'Driven' rookie Jeff Okudah shows Lions he's ready for some football

John Niyo
The Detroit News

The Lions had a pretty good idea what they were getting when they used the No. 3 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft on Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah.

But after more than a month of meetings, his new coaches and teammates in Detroit say they might’ve got even more than they bargained for when it comes to the rookie’s appetite for learning.

Jeff Okudah

“He’s driven like few men I’ve been around in this profession,” defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said Wednesday during a video conference call with reporters. “I know that and I can tell that, albeit on a Zoom call. The guy, he’s nonstop, to the point where it’s like, ‘Jeff, can we not talk about football for like five minutes? Do you do anything else? Like, what are we doing?’ That’s how he’s wired.”

Undlin laughed, because that’s actually one of the personality traits that sold the Lions on Okudah this winter as they weighed their options at the top of the draft. His performance as a lockdown corner at Ohio State made the consensus All-American an obvious fit for Detroit as Matt Patricia continued to overhaul his defense. But Okudah’s study habits and diligence off the field is what ultimately sold the Lions’ scouts and coaches.

“It’s something that’s so rare and unique, his ability to go in and study and outwork everybody that he plays against,” Patricia said after the draft. “Just his wanting to be great, his wanting to go compete and his wanting to go make the team better and go win. I think that’s everything that we want."

Prior to the draft, Okudah sought out some of the NFL’s top cornerbacks, soliciting advice from the likes of Stephon Gilmore, Tyrann Mathieu, Jalen Ramsey and former Lions Pro Bowler Darius Slay. And now that he has joined the Lions — virtually, at least — the curiosity has only grown.

“Just off of his college career, he already knew what type of guy he is, so I feel like he’s coming in here pretty confident in his ability,” said cornerback Justin Coleman, one of the holdovers from last season in the Lions’ secondary. “But he’s also hungry. I can see he wants to learn everything possible. He’s asking questions when we’re on Zoom meetings and he just wants to know more. Coach is going over plays or whatever and he’s asking questions about certain things that don’t even have to do with cornerback.”

It’ll be another month, at least, before the Lions’ coaches get a chance to work with Okudah in person. But clearly, the anticipation is building for a rookie who is expected to step in immediately as a starter this fall.

“We'll make that decision down the road,” Undlin said. “But after the last three months, after we had the opportunity to draft him, it's been nothing but impressive and I'm super excited for him and his future. There’s no depth chart set yet, we haven’t practiced yet, so we’ll see what that looks like when we get back. But as far as right now, it’s been very good.”


Twitter: @JohnNiyo