The Detroit Lions spent last week in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine evaluating and meeting with 319 draft-eligible candidates. They are looking for upgrades across the roster, but particularly on defense and especially at cornerback, which depending on how free agency plays out later this month, could be a big need for the Lions in the draft.
Veterans Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs are back at cornerback for the Lions, and the team is hoping Okudah takes another step in his development going into his fourth season. Okudah played terrific to start the season, but his play dipped late, something defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn chalked up to being part of the life of a young cornerback in the NFL.
It's important to still think of Okudah as a young cornerback in this league after he finished his first full season without dealing with major injury this past year. Okudah played just nine games his rookie season before a core muscle injury shut him down, and he didn't even make it through one game in 2021 because of a torn Achilles.
"He is a young player," Glenn said of Okudah last week at the Combine. "He still has a ways to go. He came in and got hurt his first year. Then obviously he got hurt his second year. He had a chance to really play this year and he understands there's always going to be competition and we're always going to create that competition."
Okudah played in 15 games this past season and finished with 73 tackles, seven passes defended and had an interception he returned for a touchdown against Chicago. Opposing passers completed 61.5 percent of their passes throwing at Okudah with two touchdowns and a 97.0 passer rating, per Pro Football Focus stats.
He relinquished playing time late in the season because of some inconsistencies with his play. He missed the final game of the season due to an elbow injury.
"He has to improve," Glenn said. "I will say that, along with everybody else on our defense. And he knows that, and he did improve.
"But there is always going to be peaks and valleys when you play that position. You try to stay at the top as much as you can. But it's hard, it's hard. But I'll tell you what, he is busting his butt. He's trying his butt off to be at that top of the peak all the time."
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The Lions will also have to decide on Okudah's fifth-year option to his rookie contract by May 1.
It sounds like Glenn believes we still haven't seen Okudah's best yet after he did take strides forward last season. There's going to be a lot of competition in the cornerback room this offseason and plenty of new faces. Expect Okudah to put in the work to continue to elevate his game and try to remain a key player in what the team hopes is a much-improved defense in 2023.