DETROIT – With their first pick in the draft and number 3 overall the Lions played it safe and chose Jeff Okudah a cornerback from Ohio State University. Okudah was rated as the best cornerback in the draft and with the trade of Darius Slay certainly fills a need. He is a big physical athlete who plays well in press coverage and isn’t afraid to tackle in run support. He should immediately become a starter, but was he the best pick for the Lions? Or will this be their Sam Bowie?
You remember Sam Bowie don’t you? He was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers one pick ahead of Michael Jordan. The Lions had the opportunity to draft quarterback Tua Tagovailoa from Alabama. Tagovailoa led Alabama to a national championship as a freshman and before his injury last fall was considered the presumptive first overall pick. Many talent evaluators consider him a generational talent. Will Lion fans look back at this draft and talk about what could have been? Trail Blazer fans do.
The Lions took Georgia running back D’Andre Swift with their second round pick. He is widely considered the best running back in this year’s draft. At 5”8’ and 212 pounds he may be a little on the small side, but was very productive at Georgia. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons. He also had significantly fewer carries than Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, and J.K Dobbins, three running backs also drafted in the second round. Swift also has good hands and blocks well for a running back. Definitely a solid pick.
The Lions went back to the defensive side of the ball with their first pick in the third round selecting outside linebacker Julian Okwara from Notre Dame. Okwara is seen as an edge rusher who probably would have went higher in the draft if he hadn’t suffered a broken leg. Opinions are mixed as to his ability to defend the run, but he does fill a need. He had 15 sacks over four years and is the younger brother of Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara.
Offensive line was the focus of the next two picks. Guard Jonah Jackson from Ohio State was taken with their second pick of the third round. Logan Stenberg a guard from Kentucky was the Lions fourth round selection. With the departure of Graham Glasgow, Jackson could end up starting this year. He played for the Lions coaching staff at the Senior Bowl so they are already familiar with his ability. This will take on added importance if offseason training is hindered by the Coronavirus lockdown. Stenberg describes himself as a “Nasty” blocker. At 6’6” and 317 pounds he has the size necessary to compete at an inside line position. If Joe Dahl is still bothered by back issues this could turn out to be a good pick.
With their two picks in the fifth round the Lions took wide receiver Quintez Cephus from Wisconsin and running back Jason Huntley out of New Mexico State. Cephus put up good numbers at Wisconsin with 1400 yards over the last two seasons, but will that translate to the NFL? He had the slowest 40-yard dash time at the combine running a 4.7. Huntley is fast and with Kerryon Johnson and Swift ahead of him his best chance at seeing the field with the Lions will probably be on special teams. He had three returns for a touchdown in 2018 and averaged 27 yards per return.
The final two picks addressed the defensive line. The Lions took John Penisini a defensive tackle from Utah in the sixth round and Ohio State defensive end Jashon Cornell in the seventh. Penisini had seven tackles for loss and two sacks last season. Cornell had four sacks last season, but was a backup for most of his time at Ohio State.
While only time will tell the Lions look like they got better as the result of this draft. They took the best cornerback and running back available in the draft. They also got an edge rusher who probably would have been a higher pick if not for a broken leg. It is also likely that at least one of the guards will start next season. Time will also tell us whether the safe pick was the correct pick. Will Okudah be our Bowie?