The Atlanta Falcons continued a busy month of actively upgrading their defense Tuesday, sending a fifth-round pick to the Lions for cornerback Jeff Okudah.
Okudah, 24, was the third overall pick in the 2020 draft. He had 73 tackles last season in 15 starts after totaling only 10 games in his first two seasons. The Falcons will take on the final year of his rookie contract, paying him $5.2 million, and will have to quickly make a decision on a more significant commitment, whether to exercise a fifth-year option for 2024 at a cost of about $11.5 million guaranteed.
The Falcons have one strong starter at cornerback in A.J. Terrell, another 2020 first-round pick, and Okudah will compete with veteran Casey Hayward, 33, on the opposite side. He could be a fifth new defensive starter added in the past month, joining defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle David Onyemata, linebacker Kaden Elliss and safety Jessie Bates. Atlanta also has a new defensive coordinator in Ryan Nielsen, who took over after Dean Pees retired.
As we stated above, no one should be surprised that Okudah was moved. Detroit gave him a chance, and while he did play in a career-high 15 games in 2022, he still wasn’t able to completely avoid injuries. An elbow injury caused him to miss the regular-season finale, and he also missed Detroit’s Week 12 matchup against the Buffalo Bills with a concussion. You could make the argument this isn’t “terrible” compensation for a player the Lions were going to move on from, but still, this is a former No. 3 overall pick.
Truth be told, the jury is still out on Okudah. If he’s the player the Lions knew in 2020 and 2021, then Detroit clearly wins this trade. But the young defensive back showed promise in the early stages of last season. Ultimately, the Lions are admitting they missed on a pick.
While injuries limited Okudah to just 10 games over his first two pro seasons, he started 15 games for the Lions in the 2022 season and played his best football early in the season. He set career highs in tackles and passes defended while recording his first career pick-six in 2022.
Falcons take a chance
The Falcons can afford to take on young players who washed out elsewhere. They’re looking for building blocks.
The Lions want to compete now. They needed to upgrade the pass defense and signed cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The additions made Okudah expendable.
New Lions general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell have done a good job leading a rebound from a horrible era under Patricia and Quinn. They’re still cleaning house a bit, and on Tuesday that meant Okudah was moving on.
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