The Detroit Lions lost two of their most promising young defensive players in the first month of the season in 2021. Jeff Okudah, the team’s third overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, tore his Achilles in the season opener. Three weeks later, the same thing happened to Romeo Okwara, a rising star fresh off a three-year extension.
Achilles injuries are tough and can sometimes take over a year to fully recover from, but according to head coach Dan Campbell, both players are on track to return for the start of the 2022 season.
“As long as everything stays the course with their recovery, then we should have them hopefully by training camp, at least on a limited basis, which would be good,” Campbell said in his NFL Combine press conference. “So we’re hoping for the season on both of those guys, if they’re ready.”
We’ve seen several updates of Okudah’s rehabilitation via his social media. A week ago, he posted a video of him running in a straight line. On Monday, he showed signs of even further progression, showing an ability to change directions at what appears to be nearly full speed.
Jeff Okudah!!! The comeback will be real @PrideOfDetroit pic.twitter.com/pCDiZl2NlN— CoachJay (@CoachJayCosme) March 1, 2022
Some have suggested after Okudah’s struggles early in his career, and due to the risk of lost explosion after the injury, that the young cornerback should move to safety. However, Campbell noted that is not currently the plan for him, but admitted things could change.
“Right now, we see him as (a) corner,” Campbell said. “But look, there again, a lot of this will be as we continue to discuss, and depending on who we add or how we add, you never know.”
As for Okwara, the Lions are hoping to get him back to the pass rushing fiend he was before the injury. In 2020, Okwara led the team with 10.0 sacks and 61 pressures. While he had just one sack in the four games he played in 2021, he produced 4.0 pressures per game, which is actually a higher rate than his 2020 performance.
The Lions will face a couple of tough decisions at the edge defender position. Charles Harris, their best pass rusher last year, is headed for free agency if the Lions don’t re-sign him in the next two weeks. Detroit also has a shot at adding one of the best pass rushers in college football with the No. 2 overall pick, be it Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux.
No matter what they do, however, it looks like they expect to have Okwara in the mix next season.