Where Does Jeff Okudah Go From Here?

Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Reports out of Detroit on Monday morning indicate that Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah suffered a ruptured Achilles and will miss the rest of the 2021 season. The NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero had it first. Okudah suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of the Lions’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

It’s a crushing blow for Okudah and the Lions.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, many analysts (including myself) hailed Okudah as one of the best prospects we’ve seen in some time at the cornerback position. His NFL arc up to date proves that nothing is guaranteed in the draft.

You can chalk 2021 up as a wasted season for Okudah, who really could have used this year to take a step forward in his development. Reports out of training camp were largely positive, but Okudah’s season is now over just as quickly as it began.

Where he goes from here is simple. He’ll be just 23 years old when the 2022 campaign kicks off. Okudah will be a year-three cornerback that will be the same age as some rookies. It means not all is lost for him, and he’ll have every opportunity to claw his way back to relevancy. The road will be difficult, but if all goes well, Okudah will have a chance to shine again.

It’s early, but there’s no denying Okudah has struggled with injury and consistency in the NFL thus far. As a rookie, he suffered a hamstring injury in training camp that carried over to the regular season. Okudah would later undergo season-ending surgery to resolve a core muscle injury in December.

Okudah would end up playing in just nine games as a rookie, and the results were far less than what Detroit expected them to be when they used a premium draft pick on him. Okudah finished the year with a coverage grade of just 30.9, and an overall grade of 42.5, both courtesy of PFF. It was a “welcome to the NFL” type of year for the former Ohio State standout. Okudah was often picked on by opposing quarterbacks and gave up 38 receptions on just 50 targets in 2020.

We also have to consider the severity of the injury here. A ruptured Achilles is a tough one to come back from, especially for a player that plays a position that requires one to stop on a dime and change direction. 

Just last week, we collaborated on an article with Dr. Derek Ochiai, an arthroscopic hip surgeon that serves on Virginia’s leading board-certified program. We discussed how an NFL player can return from an Achilles injury, and Dr. Ochiai’s words seem even more relevant on Monday.

“High-level athletes can come back from an Achilles tendon rupture,” Dr. Ochiai said. “It’s a tough injury, and NFL players may never be the same after it, but you can come back from it with a good surgery and a lot of rehab.”

Okudah has a long road to recovery ahead of him. At Ohio State, Okudah flashed lightning-quick feet and the ability to make rapid transitions in coverage. It will be an interesting case study to monitor what he looks like in 2022.

Written By:

Justin Melo

Writer, Interviewer

Justin Melo is an NFL draft analyst that cut his teeth at The Draft Breakdown and USA Today's Draft Wire. He specializes in interviewing prospects, but also produces big boards, mock drafts, and scouting reports. He also covers the Tennessee Titans nationally for Broadway Sports Media and SB Nation.

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