What Falcons, Lions each gained from trade of CB Jeff Okudah

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The Atlanta Falcons continued a busy month of actively improving their defense on 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 just 10 games in his first two seasons. The Falcons will enter the final year of his rookie contract, paying him $5.2 million, and will have to make a decision quickly on a bigger commitment if they exercise a fifth-year option for 2024 at a cost of ‘about $11.5 million guaranteed. .

The Falcons have a strong starter at cornerback in AJ Terrell, another 2020 first-round pick, and Okudah will compete with 33-year-old veteran Casey Hayward on the opposite side. He could be a fifth new defensive starter added last 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.

Can a fresh start bring a better game for Okudah? The 6-foot-1, 205-pound cornerback has two interceptions in 25 career games and was ranked as the NFL’s No. 77 cornerback (out of 81) by Pro Football Focus last season. He was a coveted draft prospect three years ago coming out of Ohio State, as the top defensive back in a hit-and-miss draft class. He was limited by hamstring and abdominal injuries his rookie year and missed all but one game in his sophomore season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, but returned to health last year.

Atlanta’s defensive overhaul was much needed as the Falcons ranked 27th in total defense last season, also ranking in the bottom 10 in the league in pass defense (25th), interception percentage ( 24th) and scoring defense (23rd). The Falcons finished 7-10, but just one game out of first place in the NFC South, which will be very much up for grabs again in 2023.

The pick the Falcons sent to the Lions was the pick they received from the Jaguars for wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who missed the 2022 season while under suspension. Atlanta entered the offseason with about $67 million in available salary cap space, the second-most of 32 teams, and the Falcons have been among the league’s most active spenders in free agency.

The trade makes it more likely Atlanta will use its first-round pick, No. 8 overall, to an advantage, after ranking last in the league in sacks the past two seasons. The Falcons have backed up second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder, who is expected to be their starter in 2023 after a four-game debut in his rookie season. The expected demand for quarterbacks at the top of the draft should mean at least three if not four pass rushers go in the top seven picks for the Falcons, giving them an impact pass-rusher or perhaps their pick of offensive linemen in the draft.

The perspective of lions

If there was any doubt that the Lions would target a cornerback with one of their first picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, I have to think it went out the window and down to Atlanta.

That immediately unloads more than $5 million off Detroit’s cap, which is what Okudah was guaranteed through 2023. Detroit now has the second-most caps in the league thanks to shedding Okudah’s contract and the same Okudah starts again.

The Lions have the sixth and 18th overall picks in the first round. His first four picks are in the top 55. It means they have plenty of options when it comes to filling their need for a blocking corner, which they thought Okudah might have been. At six, it’s very possible that one of the top two corners in the draft in Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez are gone, and it’s highly unlikely that both are off the board.

Witherspoon could be reunited with former college teammate Kerby Joseph in Detroit. Joseph had immediate success in his rookie season, even picking off Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice in a single game and three times overall last season.

In fact, several rookies thrived within Detroit’s defense last year. Second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson led the team in sacks with 9.5. He was followed by sixth-round pick James Houston, who had eight catches in seven games played. If any staff knows how to get production out of young players, it seems to be Detroit’s.

They will have to be, given the state of their secondary currently. Jerry Jacobs stayed in eight games started for the team in his second year. Another step forward for him could help round out a rotation that now includes veterans Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley. They were Detroit’s free agency signings, and at 28 and 27 years old, respectively, they are now the leaders of the cornerback room. But the Lions still need plenty of depth. That’s where Witherspoon or Gonzalez might step in, and where teams’ priorities lie right now.

Greg Auman is the NFC South reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, adding the title of Super Bowl champion (and boat parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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