American Football

Jefff Okudah and the path to redemption

 

Jeff Okudah will be desperate to turn the page on what has been a rough start to his professional career. A standout corner at Ohio State, Okudah excelled so much that he became the first Ohio State cornerback to earn unanimous All-America honors amongst numerous other awards. This enhanced his reputation so much so that he’d go on to be the highest-drafted corner in NFL history when the Detroit Lions used the 3rd pick on him in the 2020 Draft. He was expected to flourish under the tutelage of Patricia and improve the Detroit secondary as the ball club had just had a disastrous year on the defensive side of the ball. However, the effect of the COVID 19 pandemic meant that NFL teams were unable to undergo their usual offseason programs and this no doubt had an effect on the player that was given the thankless task of immediately elevating a unit that was massively struggling, a tough ask for any player, talk less of a rookie.

He struggled in his rookie season under former head coach Matt Patricia’s dreadful man-to-man defense that failed to adequately pressure opposing quarterbacks. He missed week 1 with a hamstring injury, making his debut in week 2. It didn’t help that it was against Aaron Rodgers and he was burned all game by Davante Adams as he had to cover the all-world receiver due to injuries to the starting corners. Later in the year, he suffered a shoulder injury and eventually a groin injury in week 11 that would end his rookie season in which quarterbacks had a 118.0 passer rating when targeting Okudah. He was targeted 53 times and allowed 41 completions, had an interception and completed 47 total tackles in 9 games.

The 2020 season began with a lot of hope and expectations, especially from the man himself as he promised to use the experience of his rookie season as fuel to motivate himself to be better. All that was extinguished in the first game of the season against the San Francisco 49ers as he ruptured his Achilles tendon, an injury that ruled him out of the entire season. In his absence,  fellow Nigerian-American corner back, Amani Oruwariye enjoyed a breakout year. The 25 year old recorded six interceptions, good enough for third in the NFL and QB rating allowed of 36.0, which was the second best in the NFL for players targeted 50+ times all while missing the last three games of the season due to a broken thumb. Jerry Jacobs was tasked with replacing Okudah and the undrafted rookie was largely impressive and looked prime to nail down a starting spot until he was added to injury reserve after damaging his ACL. Their development would please coach Dan Campbell as he hopes to revitalize the struggling Lions.

It has been a tough start to his career, but Okudah has remained positive and is already ahead of schedule on his return from injury. As head coach, Dan Campbell pointed out “He reached out to me a couple of times just about wanting to be around the team and still feel like he was a part of it. And, he’s been up here rehabbing, he’s been working. And look, he’s hungry.”

Okudah has been widely labelled a bust by fans and some analysts who look at his high draft position and the fact that he has barely been able to stay on the field but that will be unfair to a player that was thrown into an unfavorable situation coming into the league and has barely had luck with injuries, all of which haven’t been his fault. With a coach that is willing to make things work, a rapidly improving surrounding cast and the support of his fellow Nigerians on the Lions roster, watch out for Jeff Okudah in the upcoming season as he sets about to silencing the doubters.

 

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