The Detroit Lions have kicked off training camp. And for many, this is a time for players to develop and grow in preparation to have a major impact on the field when the regular season begins.
This is particularly important for a team’s rookie class. The offseason, OTAs, minicamp, training camp, and the preseason are their introduction and acclimation to the NFL. Unfortunately, the Lions’ 2020 draft class didn’t benefit from a proper offseason training program.
Instead, much of last year’s rookies were forced to train on their own and meet virtually due to a worldwide pandemic. The league truncated training camps, enforced daily testing mandates, and canceled all preseason games.
While some rookies were still able to find a way to strive despite last summer’s obstacles, many didn’t. And that lack of development all but sank their rookie seasons. Unfortunately, that included the Lions’ top selection in cornerback Jeff Okudah.
Okudah, who was drafted third overall, failed to meet sky-high expectations during his first season in the NFL. In fact, he played just nine games, landing on injured reserve in mid-December after being inactive since Week 11.
The 22-year old would record 47 total tackles, two pass deflections, and one interception as a six-game starter. Pro Football Focus gave Okudah a regular-season grade of 41.8, which ranked him a lowly 117th out of 124 qualifying corners. He apparently scored the third-worst grade for a rookie cornerback in the last five years.
So saying Okudah’s rookie season was underwhelming is an understatement. And it’s one of the reasons Adam Schein, a contributing columnist for NFL.com, recently ranked the Lions’ young cornerback No. 2 on his list of players who must have a strong training camp this summer.
"“So, was last year hijacked by poor health? Poor coaching? Poor play? I personally doubt Okudah will ever live up to his lofty draft pedigree, but can he emerge from bust status? He can — and he should … The Lions need Okudah to play at a solid-starter level in 2021, so the cornerback needs to flash this summer.”"
The Lions are relying heavily on Okudah at a position on the depth chart that seems fairly thin on talent. The depth chart beyond the former first-rounder includes players like Amani Oruwariye, Mike Ford, Quinton Dunbar, Corn Elder, and rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu.
If Jeff Okudah fails to show some development this summer, the Detroit Lions could find themselves in a real pickle. Of all the players who are participating in training camp right now, Okudah may be the one who must absolutely show growth if the team’s defense is going to improve.