Sizing up the Lions’ 2020 draft class through the first six games

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

If his first five games have been an education, Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah has drawn some of the NFL’s toughest teachers. 

To start his career, Okudah has been tasked with covering the likes of Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones. He also should have caught Michael Thomas, but the New Orleans Saints superstar was sidelined by injury when the two sides met. Still, the aforementioned trio has 14 Pro Bowl selections between them. 

Welcome to the big leagues, kid. 

“I would say it’s been really beneficial, just to kind of get those top-tier receivers under my belt,” Okudah said this week. “It’s a league full of great receivers, but at the top, there’s not too many guys like those. So just to be able to get those guys in in the first five, six weeks of the season, I think that’s big because I’ve seen some of the best of the best so far.”

And there have been plenty of learning moments within those matchups. For example, when covering Hopkins in Detroit’s Week 3 win over Arizona, the receiver burned the rookie cornerback by looking back for a ball well before he knew it would coming. That caused Okudah to turn as well, allowing Hopkins to get easy separation for a deep completion. 

“One thing that we’ve been really big on is with me kind of getting my eyes right,” Okudah said. “I think I’ve taken steps in the right direction the last couple weeks with getting my eyes right. Obviously, veterans have a lot of crafty moves. He did. He gave me the early eyes, which caused me to turn my head and they were able to get one over the top. Just seeing things, and just adding that to my tool box of things that I’ve seen before, so it’s not new, has also been big in helping me along.”

Okudah also has been leaning on his teammates, on both sides of the ball, to iron out the wrinkles in his game. Among the most important with helping him decipher the mindset of the receiver has been Marvin Jones. 

“I think Marv Jones has been a big help with me, just talking me through things that he sees,” Okudah said. “I’ve been utilizing him as a resource and that’s really helped me see things from a different perspective.”

Through five games, Okudah has been targeted 37 times, allowing 26 completions for 362 yards. He has yet to give up a touchdown, while netting one interception by undercutting a throw to Hopkins. 

Here’s how the rest of Detroit’s 2020 draft class is faring through six games:

D’Andre Swift

Even though he’s not the starter, Swift has quickly morphed into the lead back in Detroit’s backfield stable, leading the group in snaps each of the past two games. After shaking off some rust built up from a hip injury suffered in training camp, he’s been able to showcase his dual-threat ability, averaging 5.3 yards with his 35 carries and catching 20 of the 25 balls thrown his direction. 

He’s also scored a team-high five touchdowns, finding the end zone both running between the tackles and running a crisp route out of the backfield. 

With Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson still in the mix, it’s unlikely Swift will be asked to be a bell cow any time soon, but with continued, steady production, he’ll solidify his grasp on being the go-to option in critical situations. 

Julian Okwara

Prior to landing on injured reserve with a lower leg injury, Okwara was progressing slowly as a situational pass rusher. A healthy scratch in Week 2, he has yet to play more than 10 defensive snaps in a game. 

While flashing some ability to disrupt the pocket, Okwara is still looking for his first NFL tackle. It might be a while. The recent addition of Everson Griffen only clogs the path to playing time once Okwara is medically cleared to return to action. 

Jonah Jackson

A starter from the jump, Jackson began the year at right guard, but has shifted over to the left side in recent weeks while the team coped with injuries up front. Considering the lack of an offseason program, Jackson has been solid during his debut season.

He’s allowed a pair of sacks and also drawn a couple penalties, but that’s hardly concerning for a rookie who is essentially learning on the job. 

Logan Stenberg

Selected 46 picks after Jackson, Stenberg has yet to see the field this season. During training camp, the Lions briefly shifted him to center, but the rocky experiment was short-lived.

Stenberg has been working exclusively at guard in practice since the start of the season, but is buried on the depth chart behind veterans Joe Dahl and Oday Absoushi. At this rate, it appears 2020 will be a redshirt year for the rookie. Still, the Lions are enamored with his nasty, on-field demeanor. 

Quintez Cephus

When Kenny Golladay was hurt to start the season, the Lions leaned hard on Cephus, targeting him a team-high 10 times in the season opener. But with the receiving corps back at full strength, he’s been pushed into the background.

Cephus hasn’t seen a pass his direction since Week 2 and he’s been a healthy scratch the past two games. Unless the Lions do something drastic, like deal Marvin Jones at the trade deadline, there’s little reason to believe the team won’t stay the course with their current rotation. 

Jason Huntley 

Huntley flashed some intriguing potential in training camp, but not enough to make the roster. It’s likely the Lions thought they’d be able to get the small-school speedster through waivers and on to the practice squad, but he was scooped up the Philadelphia Eagles

John Penisini

The Lions appear to have unearthed a gem with the 325-pound defensive tackle. Showing steady improvement through the course of the year, he’s seen his workload increase in each of the first six games, peaking at 35 defensive snaps in the victory over Atlanta last Sunday. 

First and foremost, he’s a run stopper, so it’s not a coincidence the team’s run defense has shown marked improvement with Penisini’s increased playing time. 

Jashon Cornell

Cornell barely got out of the blocks before his season was ended by an Achilles injury during the early stages of training camp. He remains under contract for the next three seasons.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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