The success of rookie cornerbacks has been a topic of conversation for decades now. The prevailing theory just a few years ago was that it usually takes at least three seasons for a cornerback to really settle in at the next level.
For Detroit Lions fans, that’s an easily-understood narrative. All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay didn’t really come into his own until Years 3 and 4. He didn’t make a Pro Bowl until Year 5, when he finally broke out with eight interceptions.
But, recently, there have been some exceptions to this rule. Denzel Ward—the last cornerback to be taken in the top five prior to Detroit’s selection of Jeff Okudah—made the Pro Bowl his rookie season. So did Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
So what will be the fate of Okudah in his rookie season with the Lions? Well, according to two notable NFL analysts, the former Ohio State corner is in the perfect place for early success.
First, there is former NFL safety Matt Bowen. Bowen, writing for ESPN, listed Okudah as one of 10 draft picks this year that landed in the perfect team.
“With high-end coverage traits — footwork, hips, short-area speed — Okudah is a natural fit in Detroit’s man-heavy scheme,” Bowen wrote.
And when you combine that with free agent addition Desmond Trufant, Bowen believes the Lions’ cornerback duo is a force to be reckoned with immediately.
“Detroit now has two scheme-specific coverage corners with the twitch and transition speed to drive on the ball.”
Dan Pizzuta of Sharp Football Analysis is thinking along similar lines. The Lions rookie cornerback landed on his list of five rookies set to make an immediate impact in 2020.
Pizzuta believes that Okudah will step in Day 1 and take over the No. 1 job over Trufant. And that means dealing with some of the best receivers the league has to offer.
“In the NFC North, Okudah will be tasked with covering Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Adam Thielen,” Pizzuta wrote. “The Lions’ out-of-division schedule also has no shortage of top receivers in 2020. Detroit will face Arizona (DeAndre Hopkins), Atlanta (Julio Jones), Tampa Bay (Mike Evans), and New Orleans (Michael Thomas).”
But Okudah’s reputation as a shutdown man-coverage cornerback in college has made a believer out of many, including Pizzuta himself.
“But Okudah was one of the strongest man coverage corners coming out of Ohio State. Per SIS, Okudah was in man 54% of the time with the Buckeyes last season and opponents had a positive play against him just 39% of pass attempts.”
The fit is right. The skill is there. All that’s left is for Okudah to go out there and play some ball.