Lions second-year studs could lead resurgence in 2021

Jeff Okudah, Detroit Lions (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Jeff Okudah, Detroit Lions (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Last offseason, at this same time, the Detroit Lions had a rare opportunity in front of them. With general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia hoping to save their jobs entering their third season together, hitting big in the 2020 NFL Draft was paramount.

Due to a poor outing in 2019, where starting quarterback Matthew Stafford was lost for eight games due to a back injury, the Lions 3-12-1 record earned them the third overall selection in the draft (and subsequent high picks in following rounds}. It was the highest Detroit had drafted in a decade.

Quinn, Patricia, and company went about the business of adding talent to their roster via the draft. Unfortunately, the unforeseen introduction of a worldwide pandemic made the offseason training program virtual, led to the cancellation of all preseason games, and disrupted the development of the Lions’ rookie class.

As a result, the Lions would fire both Quinn and Patricia by late November, Detroit would finish the season with a disappointing  5-11 record, and once again the Motor City found themselves in the basement of the NFC North division for the third season in a row.

This offseason, the Lions installed a new regime led by general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell. Detroit also traded away their quarterback in Stafford, all under the guise of retooling the team. But ironically, it’s the draft class selected by the previous regime in Detroit last year that might actually lead the resurgence in Motown.

The Lions 2020 draft class included cornerback Jeff Okudah, running back D’Andre Swift, defensive end Julian Okwara, offensive guard Jonah Jackson, guard Logan Stenberg, wide receiver Quintez Cephus, and defensive tackle John Penisini. All of whom could play significant roles for Detroit in their second season.

As the third overall selection last year, Okudah is expected to be a generational talent at the cornerback position. And after a rocky rookie season, the 22-year old could rebound quickly under a new coaching staff.

Swift is already in position to take over the full-time starting role at running back. Okwara has the potential to become an elite pass rusher if he can remain healthy. Jackson was a 16-game starter as a rookie. Cephus is one of the few wide receivers not hitting free agency this offseason. And Penisini was a 12-game starter despite being a sixth-round selection.

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On top of the normal obstacles of adjusting to playing on the NFL-level as rookies, this group also had to deal with the impact of Covid-19. Still, many of them managed to make an impact in their first season. In Year Two, and with another offseason training program under their belts, this group could easily be one of the main reasons the Detroit Lions rebound in 2021.