Lions have widespread optimism for Jeff Okudah heading toward 2022

Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah (23) works out during training camp at the practice facility in Allen Park, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.
Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah (23) works out during training camp at the practice facility in Allen Park, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. /

His first two NFL seasons have been wrecked by injuries, but there’s widespread belief in Jeff Okudah within the Detroit Lions’ building.

After being drafted third overall in the 2020 draft Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah struggled as a rookie, allowing a 118 passer rating in nine games (six starts). He missed the final four games of the season, and wound up having core muscle surgery on both sides last offseason.

Okudah showed some promise during 2021 training camp under a new coaching regime, but he allowed a deep pass in the preseason and got beat for a long pass in Week 1. He was also injured in that game, suffering a torn Achilles’ that cost him the rest of the season.

Through two seasons Okudah has missed 23 games and played in 10. He posted an update on his recovery from his torn Achilles back in November, and 2022 looks like a make-or-break season for him. He is one of just four cornerbacks to be a top-5 overall pick in the last 18 drafts.

Lions’ belief in Jeff Okudah is widespread

Fellow cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who had a breakout 2021 season before missing the final three games with a thumb injury, has high hopes for Okudah.

"I’m just excited for his future,” Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye said Monday. “I can’t wait to see cause people, it’s been two years and people still don’t know what Jeff Okudah can do. I’ve seen it. It’s just time for the world to really see."

Head coach Dan Campbell shared the optimism on Okudah.

"He’s hungry,” Campbell said. “I mean, he’s ready to go. He’s ready to take the next step into his rehab and physically get ready to hit the offseason running. It’s good. Look, it’s one of those unfortunate things where injury has struck again, but all you can do is try to come back better than ever and have yourself 100% ready to go. And so look, he’s of the right mindset. That’s all you can ask for in a player.”"

In his season wrap-up press conference on Tuesday, general manager Brad Holmes joined in the praise of and the optimism for Okudah.

"Jeff’s doing a nice job in his rehab,” Holmes said of the injured cornerback. “What I love about him is that he wanted to stay and be engaged, be around as much as possible.I just hated it for him when he got the injury because he was in such a good place both mentally and physically.”"

With Oruwariye and Jerry Jacobs looking like mainstays at cornerback for the Lions before their own season-ending injuries, the pressure on Okudah is surely lower than it was coming in as a highly-touted draft pick. But heading into the offseason, the Lions clearly believe he can still be a key part of the future.