Jeff Okudah, Detroit Lions (at Minnesota Vikings)
It’s not unusual for first-year cornerbacks to struggle in the NFL—even highly-drafted ones. And Jeffrey Okudah of the Detroit Lions has been no exception.
Given that Okudah was the third overall pick in the 2020 draft, there were big expectations for the youngster out of Ohio State. And to be fair, Okudah hasn’t been terrible, especially of late. But for the season the 6’1″ 205-pounder is allowing over 70 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed and has a passer rating against of almost 100.
Still, as Logan Lamorandier wrote for All Lions, head coach Matt Patricia has been impressed by the progress Okudah has made as the season has worn on.
“Jeff, I think he’s improved every week,” Patricia said. “And really part of it has been the technique and the fundamentals, things like that. But, really now we’re starting to get into a little bit more awareness, a little bit more gameplan-type plays, things that repeat throughout the course of the season, kind of get his vision to open up a little bit more and see a bigger part of the field,” Patricia said. “Sometimes, that’s hard when you’re a corner, because you really see the game, I would call it, outside in. Those are things when offenses give you different formations, you have to absorb a little bit more, and I think that’s the part that he’s done a good job of in-game, kind of picking some of that up. I think that’s some of the improvement we’ve seen from him.”
Okudah has managed just one interception this season, but his tackle production has been decent—three games with six or more total stops. He has also already faced some big-name wideouts, including Green Bay’s Davante Adams and Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins.
This week brings another marquee matchup for Okudah—the Lions travel to face Adam Thielen and the Minnesota Vikings. Thielen has been targeted 53 times in seven games this season, so Okudah should see more than a few opportunities for IDP production in Week 9.
Malcolm Butler, Tennessee Titans (vs. Chicago Bears)
Butler is best known for a pair of Super Bowls—in Super Bowl XLIX, his interception of Russell Wilson sealed a win for the New England Patriots. In Super Bowl LII, his inexplicable benching led to the Patriots being scorched by Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. Bur as Mike Organ reported for the Nashville Tennessean, Butler would like to be known for somethings else—being dangerous with a football in his hands.
“I used to play offense in high school, and I always wanted to play offense, so once I get the ball, I try to show my running skills and my vision,” Butler said. “You don’t have many opportunities of getting the ball when you play defense. I was always told don’t go down until you’re tackled.”
Butler is paid like an elite corner, but his level of play in 2020 has been more good than great. In Week 8, Butler and the Titans welcome the Chicago Bears to Nashville. That means coverage duties against Allen Robinson, who ranks second in the league with 77 targets this season.
Last week against the Bears, Marshon Lattimore piled up eight total tackles (seven solo) in coverage against Robinson.
Steven Nelson, Pittsburgh Steelers (at Dallas Cowboys)
Nelson is one of the better corners in the NFL that many casual fans have never heard of. Despite a stellar passer rating against of just 65.8 last season, the 27-year-old isn’t often mentioned along the league’s elite cover men. Per Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain, while appearing on The Jim Rome Show, Nelson said that may be because he’s more steak than sizzle.
“It just comes with the territory. I haven’t had enough splash plays, and I recognize that. If you don’t get the splash plays you don’t get the recognition,” Nelson said. “That was my whole motto coming into this season was to make more splash plays than I had last season, even though last season I didn’t really give up too much. At the end, when it comes to the stats and all that kind of stuff, they look at the splash plays over everything.”
Nelson does have a pair of picks this season—both against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5. But that isn’t what makes Nelson a plus streaming play. It’s a combination of three 60-plus tackle seasons over five-plus seasons and a matchup with a Dallas Cowboys team giving up the most fantasy points to cornerbacks in 2020.