When the Detroit Lions were on the clock at third overall, I’ve got to say, I was a bit worried. In previous years, the Lions were a pretty predictable team, and unless things changed very close to the draft, the team was going to take the type of player most had expected all along.
Yet in the 2020 draft, it has been Jeffrey Okudah for months, only to see Derrick Brown swoop in and get a final push in the hours leading up to the actual start of the event. Rumors that Matt Patricia really wanted Derrick Brown were believable because taking a player like that was totally something he would do. So the thought that they’d take the obviously superior player in Jeffrey Okudah started to wane some.
When it really came down to it, though, taking Jeffrey Okudah was always the only choice this team could have made. From an athletic standpoint, there were no serious concerns. We’re talking about an elite RAS cornerback with some of the best explosion drills ever recorded for a cornerback in over 30 years of data. If that sounds good, that’s because it is. Looking beyond athletic traits, however, it actually gets even better.
Okudah is the most mentally prepared cornerback I’ve ever evaluated. As the creator of Relative Athletic Scores, I often get lumped into the group that pays too much attention to the numbers and not enough to the intangibles, but this is a prospect where those intangibles are the real seller. You want a guy who has the athletic traits necessary to succeed in the NFL for sure, but you also want someone who is totally bought in to playing the cornerback position. A true student of the game, you want someone who is going to challenge himself to be better at the game of football every single time he steps foot on the field. Patrick Peterson and Jalen Ramsey were better athletic specimens, but Jeffrey Okudah bests both in the cerebral part of the game.
While the focus at the Combine is the on field drills, player interviews are a much bigger part of the process than is often given credit. During those interviews, Okudah was asked about the types of teams he might fit with, and he reportedly was able to name the position coaches and players for more than half of the NFL, rattling them off the top of his head like he was recalling whether he had toast or waffles that morning. If the guy can put together and retain that kind of information for the Combine, prepping for an opponent’s tendencies is a pretty small matter.
After running literally hundreds of simulations, one thing became very apparent for the Detroit Lions. If the team missed out on Jeffrey Okudah, the chances of them getting a premier player in this draft class drops dramatically, as does their ability to successfully address their secondary. After seeing the outcome of the first round of the 2020 draft, this point got driven home even further. While many expected a run on receivers and tackles, few expected the run on cornerbacks to happen as early as it did, and the Lions’ list of second-round options were cut dramatically the way the draft played out.
2020 has one of the strongest offensive tackle classes in decades and we saw six players off the board in the first round. Cornerback wasn’t considered nearly as strong, but we saw just as many picked in the first, leaving the Lions at 35 facing, at best, the seventh-ranked cornerback (although, given the Raiders and Falcons selection, that’s arguable). Had the team went in a different direction than Okudah, the chances of them getting a top-tier player at the position were exceedingly slim. Getting the top guy in the class is huge for this team’s ability to cover their secondary for now and years to come. Had they passed on Okudah, there’s a fair chance this team skips out on corner altogether with this class.
The Lions were not able to secure a trade down, which many fans wanted them to do, but it’s hard to argue when they got the best player they could possibly have gotten with the pick they had. The only better defensive player in this draft class was off the board before the Lions even had a chance to pick. So, with the third pick, the Detroit Lions simply took the best player left in the draft, and my second-ranked player in the class across all positions. You can’t really get much better than that.