Earlier in the week, we asked Pride of Detroit readers to identify the player they believe will return from serious injury and post the best 2022 season. The Detroit Lions are in an odd situation in which five players—including two rookies—are returning to football after suffering a somewhat serious injury last season.
Former first-round pick Jeff Okudah suffered an torn Achilles in Week 1 of the 2021 season. Edge rusher Romeo Okwara fell to the same fate three games later. One of the best stories from last year, the rise of undrafted cornerback Jerry Jacobs, was cut short due to a torn ACL in December. While Lions 2022 draft picks Jameson Williams and James Mitchell suffered ACL tears in January and last September, respectively.
During offseason activities earlier this month, none of those five players were full participants for practices. Okudah appeared closest to a return, as he participated in walkthroughs and individual drills consistently. But all four of the other players—Williams, Okwara, Jacobs and Mitchell—were sidelined during practices.
Therefore it should come as little surprise that Okudah finished top in voting amongst Lions fans.
While Okudah is likely the healthiest of the bunch, questions still linger about how he’ll perform on Sundays. As the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, expectations were high for the former Ohio State defensive back. But Okudah struggled in his rookie season, allowing a passer rating of 112.0 when targeted, according to PFF. Even in the one game he played in 2021, Okudah was at least partially responsible for a 79-yard touchdown—albeit to talented 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel.
That said, Okudah’s commitment to rehab and his relentless work ethic on the field is obvious, and teammates are still convinced the third-year cornerback will eventually show why he was such a coveted draft pick.
“I think people who try to write people off, they’ve got to just kinda stay in your lane, because to me, I think there’s a reason he went number three overall in the draft,” Amani Oruwariye said earlier this year. “The minute he gets on the field, he can make an immediate impact. It’s just a matter of staying healthy and we’re all wishing for that.”
Coming just behind Okudah in the poll is first-round rookie Jameson Williams, who had 35 percent of the vote compared to Okudah’s 38 percent.
It’s not uncommon for rookie receivers to make an immediate impact in today’s NFL. Last year Ja’Marr Chase finished fourth in receiving yards despite being a first-year player. The year before, Justin Jefferson also finished fourth in yards as a rookie.
Williams, however, suffered his injury just five months ago, and Lions head coach Dan Campbell doesn’t expect him to be ready at the start of next month’s training camp.
“I don’t see him being ready for training camp,” Campbell said. “We’ll see then. I’m very hopeful, but I don’t see it. We’re going to do this thing the right way, and when he’s ready, he’ll be ready. I don’t feel like you’re going to see him out there Day 1.”
Still, if Williams can make his way onto the field and play for at least half the season, expectations are for him to make an immediate impact on offense.
“This is a guy that can stretch the field without any sweat,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said of Williams. “He is electric, he’s got juice. Once he gets healthy, we’re gonna have something to cook with. It’s gonna be fun.”