better PPF season, their stats are very similar.  Derrick Brown was the player I had hoped the Detroit Lions would select if they had made their mind up on not selecting Tua.  Brown has had a solid rookie season with the Carolina Panthers.

Brown’s earned himself a 56.3 overall grade but a 71.3 pass-rush mark.  That interior pass-rush ability is something the Detroit Lions are frantically lacking.  Brown has compiled 24 tackles, 24 pressures, and 19 stops in 2020.  Just to give you a comparison, Romeo Okwara leads the Detroit Lions with 25 total pressures; next is Nick Williams and Everson Griffin with eight each. Yikes.

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It’s too early to give up on Okudah completely, but Brown appears to have been the better choice at this point in their careers.