The hype surrounding first-round selections is immense. And with the Detroit Lions drafting Jeff Okudah third overall, can his play live up to expectations?
Landing superstar players in the first round of the draft has eluded the Detroit Lions in recent years. In fact, the last time the Lions drafted a player in the first round that would go on to be invited to a Pro Bowl while playing in Detroit was 2013 in defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
That’s a seven-year stretch of former first-rounders who have failed to make a Pro Bowl while in the Motor City. That list includes tight end Eric Ebron (2014), guard Laken Tomlinson (2015), left tackle Taylor Decker (2016), linebacker Jarrad Davis (2017), center Frank Ragnow (2018), and tight end T.J. Hockenson (2019).
But the Lions’ newest member of the first-round club has a chance to change that narrative. Selected third overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah was described by one NFL scout as being the most naturally gifted cornerback since Jalen Ramsey.
Okudah will enter his rookie season as the presumed starter following an offseason trade that sent three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay to the Philadelphia Eagles. Although the Lions did sign former 2015 Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant to a two-year, $21 million deal in March.
Both Okudah and Trufant figure to be the Lions’ starting cornerbacks on the outside with 2019 free-agent signing Justin Coleman covering the slot. Detroit also recently added veterans Darryl Roberts and Tony McRae to a depth chart that includes Amani Oruwariye, Mike Ford, Jamal Agnew, Dee Virgin, and Mike Jackson.
So the Lions have plenty of bodies at the position, which should make for some solid competition this summer. But make no mistake, the spotlight will be on Okudah. And the question will be if the 2020 first-rounder can live up to the enormous hype that surrounds his high draft status.
Here’s what NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote about the selection of Okudah to Detroit as one of his three favorite picks of the first round …
"“Hard to find fault in this pick considering the perfect confluence of need and talent in one selection. Okudah is not a finished product by any means, but I like that about him. He is able to make plenty of plays on the ball thanks to his physical gifts, but he’s still training his eyes and instincts. Once it all comes together, he could become one of the top lockdown corners in the league.”"
The term lockdown corner is not one we hear used very often anymore. There are a select few that can be considered their own island, forcing opposing quarterbacks to ignore their side of the field completely. It appears that Okudah has that kind of potential.
Yet, fans have been fooled one too many times when it comes to former first-rounders not living up to their touted potential. And many have learned to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
The Detroit Lions set the level of expectation sky-high for Jeff Okudah, making him the highest selected cornerback in the NFL draft since 1997. Anything diverging from a possible Hall of Fame path could be viewed as a disappointment. But if Okudah fails to live up to his lofty draft status in Detroit, he certainly won’t be alone.