Snap counts don’t always tell the whole story of a player's value, but they do play a key role in understanding their usage and can give insight into how they may be used in the future.
This is the first in a series of articles at Pride of Detroit where we will examine the snap counts for Detroit Lions rookies in the 2020 season.
Jeff Okudah, CB: Round 1, Pick 3
Being the third overall pick comes with big expectations, but even with this high bar, Okudah was not expected to be a starter from the jump. Veteran Desmond Trufant was signed to anchor the unit, veteran Justin Coleman was operating out of the slot, while sophomore Amani Oruwariye looked sharp enough in training camp to be a possible third starter to open the year.
Okudah was still expected to contribute in a positional rotation with Oruwariye and potentially push for a starting role as the season progressed. Then injuries began to pile up in the secondary and all those plans were thrown out the window.
Okudah’s 2020 snap counts
In the chart below, you can see the snap counts from Okudah’s entire rookie season broken down by defensive snaps, percentage of defensive snaps, special teams snaps, and percentage of special teams snaps.
Okudah carried a groin injury with him from Ohio State into the pros, and with the hectic offseason schedule of a rookie—draft training, combine, draft, OTAs, minicamp, training camp, and right into the season—he was never able to fully heal and it impacted his play on the field.
Like most soft tissue injuries, when left untreated they tend to cause other injuries, and after Okudah injured his hamstring in training camp, he was forced to miss Week 1. He made his debut in Week 2 replacing Trufant (and Coleman—both had hamstring injuries) and Okudah played every snap. After playing nearly every snap in Week 3, Okudah shifted back into a rotation after Trufant returned in Week 4, but that was short-lived. Trufant exited that game allowing Okudah to step back in as a starter. Okudah would go on to start the next three weeks as well.
In Week 9, Okudah would injure his ankle and aggravate his groin. Then in Week 11, he added a shoulder injury to his list of ailments. With injuries piling up, Okudah showed his toughness by still attempting to recover and return to the field, but after three weeks of trying—and the team's fate decided—the Lions placed him on injured reserve.
In the offseason, Okudah would go on to have long-anticipated groin surgery and spent the winter months in Detroit, rehabbing at the Lions training facility in Allen Park with team doctors and trainers.
“I’m feeling great,” Okudah said in May. “I’m definitely trending towards 100 (percent). I think that’s a testament to the staff that the Detroit Lions have. Me and Tom Colt (Coordinator of Rehabilitation/Assistant Athletic Trainer) we have put in a lot of work—Dave Granito (Head Athletic Trainer)—this offseason. Every single day, just getting after it. And I’m definitely thankful that I was able to stay and get a chance to work with them.”
Okudah looked fully healthy during 2021 OTAs and minicamp—save “bumping noggins” with Damion Ratley and missing the last two practices—and is on track to be 100-percent healthy by training camp.
There may not be a player on the Lions roster who stands to benefit more from the regime change than Okudah. He was consistently put into matchups with top-10 receivers in 2020 and has implied that the coaching was, shall we say, lacking, compared to the new coaching staff—specifically defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.
“Within the first couple of meetings, I was just picking up so much things that I thought to myself, ‘It just would have been nice to have these tools in my toolbox in my rookie year,’” Okudah told the Lions media recently.
“Looking at the film and breaking down how the offense is trying to attack,” Okudah continued. “That’s what I try to do every single day going into the game plan. So just having the tools that (Pleasant) has put in my toolbox, it’s like I’m seeing film from a whole new perspective, I’m seeing the game completely different. That’s one thing that has me really excited going into my second year.”
Throughout spring camp, Okudah was consistently lining up with the presumed starters and sporting a new swagger that usually follows top cornerbacks. He looked more confident and was vocally involved in most plays, regardless of if he was on the field or not.
Until Okudah strings together a handful of games injury-free, though, there will be some trepidation that surrounds him and his availability each week. But if he can stay healthy, Okudah is a cerebral player and one that should find success under this new coaching staff.
While there is still a long way to go before actual starters are named, it would be very surprising if Okudah is not on that list.