Heading into the 2022 NFL season, there were plenty of questions surrounding the Detroit Lions' 2020, third-overall pick, Jeff Okudah. Questions like, “would he start?” “Is he good enough to compete at the NFL level?” “Can he stay healthy enough to have an impact on the team?” all surrounded the oft-maligned, to an unfair extent, cornerback from the Ohio State University. Through ten games this season, Okudah has answered many of those questions and has put the “bust” talk to rest. And, for the Lions, this is a very good thing for the future.
What's the impact of Jeff Okudah's bounce back season?
Through the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Okudah's production on the field was nullified by two season-ending injuries. Those injuries limited Okudah to only 10 games through his first two seasons. And, at the beginning of the season, the questions surrounding his health led to his removal from a high position on the depth chart.
Jeff Okudah is the Lions' number-one corner, again
But, all of that seems to be a thing of the past as Okudah has answered the questions surrounding him this season, and is the Lions' number one corner per Pro Football Focus. None was bigger than his pick-six against Justin Fields on Sunday, tying the game in the fourth quarter. In speaking with Kyle Meinke of MLive.com, Okudah said,
I mean, honestly, I’m just enjoying this year…I’ve been through a lot of things my first two years, had plenty of lows. So I don’t take any of these moments for granted. Winning these games, being able to make plays, I don’t take any of that for granted. I’ve seen the other side of it. So I’m enjoying every single moment because you never know when the moment will be over.”Jeff Alper, Pro Football Talk
While Okudah's impact can clearly be seen in the secondary, even though that secondary isn't a great one, he can and does stand out at times. However, his great impact may not be in coverage but in run support.
Jeff Okudah's impact can clearly be seen in run support
Okudah is the highest-graded run defender on the Detroit Lions defense this season, with a grade of 75.7. Add to that he is tied for the team lead in tackles (45) with safety, Deshon Elliot, and one ahead of linebacker Alex Anzalone. To put it simply, Okudah is performing to a level that the Lions expected when he was drafted back in 2020, having a similar impact on this defense that he had on the Buckeye defense that earned him that draft position. For a defense that has struggled this season, the all-around impact of Jeff Okudah can be seen as a silver lining to an otherwise forgettable season.
The future of Jeff Okudah and the Detroit Lions
If we are to look into a crystal ball and think about the future of Okudah and the Detroit Lions, the marriage will definitely persist, especially when Okudah continues his production on the field. But the question becomes, what will his impact be on the salary cap for the Lions?
Jeff Okudah salary numbers moving forward
Okudah is currently in the third year of his rookie contract. This season he carries a cap hit of over $9 million. Moving forward next year he carries a $10 million cap hit, but a $5 million dead cap hit should he be cut, which based on the above should not be the case. The Lions will have the opportunity to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2024 season. Another situation where based on his production should be a no-brainer.
Seeing Okudah in the secondary for a few more years potentially should give the Lions the freedom and opportunity to build around a couple of lynchpins: Okudah, Kerby Joseph, Malcolm Rodriguez, and Aidan Hutchinson. Adding pieces to a foundation like this will give Brad Holmes the ability through free agency and the draft to get more pieces to the puzzle of building a solid defense that won't cost the team games in the future.