Allen Park — Jeff Okudah’s second season is over. The Detroit Lions’ second-year cornerback suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter of the team’s season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a league source confirmed to The Detroit News.
It’s a devastating blow for both the player and team. Okdauh had been a standout on the practice field throughout the offseason and appeared primed to make the developmental leap common for players between their first and second seasons.
And the Lions were counting on it. Even though Okudah was drafted by the franchise’s previous regime at No. 3 overall, the team’s new leadership had plenty of faith in his potential to be one of the league’s top young cornerbacks.
“He’s really been from Day One, meeting with him in the spring, you can tell he wanted to be better,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said at the start of training camp. “He wanted to be a lot better than he was last year. That was very evident. Let’s just call it what it is, you can’t be better if you’re not truly wanting to be better. Accept that what I put out there last year just wasn’t good enough. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but he’s done that.
“He’s very confident right now.”
Okudah also battled injuries during his rookie season. A hamstring issue cost him valuable practice time during training camp, after the early portion of the offseason program was conducted virtually in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That hamstring strain also kept Okudah sidelined for the season opener, and by the time he was medically cleared, injuries ahead of him on the depth chart immediately forced him into a starting role, where he struggled.
On throws his direction last season, Okudah allowed 77.4% to be completed for 594 yards and two touchdowns. He did record one interception, a spectacular diving effort in front of All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, but it was a rare bright spot before another injury, to a core muscle, ended his year after nine games.
Okudah had the core-muscle injury surgically addressed, acknowledging he tried to play through it before the team ultimately shut him down.
Throughout this offseason, Okudah’s confidence and playmaking had both been regularly on display. He also performed well during the preseason, outside of allowing one deep completion when he misread the play pre-snap and tried to anticipate a quick, short throw that never came.
In the season-opening loss to San Francisco, Okudah had an uneven day. The television audience saw him get chewed out by position coach Aubrey Pleasant after failing to be in the right position to make a tackle on a long touchdown run.
Okudah also gave up a 79-yard touchdown pass to 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel in the second half, where he had excellent positioning throughout the route, but failed to make an adjustment when the ball ended up being underthrown.
Okudah’s next challenge will be rehab. An Achilles injury is one of the toughest for NFL players to come back from because of the importance of the tendon to explosiveness. That said, there are examples of cornerbacks returning successfully, including Baltimore’s Jimmy Smith, who tore the tendon in December 2017 and returned early in the 2018 season, after serving a four-game suspension to start that year.
With Okudah out, the Lions likely will turn to another young option in the secondary, third-round draft pick Ifeatu Melifonwu, to fill the void in the starting lineup. He finished the season opener having played 12 defensive snaps.
The team also likely will need to add depth, potentially elevating Nickell Robey-Coleman or Parnell Motley from the practice squad.