The top two cornerbacks taken in this year's draft will be on the field Sunday in Jacksonville as the Detroit Lions take on the Jaguars.
Jeff Okudah was selected by the Lions with No. 3 overall pick out of Ohio State. Florida's C.J. Henderson was taken six spots later by Jacksonville with the No. 9 pick. As is usually the case between players taken at the same position and a few picks apart, Okudah and Henderson will always be linked in a way.
Okudah missed the opener with a hamstring injury, but has been a starter when veteran Desmond Trufant has been out, and part of a rotation at cornerback when Detroit's been fully staffed at the position. He's played 170 snaps in three games with two starts. Pro Football Focus credits him with allowing 14 receptions on 19 targets for 238 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Opposing passers have a 93.6 passer rating when throwing at him.
Okudah could make his third start of the season Sunday with Trufant missing practice this week due to a hamstring injury he suffered against New Orleans.
Henderson's been a Day 1 starter for the Jaguars. He's started four games and missed Jacksonville's Week 5 contest vs. Houston with a shoulder injury. He's returned to practice this week and is expected be back in the lineup. Henderson's played in 194 snaps and is credited with allowing 13 receptions on 20 targets for 149 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Opponents have a 99.8 passer rating throwing his way.
The stats are pretty similar between the two early on. The Lions evaluated Henderson in the pre-draft process. Lions head coach Matt Patricia said Thursday he liked both players, but Okudah was their guy. Still, Patricia and the Lions have a lot of respect for Henderson and how he's played early this season.
"I thought he was another outstanding corner," Patricia said of Henderson. "He's big, he's long, he's fast.
"One of the things that he does outstanding is he's very violent through the pocket. When you watch him attack the pocket, or attack a receiver, his ability to come through because of his length and disrupt the catch is really outstanding. We've seen that transfer into the NFL. Just that violent attack on the receiver, it's pretty high level."
DECKER'S GOOD START
Consistency is a term we've heard a lot from Lions coaches over the last few weeks as they try to find the right buttons to push to help the Lions become a more consistent team on both sides of the ball.
It was also a term Patricia used Thursday in describing the play of left tackle Taylor Decker so far this season. Decker hasn't allowed a sack in any of Detroit's first four games, and he's been credited with allowing just 11 pressures overall against some tough defensive fronts in Chicago, Green Bay, Arizona and New Orleans. Decker is currently the eighth highest graded tackle in football by PFF.
"I think Taylor – he's done a great job over the last couple years of just constantly getting better, improving and building on top of that," Patricia said.
"Really, early in training camp there was a lot of – he and Trey Flowers just working against each other, and I would say (they are) two of the guys that are more technically sound that we have on our team, more fundamentally sound, and you can just see the improvement that those two were making as the training camp went on, just working against each other at that high level every day.
"I think (Decker) carried that over into the season really well. I think there's definitely some things that we have to improve, but I think he's been consistent, I would agree with you on that. I think he's done a great job."
The Lions will be looking for more consistent play from Decker Sunday in Jacksonville.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020.
The Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette early in the first round of the 2017 Draft to be their running back of the future. It was a big commitment with the No. 4 overall pick, and Fournette rewarded Jacksonville with two 1,000-yard seasons in his first three seasons.
But things went sour with that relationship this offseason, and the Jaguars released Fournette, who signed with Tampa Bay.
The lead back in Jacksonville in now undrafted rookie James Robinson out of Illinois State, proving running backs can be found any and all places up and down the draft board and even after the final pick of the seventh round.
Robinson might not have been a highly touted draft prospect, but he's filled in marvelously in the Jaguars backfield, rushing for 333 yards and three touchdowns, while averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He's also caught 19 balls for another 183 yards.
Robinson leads all rookies in scrimmage yards (516), which is the most by any undrafted player in his first six games since the 1970 merger (only needs 40 yds to pass Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay for record through seven games).
"I mean, thoroughly impressed with everything this guy has done and taken his opportunity to just play at a high level," Patricia said. "This guy runs really well. He runs with great pad level. He really runs with his shoulder pads over the ball. He does a good job of just getting downhill. I think he fits the mentality that (Head Coach Doug) Marrone wants to run the ball and (Offensive Coordinator Jay) Gruden wants to run the ball, the way that they want to run it."
Robinson will be a tough challenge Sunday for a Lions' defense currently allowing 170.3 yards per game on the ground.
"He does a good job on the power run game of getting downhill and getting that backside cut when it opens up off deep to divide the defense portion of the scheme," Patricia said. "I just think that the aggressiveness (in) which he runs – that stood out."
- The Lions are currently the only team in the NFL that has played all of their games against teams currently with winning records, per NFL Media Research: Arizona (3-2), Chicago (4-1), Green Bay (4-0), New Orleans (3-2). Detroit plays six of its next seven games against teams currently with losing records.