Interceptions are very difficult to predict, but they are so crucial to the game; I would argue now more than ever.
The more possessions teams can get for their offense, the better chance they have to win. It's not about limiting yards and drives of the other team anymore, it's about getting that extra one or two chances to put up points and control the clock. Accordingly, it's important for players to get turnovers; interceptions being a big piece of that puzzle.
Playing cornerback as a rookie is one of the most difficult things to ask of a young, green pro. It’s arguably the second hardest position to play as a rookie behind quarterback. But each season there are first-year players who can come in and not only perform well enough to be consistent starters but also grab some of those almighty turnovers.
Last year, Buccaneers’ Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill, led the NFL in interceptions for rookies (three); a slew of other first-year defensive backs, among linebackers and safeties, grabbed two including Jamel Dean, Nick Needham and Amani Oruwariye.
Who could be at the top of the rookie turnover list from the 2020 cornerback class?
Let's start at the top of the class with Jeffrey Okudah, who was selected by the Lions with the No. 3 pick. The big knock on Okudah coming into his junior season at Ohio State was his lack of turnovers. Through his first two seasons, he had yet to record an interception. But in his final year, he grabbed three, which was a testament to his ball skills and recovery speed.
Okudah joins a depth chart that also features veteran Desmond Trufant on the other side, which is important. When a team is starting rookie cornerback, they often have a target on their back. When they’re a highly drafted starting rookie cornerback, that target is even bigger and they are likely guarding the opponents’ top wide receiver — or at least getting manipulated into doing so for most of the game. With Trufant also in Detroit, Okudah won't have to always guard the top receiver and will get some attention thrown his way with better matchups against WR2s or WR3s. This could yield a good amount of interceptions if he can play all 16 games.
After Okudah, the situations aren't as favorable.
C.J. Henderson is a talented player, but as the top cover corner in Jacksonville backing up an offense that might struggle to control games, he will likely be attacked with big, strong X receivers on a weekly basis. This could result early struggles if some breaks don't go his way. A.J. Terrell is in a similar situation in Atlanta. After the Falcons moved on from Trufant, Terrell will be asked to take some of the best receivers in the NFC right off the bat, including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Michael Thomas twice a year; that’s no easy task.
The Raiders seem to really like their first-round pick, Damon Arnette, but there might be a strong adjustment period for him too, especially if he is playing in the slot. Noah Igbinoghene is in the best situation, outside of Okudah, in terms of the depth chart. Igbinoghene joins Byron Jones and Xavien Howard in Miami, but with only one interception at Auburn, it's hard to bet on a big number in Year 1.
Beyond Okudah, my best bets for the rookie cornerback interception title comes from Day 2 of the draft.
The first is Jaylon Johnson, who was selected 50th overall by Chicago. The Bears were second in interceptions last year (10) and still have Kyle Fuller as their top cover corner with a strong front seven. Even with the departure of safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, Chicago has the talent to not expose Johnson too much as a rookie starter, if he wins the job. And if he does, Johnson has the ball skills with six interceptions over the last two collegiate seasons and the mentality to grab a few in 2020.
The other player is Michael Ojemudia, who the Broncos drafted with their 77th pick. Ojemudia had three interceptions in each of his last two seasons at Iowa. Betting on him to be a potential interception leader comes from those ball skills and his long frame at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds. Ojemudia has Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Jurrell Casey, Dre'Mont Jones, McTelvin Agim and DeMarcus Walker creating pressure on the pocket. Ojemudia is paired with a secondary that also already has Bryce Callahan, A.J. Bouye, Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons. Ojemudia should have plenty of relief to not get picked on and could, in turn, become a spot starting opportunist.