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2020 NFL Draft Grades – Detroit Lions

Top picks Okudah and Swift are future stars, but the Lions have other rookie standouts prowling, as well.
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Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.

In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.

In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.

So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.

Therefore, over the next 30 days, will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.

Today’s team: Detroit Lions

Head Coach: Matt Patricia

General Manager: Bob Quinn

Players selected in 2020:

Round 1, Pick 3 overall: CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State

Round 2, Pick 35 overall: RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia

Round 3, Pick 67 overall: DE Julian Okwara, Notre Dame

Round 3, Pick 75 overall: OG Jonah Jackson, Ohio State

Round 4, Pick 121 overall: OG Logan Stenberg, Kentucky

Round 5, Pick 166 overall: WR Quintez Cephus, Wisconsin

Round 5, Pick 172 overall: RB Jason Huntley, New Mexico State

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Round 6, Pick 197 overall: DT John Penisini, Utah

Round 7, Pick 235 overall: DT Jashon Cornell, Ohio State

Undrafted Free Agents:

Hunter Bryant, TE, Washington

Aaryn Siposs, P, Auburn

Jalen Elliot, S, Notre Dame

Jeremiah Dinson, DB, Auburn

Steven Wirtel, LS, Iowa State

Overview of the Lions’ 2020 draft: Give Bob Quinn and his staff credit, no team filled a bigger hole with a better player than the Detroit Lions did at cornerback with Jeff Okudah at No. 3 overall. This matched the highest a cornerback has been selected in the modern era - Seattle took fellow Buckeye Shawn Springs here in 1997. But make no mistake, the remarkably agile 21-year old Okudah is a blue chip talent who provides defensive-minded head coach Matt Patricia with the same caliber cover corner he once had with three-time defending Pro Bowler Darius Slay, but at a much cheaper cost. And fear not, Lions fans, your long wait for a 1,000 yard rusher is nearly over now that D’Andre Swift – one of my favorite early picks for Offensive Rookie of the Year – is in town. His selection, along with that of powerful guards Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg, prove that Detroit is very much planning on continuing with a run-heavy offense built to complement Mattew Stafford and the Lions’ big play passing game. Quintez Cephus did not run well at the Combine but checks every other box, showing the refined routes, reliable hands and focus as a downfield blocker to compete for early playing time, perhaps even more so than the twitchy but still raw edge rusher, Julian Okwara, whose reunion with his brother, Romeo, in Detroit during this pandemic is something almost Shakespearean. Sticking to the script was the strategy for Quinn and the Lions in this draft, as the club dedicated five of their nine picks to the line of scrimmage, including underrated blue-collar defensive tackles John Penisini and Jashon Cornell late.

Best Player of the Lions’ 2020 Draft: CB Jeff Okudah

Again, I believe D’Andre Swift is capable of having a monster impact as a rookie for the Lions but even amongst the elite NFL prospects who have come through the Ohio State secondary in the past 20 years, Okudah stands apart. Let’s start off with just the physical tools. At 6-1, 205 pounds with 32 5/8” arms, Okudah has rare size for the position, especially given his athleticism. Okudah is a silky-smooth athlete with the light feet to accelerate in a flash, as well as the loose hips and greasy knees to change directions without downshifting, moving even more gracefully on the field than his very respectable 4.48 second showing in the 40-yard dash might indicate. Further, Okudah is a legitimate football player, not just an athlete. He is a reliable and physical tackler, with excellent hand-eye coordination to rip at the ball as it arrives and, in case you were wondering, he is just as squeaky-clean off the field as on it. He signed with Ohio State as the top prep cornerback in the country and steadily worked his way up a depth chart boasting three future first round picks, besides himself. Expected to shadow opponents’ top receiver immediately, Okudah is fortunate to have an opportunity to practice against a strong-armed and aggressive veteran quarterback like Stafford each day in practice, as well as well as the Lions’ varied and talented receiving corps. It is only fair to expect some growing pains for a rookie cornerback but Okuda looks every bit the bit of a franchise cornerstone.

Best Value of the Lions’ 2020 Draft: TE Hunter Bryant

Concerns about Bryant’s surgically-repaired left knee contributed to his falling out of the draft entirely and signing with Detroit as a free agent, but the tape shows a versatile H-back and slot candidate at 6-2, 248 pounds who, otherwise, warranted middle round consideration. Bryant’s 52 receptions for 825 yards were the second most ever by a tight end at the University of Washington, a program known for producing quality NFL prospects at the position, and he was not simply a function of the offense. Bryant is a legitimate matchup problem for linebackers and safeties, showing sticky hands, as well as both agility and power to be a weapon after the catch. Bryant is not going to be challenging last year’s top pick T.J. Hockenson as Detroit’s top target up the middle but he certainly is intriguing as a complement on the wing.

Best Project of the Lions’ 2020 Draft: DE Julian Okwara

Like his older brother, Romeo, Julian joins the Lions as a relatively unpolished but extremely “toolsy” edge rusher from Notre Dame whose best football should still be ahead of him. He measured in at 6-4, 252 pounds at the Combine, up nearly 40 pounds from when he signed on at Notre Dame and given his exceptionally long arms (34 3/8”) and still-lanky frame, he appears capable of getting significantly bigger and stronger. Okwara needs time to grow from a football perspective, as well. He often lined up as a stand-up edge rusher for Notre Dame but will likely be asked to drop down to the three-point stance as a more traditional 4-3 defensive end for the Lions. Whether with his hand in the dirt or not, Okwara’s burst off the snap, bend around the corner and length to lasso ball-carriers warrant his selection at No. 67 overall and hint that he will follow his older brother’s ascent as a legitimate starting NFL edge rusher. Suggesting that will happen as a rookie, however, seems far-fetched given that Okwara is coming off of an injury-shortened senior season due to broken fibula (left leg) and recorded just four sacks in eight full games prior to suffering the injury.

Overall Grade for the Lions’ 2020 Draft: B+

Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs