They had the worst pass defense in the NFL last season, and on the first day of the 2020 NFL draft Thursday, the most sensible option always was going to be taking the best cornerback available.
The Detroit Lions made Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah the No. 3 pick of the first round Thursday.
Okudah joins Denzel Ward, Jalen Ramsey and Patrick Peterson as the only cornerbacks to go in the top five of the last 17 drafts, and he’s the highest player picked at his position since Shawn Springs went third overall to the Seattle Seahawks in 1997.
The Lions have shuffled personnel across their defense this offseason, and Okudah joins cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Duron Harmon in a new-look secondary.
A junior who was a first-team All-American last season in his only full year as a starter, Okudah was widely considered one of four blue-chip defensive players in the draft.
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LSU quarterback Joe Burrow went No. 1 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals and Okudah’s teammate, defensive end Chase Young, went No. 2 to Washington.
The Lions were believed to be considering Okudah, Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown and Clemson hybrid Isaiah Simmons with their pick, but Okudah’s positional value, polish and upside were was enough to make him the selection.
At Ohio State, Okudah had three interceptions among nine passes defensed last season and allowed a passer rating of 45.3 on throws into his coverage area, according to Pro Football Focus.
He takes over for Darius Slay, who was traded last month to the Philadelphia Eagles, as the Lions’ No. 1 cornerback, and if he reaches his ceiling he could join Slay as the Lions’ only All-Pro defensive backs since Lem Barney in the 1960s.
“Just the size, the length, the physicality. The instincts,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said in a teleconference last week. “I always say with corners, if you can’t find the ball in college, most times those guys can’t find the ball in the NFL. This kid can find and play the football. He’s got really good awareness, and again, I think the other trait with top cornerbacks when you study them around the league at the NFL level is there’s kind of a dog to them, there’s a competitiveness to them, there’s a toughness to them, an edge. And I think this kid plays with that type of toughness and competitiveness on the field.”
The Lions allowed an NFL-worst 284.4 passing yards per game last season and tied for last in the league with seven interceptions.
Okudah, Trufant, who agreed to a two-year free-agent deal last month after being released by the Atlanta Falcons, and Justin Coleman, a top free-agent signing in 2018, project as the Lions’ starting cornerbacks this fall, with Harmon and Tracy Walker at safety.
The Lions entered Friday with nine picks in the draft, including four of the first 85 selections. They still have starting spots to fill at right guard and perhaps on their defensive line, and need backup help at wide receiver and running back.
The last time they drafted a cornerback in the first round was 1998, when they took Tennessee's Terry Fair with the 20th pick, one spot ahead of Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss.
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