Analyst: Jeff Okudah the safe pick for Lions, Isaiah Simmons has higher ceiling
Allen Park — At the top of next week's draft, the Detroit Lions have a choice to play it safe or roll the dice on potential.
When it comes to making the conservative choice, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said it doesn't get much safer than Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah.
"I would put Okudah down as the safest for me," Jeremiah said about Detroit's options. "I know exactly what position he plays, I've seen him play that position against elite competition and I've seen him play at a very high, consistent level."
Lions general manager Bob Quinn has a history of making conservative selections in the first round of the draft. All four of his previous picks — Taylor Decker, Jarrad Davis, Frank Ragnow and T.J. Hockenson — came from big-time programs, carried minimal risks and had a clear-cut path to playing time.
Okudah fits that mold. Although cornerback is one of the more difficult transitions for a college prospect, the fundamentally sound Ohio State standout would face minimal resistance to winning a starting job as a rookie, playing opposite free-agent addition Desmond Trufant.
But playing it safe hasn't helped Quinn build a consistent winner in Detroit, and none of the aforementioned first-round choices have earned Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors in the early stages of their careers.
So if the Lions wanted to shoot for the moon with the No. 3 pick, they'd strongly consider high-ceiling Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
"The most upside I would say is Simmons because of all the different things he can do," Jeremiah said. "He's a special athlete and gives you so much flexibility as a defensive coordinator."
Analysts are struggling to come up with an adequate pro comparison to Simmons, a modern-age defensive hybrid who is built like a linebacker but plays more like a safety.
After stuffing the stat sheet for Clemson last season — tallying 104 tackles (16.5 for a loss), eight sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles — the 6-foot-4, 238-pounder put on a show at the scouting combine.
In one of the more eye-popping performances for a linebacker in the event's history, Simmons ran his 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds while leaping 39 inches in the vertical and 132 inches in the broad jump.
The biggest concern is where he would fit on a defense.
"There's a little bit of risk there just because he does so many different things," Jeremiah said. "You've got to hope you get him comfortable before you start really expanding his role."
And with the Lions, where does he play?
The team committed $30 million over three years to Jamie Collins, a similarly versatile, albeit bigger, linebacker who is equally comfortable rushing the passer as he is dropping into coverage. Additionally, the Lions' depth chart is jammed packed at the position, with Davis, Christian Jones and last year's second-round pick Jahlani Tavai commanding snaps.
Simmons also has some skill set overlap with safety Tracy Walker, who emerged as Detroit's go-to defender covering tight ends in 2019.
Unlike Okudah, there isn't a clear path to playing time for Simmons, and with Quinn's job on the line this year, he might not be around to see Simmons reach his potential if the rookie isn't able to contribute much in his debut season.
The other defender who has occasionally been mentioned as a first-round option for the Lions is Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, but Jeremiah has the interior lineman firmly behind Okudah and Simmons on his personal draft rankings.
"I think Derrick Brown is a dominant player against the run and he can collapse the pocket," Jeremiah said. "He impacts the game on a down-by-down basis, but he's not an elite pass-rusher. I think he'll be a competent, good pass-rusher, but he's going to be more pushing the pocket than double-digit sack guy."
Ex-Lions staffer survives COVID-19
A former Lions video assistant was discharged from a Georgia hospital on Thursday after a five-week battle against COVID-19.
Jeremy Klawsky, 32, briefly worked with the Lions as a video assistant before taking a job at the University of Georgia in 2018.
According to the Athens Banner-Herald, Klawsky fell ill on March 2 with his temperature eventually peaking at 105 degrees. During his stay at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, he had to be placed on a ventilator.
Hundreds reportedly attended his discharge on Thursday, including Georgia coach Kirby Smart and the school's athletic director Greg McGarity.
"We are just thrilled that he is home,” his mother Sherry Klawsky told the Banner-Herald. "The hardest part of when he was on the ventilator is over. He’s home now and he can start to get stronger and really move forward."