How Detroit Lions’ top draft pick Jeff Okudah compares to the cornerback taken right after him

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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They were the consensus two best cornerbacks in this year’s NFL draft, deserving top 10 picks, and on Sunday the Detroit Lions’ Jeff Okudah and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ C.J. Henderson will share a field for the first time as pros.

Okudah went No. 3 overall to the Detroit Lions and has started two of the first four games with mixed results. He ranks among the lowest-graded cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus, but his coaches say they’ve seen steady improvement in his play and he ranks fourth on the team with 18 tackles.

Henderson, the No. 9 pick of the draft, has been an impact starter for the Jaguars, intercepting a pass in his first game and breaking up three more on the season.

He sat out last week’s loss to the Houston Texans with a shoulder injury, but practiced in full Thursday and is on track to return this weekend.

Lions coach Matt Patricia said Thursday he was impressed by both players in the pre-draft process, though he declined to say if the Lions considered Henderson with the No. 3 pick.

“Two really great corners. That’s all I’m going to say about that,” Patricia said. “As far as whatever the draft, we thought Jeff, obviously, was there and we liked him and so we took him. But two really good players, absolutely, coming out of college.”

More: Pump the brakes on bashing Detroit Lions rookie Jeff Okudah. Here’s why

Okudah is in line to make his third start of the season Sunday with Desmond Trufant battling a hamstring injury.

He’s played both right and left cornerback so far this season, and the Lions have used him extensively on top receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams.

“I think there’s been some progress for sure, and I don’t want to keep saying this, but the more he plays I think the better he gets,” defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. “The more opportunities he has to be out there on Sundays against different players, different schemes, he’s only going to get better. I’m happy with where it’s trending right now.”

Henderson has had his own ups and downs after an impressive debut in which he not only intercepted a pass in an upset of the Indianapolis Colts but also had the game-clinching pass breakup with 49 seconds to play.

More: What Detroit Lions are doing to try to ramp up NFL-worst pass rush

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said last month that Henderson would blossom once he became a more consistent player.

Patricia said he’s already seen “high-level” play out of Henderson, who could factor heavily into Jacksonville’s game plan to stop top Lions receiver Kenny Golladay this week.

“He’s big, he’s long, he’s fast,” Patricia said. “He can disrupt at the line of scrimmage and one of the things that he does outstanding is he is very violent through the pocket. When you watch him attack the pocket or attack a receiver, his ability to come through because of his length and disrupt a catch, it’s really outstanding. And you’ve seen that transfer into the NFL. You’ve seen him do it probably three or four times, just that violent attack on the receiver. It’s pretty high level.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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