In the 2020 NFL Draft, cornerback Jeffrey Okudah was selected with the third overall pick by the Detroit Lions. Okudah was a spry standout coming out of Ohio State with a ton of potential. I recall viewing the tape, and just analyzing how good of a defensive player he was. I graded and ranked Okudah very highly, and could not wait till he stepped foot on an NFL field. The athleticism, the pace, the talent, Okudah had it all coming from a star studded Buckeyes program, but his rookie season was truly one to forget. In a season that ended early for the then rookie due to injury, according to Pro Football Focus, Okudah completed the season with an overall grade of 42.5. An absolutely horrendous mark for any player, especially one drafted as highly as Okudah was! In the following season, I wish I could say it was better for the man, but his season was done after one game played with a ruptured achilles.
Entering this season, Okudah was already labeled a bust and was forgotten by most casual NFL fans; however, to begin the 2022 campaign, Okudah has been a man on a mission! In the first three weeks, the third-year corner has been matched up with some sturdy competition in Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith and Vikings star Justin Jefferson; however, Okudah has done his job and put locks on the opposition. In order to get a better grasp of how well the Texas native has been playing, I went to the film and studied each and every snap and here is what I learned!
Week 1: DeVonta Smith, WR (Philadelphia Eagles)
Okudah shook off the rust with an excellent performance that is reflected in both the tape and the statistics! Smith, who is a budding playmaker on a deep Eagles offense, was held to zero receiving yards on zero receptions with four targets. On the tape, Okudah is clearly disrupting Smith’s release by getting his hands on early and being a physical presence at the line of scrimmage. With his hands and hips, he is able to force Smith to the outside, creating inside leverage, which makes it harder for both the quarterback and receiver, as both have to make more difficult football plays (i.e. perfectly placed ball and tough, contested catch). A great example from the film was Okudah creating that inside leverage early, quarterback Jalen Hurts attempted to find Smith on the back shoulder, and Okudah was able to swiftly swat the ball away while falling towards the turf. The play highlighted all of Okudah’s best traits, as a long, physical corner, who is making strides as a defensive playmaker. Based on his season debut, there is a lot to like and love about his ever-improving game!
Week 2: Terry McLaurin, WR (Washington Commanders)
Terry McLaurin, another high end receiver, who is no slouch and can make big plays. Well, the tape and paper reflect amazingly for Okudah, as he held McLaurin to only two catches for 22 yards. While this is not quite the same performance as week one versus Smith, this is still a very impressive showcase, and really all the yardage came from one play. It came later in the matchup, and it was a small little flat route from the wideout, who was able to catch Okudah off balance initially, leading to first down yardage. However, Okudah was able to recover from his original mistake and make the tackle on McLaurin. While he lets the receiver get by him, Okudah’s recovery emphasizes the new found intensity that is very evident in his game. There is a new fiery attitude to his player personna, making him both gravitating to watch and enjoy. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a ‘chip on his shoulder’, and if he continues playing with that fire, then Okudah’s stellar start will continue!
Week 3: Justin Jefferson, WR (Minnesota Vikings)
By far, this has been Okudah’s toughest matchup to date, as Jefferson is an elite, All-Pro level talent that is known for dismantling defenses and blowing by his cornerback matchups. However, to most people’s surprise, Okudah won this matchup on Sunday, only allowing three receptions on six targets for a mere total of 14 yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Now, those are some impressive numbers; however, I do have to address those other three missed targets. While Okudah for most of the game was clean in press and was physical at the line of scrimmage, there were moments where the rawness really creeped in. Early in the game, Jefferson was beating Okudah in one-on-one, man coverage situations, but quarterback Kirk Cousins was not able to make an accurate throw. It was not like Okudah was on Jefferson’s hip on those missed targets, it was just the fact that a below average to average quarterback was not able to make a simple six to ten yard pass to his number one receiver. Could this just be trail technique from Okudah? Sure, but there was not a lot of help coming elsewhere in the secondary and Jefferson is a beyond viable deep threat option, so to use trail technique would not make a ton of sense, in my opinion. Because of those instances, Okudah’s grade dropped in my book, but overall the corner was able to put together a lot of good clips and was able to win his matchup versus a top five receiver in the league today.
Okudah has balled out in his first three performances of the season! There is a lot to like about the Ohio State product, which is evident in his tape. From his physicality at the line of scrimmage to his improving ball tracking ability, Okudah is developing in the right direction as both a player and person. If the Lions can further his development and technique, then Okudah can really make the case for Comeback Player of the Year!