Jeff Okudah had a disappointing first season in the NFL, one that was slow-starting because of the coronavirus pandemic and cut short by injury.
But if recent months are any indication, Okudah is a prime candidate for a break out in Year Two.
Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said Okudah has been a regular in the team’s Allen Park practice facility this offseason, where he is rehabbing from December groin surgery, and the organization has made it clear it is counting on him to be a starting cornerback this fall.
“He was in the building today,” Wood said Wednesday. “He’s in on a regular basis and I think he feels energized about the new coaching staff as well as a number of the other players, too.”
Okudah spoke about his tough rookie season in January, when he acknowledged he dealt with “dysfunction” during the season and said the all-is-perfect fantasy bubble he lived in as a top college player at Ohio State had popped in the NFL.
Okudah lost as many games in the month of November — four — as he did during his entire career at Ohio State, and he dealt with a groin injury much of the season that the Lions were at first reluctant to have surgically repaired.
“I think that it was really hard to come to the terms of just not playing to the standard of city of Detroit and what they expect to see out there,” Okudah said. “So I think going forward, definitely have that on my mind and definitely something that is really going to fuel my hunger this offseason. Not necessarily trying to prove everyone wrong, just trying to prove a lot of people right.”
The No. 3 pick of last year’s draft, Okudah played in nine games and made six starts for the Lions last fall. He finished with 47 tackles and had one of just four interceptions by a Lions cornerback last season, but also allowed a 118 passer rating against, according to Pro Football Reference.
Still, the Lions cut one veteran cornerback (Desmond Trufant) and let another walk in free agency (Darryl Roberts) free agency. Okudah and third-year corner Amani Oruwariye should be their starters this fall.
On Thursday, the Lions signed Corn Elder to compete for nickel duties, but Mike Ford is the only other cornerback on the roster.
General manager Brad Holmes said more moves at the position could be coming, including in this month’s draft. But the Lions’ actions so far this offseason — along with Trufant and Roberts, they released Justin Coleman — indicate they will be leaning heavily on Okudah in their new-look secondary.
“It is a young group that we have now,” Holmes said. “I really like the group that we have in terms of the youth and the upside. The coaching staff that we have on board, starting with Aubrey Pleasant, Aaron Glenn, I do think that those guys will help those young kids tremendously in their development, but that is a position that we’ll continue to look to address now and through the draft.”