Jeff Okudah: The Big Bust?

Entering his third season in the NFL, Jeff Okudah has not lived up to the expectations set for third overall draft selection. Heading into the 2020 NFL draft, Okudah was labeled the consensus cornerback as his man-to-man coverage and tackling abilities were stellar in his college days at Ohio State. Prior to the 2020 NFL draft, the buzz of the NFL community was that Okudah would become an instant game-changer for the Detroit Lions, and provide much needed help to one of the worst defenses in the league. This was simply not the case. 

Okudah’s Career Thus Far
In his rookie campaign, Okudah played only nine games after exiting the Lions week nine matchup with an achilles injury. While a single injury certainly isn’t enough to label someone a bust, Okudah’s play during his rookie season was unimpressive. Week after week Okudah was beat by opposing wide receivers playing when man coverage, and every game it seemed the first-year cornerback was lost in his zone coverage responsibilities. While this set off alarm bells around the NFL community, the Lions were not concerned, and for valid reason. It is extremely rare for any cornerback to experience success in their first year in the NFL, and for that reason, the Lions hoped Okudah would develop into the player they saw at Ohio State over the 2021 offseason. 

To the disappointment of the Detroit faithful, Okudah did not improve by the opening kickoff of the 2021 season. In the singular game he played the Lions secondary coach can be seen chewing him out on the sideline after he busted coverage in the Lions week one matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. Moments later, Okudah ruptured his achilles’ tendon, ultimately ending his sophomore season.

In the 10 total games he’s played throughout his 2 year career, Okudah has played miserably. Quarterback’s complete an absurd 77% of their passes when targeting Okudah’s area of the field, which ranks him towards the bottom of all NFL cornerbacks. Furthermore, Okudah does not pass the “eye-test.” He has failed to become the physical corner we saw coming out of Ohio State, and has been terribly unreliable as he often looks lost in the Lions zone coverage packages. Lastly, his injury is the worst possible injury for any athlete to suffer. A ruptured or torn achilles has greatly shortened the careers of many NFL legends, and as Okudah has suffered this devastating injury in the first years of his career, it’s possible we will never see Okudah reach his full potential. 

The Competition:
Okudah’s bust potential also stems from the success of the cornerbacks selected after him in the 2020 NFL draft. Taken six picks after Okudah, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback, CJ Henderson, has established himself as a quality starting cornerback in the NFL, something Okudah has failed to do. Next, Atlanta Falcons draft pick, AJ Tarrell was awarded second-team all-pro this season, and is widely regarded as a top-10 cornerback in the NFL. Taken more than a full round after Okudah, Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson and Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs have been young cornerstones for their respective franchises, with Diggs earning first-team all-pro recognition in 2021. If Okudah hopes to change his reputation of being a bust, he must meet or exceed the level of success his fellow 2020 draftees have experienced throughout their respective NFL careers.

The Last Hope:
Despite Okudah’s utter lack of success, he has one more season to prove he isn’t one of the bigger busts of the decade. As I alluded to earlier, many cornerbacks breakout in their second or third year in the NFL, giving Lions fans hope Okudah will be able to do just that in 2022. The former third overall pick must have a big season in 2022 to not only avoid the bust label, but to save his NFL career. Jeff Okudah has one more season to prove himself, or else, his NFL career is likely over.