The Detroit Lions entered the 2020 NFL regular season with a sliver of hope. But the Pride would end the season without a head coach or a general manager as both Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn would be fired in late November. It would also be the team’s final year with quarterback Matthew Stafford under center.
But before the ultimate 5-11 demise, the Lions actually had hope they could turn things around. After all, the previous season, Detroit would go 2-1-1 through their first four games and appeared to be trending upwards before losing Stafford to a season-ending injury after Week Nine.
WIthout their longtime quarterback, the Lions didn’t win a single game in 2019. But their 3-12-1 record did earn them the third overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. And with Stafford set to return under center, the hope was Detroit might rebound with a talented draft class in tow.
Unfortunately, the Lions’ rookies struggled with injuries and inconsistency. And the lack of a true offseason training program severely stunted their growth. Here’s what Gennaro Filice wrote on NFL.com after grading the Lions’ 2020 draft class with a C-, ranking them 29th in the NFL.
“The last draft class of the Bob Quinn era did nothing in Year 1 to depress Detroit’s thriving “Rebuilding Since 1957″ merch market. Given his Ohio State corner pedigree and lofty draft slot, Okudah had to be the most disappointing first-round pick in the 2020 draft.”
Obviously, the poster child of the 2020 NFL Draft for the Lions is Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah. Drafted to replace three-time Pro Bowl defender Darius Slay, who was traded to the Philadephia Eagles last March, Okudah struggled with both injury and inconsistency as a rookie.
Selected third overall, Okudah was expected to be a full-time starter from Day One. Instead, he started just six of his nine games in 2020 as he clearly struggled with the speed on the NFL level, which most rookie cornerbacks do. According to Pro Football Reference, Okudah allowed a pass rating of 118.0 when targeted last season.
The Lions’ second-round selection, running back D’Andre Swift, appears to be the best of the bunch. Recording 521 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, Swift only started four games in 2020 as the team signed veteran running back Adrian Peterson just before the start of the season.
The Lions’ first of two third-round selections, defensive end Julian Okwara, was limited to only six games due to a right leg injury. He played just 50 total defensive snaps all year. The second third-rounder, guard Jonah Jackson, was a 16-game starter for Detroit but earned a disappointing
57.0 overall grade for his performance from Pro Football Focus, allowing five sacks and committing five penalties.
Other rookies worth mentioning from the Detroit Lions’ draft class of 2020 are fifth-round wide receiver Quintez Cephus and sixth-round defensive tackle John Penisini. Cephus recorded 20 receptions for 349 yards and two touchdowns and figures to have a more prominent role in 2021. While Penisini was a 12-game starter for the Lions, although it was on the league’s worst defense.