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Year Two is often when players make their biggest leaps as pros. Unfortunately for some, Year Two can also mark the end of their tenure with the team that drafted them.
The 2020 Detroit Lions draft had mixed results throughout the class. Jeff Okudah was widely regarded as a top prospect, but through a combination of injury, a steep learning curve, a poor defense, and a bad scheme, his first professional season was a struggle. The Lions hope that a new coaching staff and a full offseason can help prepare Okudah for his second season.
D’Andre Swift was the most electric of the Lions draft picks, which made giving Adrian Peterson more carries a confusing decision. Although Peterson has been replaced by Jamaal Williams, expect Swift to play a key role in a new-look offense.
The third round had some great and bad moments. Jonah Jackson established himself as a starting caliber guard, and while he received no accolades, he set the bar high with a solid rookie season. At the other spectrum was Julian Okwara. The pass rusher out of Notre Dame was injured for most of the season, and he was subpar for the limited snaps he did play. He projects as the top pass rushing option behind his brother Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers.
Day Three of the draft was largely disappointing, but there is optimism heading into 2021. Logan Stenberg was viewed as a project at guard, so him playing just seven snaps in 2020 was not surprising—although it was disappointing. Quintez Cephus, meanwhile, logged 20 catches in modest action, and his role for next season is questionable. Can he win a starting role in a depleted receiver group, or will the new coaching staff brush him aside? As for very disappointing draft picks, fifth-round running back Jason Huntley did not even make the team last year.
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The later rounds saw the Lions select two defensive linemen with starkly different seasons. John Penisini surprised many by totaling nearly 600 snaps in his rookie season, an unexpected result for a sixth rounder. His role this season will likely be reduced, with Alim McNeill taking the spot as top nose tackle in a scheme that requires pass rushing skills. However, with very little competition at nose tackle, Penisini should be a safe bet to make the roster as a depth piece. Seventh-round pick Jashon Cornell did not even see the field in 2020 after tearing his Achilles on the first day of training camp. 2021 has not started any better, with Cornell getting dealt a three-game suspension.
Some players like Swift and Jackson are looking to build upon solid rookie years. Some players like Okudah and Okwara are hoping to rebound after a rough first season. But which of these players are at risk of not making the team?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Which 2020 draft picks are at risk of getting cut?
My answer: I think Okwara, Stenberg, Cephus, and Cornell are at most risk of getting cut, but I think the entire class—save Huntley, of course—will make the team come September.
For Okwara and Stenberg, they enter the season as top backups at edge and guard, respectively. Okwara faces competition from Austin Bryant and Charles Harris, but I would be surprised if he didn’t win out over those two. Okwara has the higher ceiling of the lot, and while giving up on a third-round pick after a season is not unheard of, I expect the staff to give him an extended look this year. Additionally, you have to wonder if his brother Romeo has any pull with the decision.
Stenberg faces little competition along the interior of the offensive line. At guard, he has to compete with undrafted rookies Evan Heim and Tommy Kraemer. The backup center position isn’t settled either, with Evan Brown and UDFA Drake Jackson competing for the role. Unless he struggles in camp, he should make the team.
Cephus’ path to the roster is not as clear as Okwara or Stenberg, but the wide receiver group is so poor that I just can’t imagine him not making the initial roster. A player like Sage Surratt or Javon McKinley would have to really impress to win the spot over Cephus.
Cornell is a unique case. From a on-field perspective, he is certainly at risk of getting cut—in fact I would expect him to get cut. However, his suspension works in his favor. For the first three games, he will not count against the roster limit. This opens up the chance for him to get a few more weeks to impress coaches before they have to decide on his roster spot. Unfortunately, barring injury, I anticipate that they will waive him once his suspension ends, perhaps adding him to the practice squad. So while he will technically make the team, I don’t expect him to last long.
Which 2020 draft picks do you think are on the bubble?