Amani Oruwariye was by far the Lions’ most popular pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. A prospect many believed could go as early as Day 2 in the draft, Oruwariye was not only considered great value in the fifth round, but he filled a huge need for a team that had been seeking cornerback depth beyond Darius Slay for years.
Of course, expecting much out of a rookie fifth-round cornerback in their first season is asking too much. But after a somewhat promising performance in a limited role in 2019, could Oruwariye’s potentially grow into a full-time starter?
Expectations heading into 2019
Oruwariye was firmly third on the cornerback depth chart. Darius Slay and Rashaan Melvin were the clear starters from the beginning. And after it was clear Teez Tabor wasn’t part of the team’s plans, Oruwariye was pretty much viewed as the uncontested primary backup for outside cornerback.
Though some were hopeful he’d eventually take over a starter role by the season’s end, most believed 2019 would be a learning season for Oruwariye with sporadic contributions depending on the health of the secondary.
Actual role in 2019
2019 stats: 9 games (2 starts): 19 tackles, 3 passes defended, 2 INTs
PFF grade: 71.4 (27th out of 115 CBs)
Oruwariye saw his first NFL action as a special teamer in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Unfortunately, he aggravated a knee injury that had been lingering since the preseason, causing him to miss the next four games. The Lions admitted they had bigger plans for Oruwariye, but that injury set back their plans.
Still, eventually Oruwariye worked his way onto the field as a defender. In Week 11, he logged nine snaps as a defender, and he would tally 158 in the next three games combined after Rashaan Melvin was ailing with an injury
His overall performance was up and down, but there was certainly more good than bad. His two interceptions was the most out of a Lions cornerback not named Darius Slay since 2014 (Cassius Vaughn).
After Melvin returned from injury, the Lions scaled back Oruwariye’s workload in the final three games of the season, leaving many wondering why they didn’t give the rookie corner more playing time in “meaningless” games.
Outlook for 2020
Contract status: Signed through 2022
While the Lions decided to move on from Melvin and Slay, they also added Desmond Trufant and Jeff Okudah this offseason. That leaves Oruwariye as a backup for another year.
However, there is certainly hope that the former Nittany Lion could eventually grow into an eventual starter. He’ll undoubtedly get some opportunities this year, whether it be as an injury replacement or in certain subpackages.
Beyond 2020 is when Oruwariye could really make his move. Trufant signed a two-year deal, but if he struggles this upcoming season, it’s possible the Lions move on and save $6.5 million in cap space by releasing him before 2021’s season. If Trufant sticks, then Oruwariye could take the reigns as the No. 2 cornerback behind Okudah in 2022.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much yet. Oruwariye’s rookie season was definitely promising, but the 6-foot-2 corner will still need to grow and learn and improve to take over a starting role. It’s easy to get complacent when you’re not in the starting lineup every week, and Oruwariye will need to avoid that temptation.
Chances are—injuries aside—Oruwariye’s future as a starter will be on hold for at least the next two seasons. But it would be foolish to give up on his potential, because there’s obvious talent there.