It’s been just over one calendar year since the 2020 class of corners saw six names go on night one. With expectations in abundance for each of the names to follow, there’s been a change of course in career projection unlike anything we’ve seen for a position group in recent memory. While one stands out as the lone positive, a deeper dive into the class revealed an ugly truth, and even less attractive production.
No. 3 overall: Jeff Okudah, Detroit Lions
The next elite secondary prospect from the cornerback pipeline that is Ohio State, Okudah was a player looked upon by scouts to possess the ideal size and length to play aggressive man coverage without the fear of getting beat from the start of his NFL career in Detroit. A three-year starter in Columbus, Okudah allowed just 23 receptions on 426 coverage snaps in his final year, with the longest his completion went for being just 28 yards. In man coverage alone, Okudah allowed just 25 receptions from 62 total targets in three seasons, recording one interception and 13 forced incompletions.
Detroit looked to Okudah as their shutdown corner for the future, a role unoccupied for many teams across the league, but so far, it’s been wasted value. Following his rookie season in which he appeared in just nine games due to a nagging groin injury, Okudah ruptured his Achilles in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, ending his season before it ever got started. While training camp offered a glimpse into the improvement of his game on the outside, Okudah allowed a 79-yard touchdown against San Francisco, once again raising doubts toward the former No. 3 overall selection.
The first corner selected in the top three since Seattle took Shawn Springs in 1997, Okudah’s lack of availability early in his career has presented an awfully troubling conundrum for general manager Brad Holmes moving forward. Whether Okudah returns 100% or not, virtually zero production from a top-five pick heading into a player’s third campaign is the worst-case scenario.
No. 9 overall: C.J. Henderson, Jacksonville Jaguars (Traded to Carolina)
A once-dominant secondary, following the trades of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, the Jaguars anointed Henderson as CB1 in their immediate re-tooling efforts. A 6-foot-1 dynamic combination of press cover skills, elite athleticism, and ball skills in space, Henderson failed to gel in Jacksonville, and tensions were only increased with the hiring of Urban Meyer. Appearing in just eight games prior to his placement on injured reserve last fall, Henderson’s career in Jacksonville could be best described as uninspired. Following a Week 3 injury to the Panthers’ 2021 first-round corner Jaycee Horn, Henderson was sent to Carolina in hopes of a fresh start. While Horn’s injury doesn’t look to be season-ending, however long he is on the shelf will present Henderson the opportunity to find his legs within a Carolina defense among the league’s best through three weeks.
No. 16 overall: A.J. Terrell, Atlanta Falcons
The diamond of the bunch, if you will, Terrell, unlike any of his first-round comrades, has lived up to expectations thus far. Amassing 14 appearances in his first year, Terrell has enjoyed a nice start to his sophomore campaign totaling nine tackles, a TFL, and two passes defensed, working in roughly 83% of the Falcons’ defensive snaps. A finisher among the top 10 in tackles among all first-year defenders last fall, Terrell’s ceiling as a pro in Atlanta has only risen since he arrived. Inactive in Week 3 against the New York Giants due to a head injury, Terrell is on track to return Sunday.
No. 19 overall, Damon Arnette, Las Vegas Raiders
Okudah’s running mate at Ohio State, Arnette represented the latest reach—at the time—by Raiders power duo Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden. A seven-game starter last fall, Arnette was benched by Gruden in his first season. A role in which he failed to earn back later in the season, Arnette’s second season hasn’t gotten off to a hot start either, allowing three completions on five targets for 75 yards, good for 25.3 yards a pop. While his lack of success can be attributed to his scheme fit or lack thereof in Gus Bradley’s defense, Arnette has the fundamental ability to adjust and succeed, it just takes the correct mentorship and opportunity to get him going. For now, however, his selection looks to have been a reach.
No. 30 overall, Noah Igbinoghene, Miami Dolphins
An addition to improve a weak Dolphins secondary from 2019, the former Auburn standout was expected to join Xavien Howard and free-agent Byron Jones as the newfound punch within Miami’s secondary. 17 games into his career, and Igbinoghene has found himself quickly relegated to a special teams role. Similar to the rest of his first-round classmates, he enjoyed major struggles in his rookie season and hasn’t regained his form early in his second campaign. A sign of just how his stock has plummeted since last spring requires a look no further than to his listing as a healthy scratch for Miami in Week 1 against New England.
No. 31 overall: Jeff Gladney, Minnesota Vikings
Gladney is not currently on an NFL roster. If that doesn’t offer you a glimpse into how the last 17 months have gone for the former TCU product, I don’t know what to tell you.
With recently failed late first-rounder Mike Hughes also gone from Minnesota, the Vikings haven’t enjoyed success with selecting corners in the first round, to say the least. A starter in 15 games last fall, Gladney’s mishaps didn’t come via injury or a lack of fit in the scheme, he simply just wasn’t good. Targeted 88 times as the primary defender in coverage, Gladney allowed nearly 12 yards per reception, a 118.1 passer rating, and six touchdowns. Gladney was indicted in August by a Texas grand jury for felony assault of a woman and was released by Minnesota.
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