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Setting expectations for the Lions CB in 2022

Setting expectations for the Lions CB in 2022

It’s hard to go more than a few minutes or sentences into any Detroit Lions preview for 2022 without hitting one of the biggest question marks on the team. Cornerback Jeff Okudah is a major wild card, a highly divisive presence and a misunderstood player all wrapped into the No. 1 jersey.

That’s what happens when the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft has the unfortunate start to his career that Okudah has endured. He’s played in just 10 games thanks to two major injuries. Okudah didn’t play impressively in his nine games in his rookie season, either.

Many fans are stridently hopeful Okudah can become an above-average starter in 2022. Just as many fervently believe he’s the Lions’ biggest draft bust since Charles Rogers and are done with him being in Detroit. Entering training camp in a couple of weeks, it’s impossible to say that either side is wrong.

It’s a critical season for Okudah as a player and for the Lions to learn if he’s part of the future. Coming off Achilles tendon surgery last September, Okudah is on the spot. So what happens with Okudah in 2022?

Here’s my best guess at his Detroit fate this coming season.

I think Okudah looked fantastic physically during the recent minicamp and OTAs. You’d never know he tore his Achilles. The burst and the acceleration actually looked better than in his rookie season. I’m not worried about the athleticism or speed; Okudah appears more muscular in the shoulders and thighs than ever before and the added bulk hasn’t slowed him down.

But running speed and playing speed are separate entities, and that’s where the concern creeps in for Okudah. Before the injuries, even going back to his days at Ohio State, Okudah wasn’t a guy who just turned it loose. He doesn’t have the “chase” gear many DBs (and WRs for that matter) have out in the open field.

Pair that with his indecisive coverage instincts and it’s a problem. We all saw that in 2020, especially with speedy receivers on the outside. Indecision is an even worse trait at safety (see: Will Harris), which is why any talk of moving the pensive Okudah to that spot is ridiculous.

Moving him inside to the slot, however…

The Lions are definitely considering using Okudah inside, at least some of the time. Two different Lions coaches mentioned the idea to me during Senior Bowl week. It’s a combination of factors:

His excellent tackling
Mitigates his slower make-up speed
Lack of anyone established in the slot
More…

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