Amani Oruwariye: ‘Time for the world to really see’ what Lions CB Jeff Okudah can do

Detroit Free Press

Not much has gone right the past two seasons for Jeff Okudah.

The No. 3 pick of the 2020 NFL draft, Okudah struggled through his rookie year before electing to undergo late-season groin surgery. This season, Okudah ruptured his Achilles tendon in Week 1 and missed the rest of the year.

Okudah has missed more than twice as many games (23) as he has played (10) in his first two NFL seasons, and has struggled when on the field.

But one of Okudah’s Detroit Lions teammates remains convinced he is headed for big things in 2022.

“I’m just excited for his future,” Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “I can’t wait to see cause people, it’s been two years and people still don’t know what Jeff Okudah can do. I’ve seen it. It’s just time for the world to really see.”

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A rare top-five pick at the cornerback position. Okudah remains an important yet uncertain part of the Lions’ future.

Oruwariye emerged as the team’s No. 1 cornerback this season, intercepting a career-high six passes before missing the final three games with a broken thumb.

Undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs played well in nine starts at the other outside cornerback spot, but he suffered a torn ACL in December and could miss the start of next season.

The Lions have two more promising rookie cornerbacks in Ifeatu Melifonwu and A.J. Parker, but no one with Okudah’s enormous upside.

Pegged as a future star in college, Okudah had a rough transition to the NFL.

He allowed a 118 passer rating in nine games (six starts) as a rookie, according to Pro Football Reference, and clashed with management over an injury he said dated to his college days at Ohio State. The injury impacted Okudah’s ability to open up and run at top speed, and he seemed overwhelmed at times by the Lions defensive system.

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Playing for new coaches and in a new scheme this season, Okudah flashed his potential this summer.

He had a strong training camp, but allowed a 43-yard pass in limited preseason action and got beat for another long pass early in his only game. That play led to a heated sideline exchange with secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant, and a quarter later, Okudah was being helped off the field with a torn Achilles.

“His injury was pretty gruesome, so he had his own kind of stuff that he had to deal with, with that, physically, mentally, everything that comes with that,” Oruwariye said. “So he hasn’t obviously gotten a chance to be around as much, but I mean, I’m so excited for next year for him because I saw him work with a purpose and with a mentality this offseason to set himself up for this, for the season. And to see him go down like that is just heartbreaking.”

Okudah stayed in Detroit for most of his rehab, which allowed him to be around the team.

He attended defensive back meetings and watched practices during the season, occasionally riding a knee scooter out on the field.

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Lions coach Dan Campbell said that should help Okudah be in a position to contribute whenever he’s ready to return.

“He’s hungry,” Campbell said. “I mean, he’s ready to go. He’s ready to take the next step into his rehab and physically get ready to hit the offseason running. It’s good. Look, it’s one of those unfortunate things where injury has struck again, but all you can do is try to come back better than ever and have yourself 100% ready to go. And so look, he’s of the right mindset. That’s all you can ask for in a player.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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