Amani Oruwariye is starting to fulfill draft day declaration


Around here, the 2019 NFL Draft began with that GIF of Arthur's fist. The Lions took another tight end in the first round, then a linebacker from Hawaii nobody had heard of in the second.

The angst subsided -- for a moment, anyway -- when Detroit took Amani Oruwariye in the fifth. The first-team All-Big Ten cornerback from Penn State was pegged as a Day-2 pick. He felt like a steal midway through Day 3.

Oruwariye said all the standard things in his first chat with local reporters that day, about the draft being unpredictable, about projections being faulty, about staying patient because "I knew my time would come."

Then he added this: "I’m not going to sit there and dwell on what didn’t happen and what should’ve happened. I’m just going to make the other 31 teams that didn’t draft me pay when my opportunity comes."

Well, his opportunity has arrived. And Oruwariye is living up to his word. In a secondary that gave up the most yards in the NFL last season and then traded its best player, it's Oruwariye -- not $20 million free agent Desmond Trufant, not third overall pick Jeff Okudah -- who has plugged the most holes. The Lions' biggest corner has been their best.

The Cardinals drafted six players over Oruwariye in 2019, including CB Byron Murphy in the second round. He made them pay last month with a couple key pass break-ups in the fourth quarter that set up Detroit's first win. The Jaguars drafted five players over Oruwariye in 2019. He made them pay last week by smothering No. 1 receiver D.J. Chark in the Lions' best defensive effort of the season.

Oruwariye has played all but 10 defensive snaps so far for Detroit, second only to veteran safety Duron Harmon. He leads the team with five passes defended, using that 6'2 frame to his advantage. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Oruwariye has allowed a passer rating of 66.4 on 28 targets. That's better than each of the 14 cornerbacks drafted ahead of him in 2019.

Actually, it's better than every other cornerback drafted that year, period. Oruwariye ranks first out of 31.

“I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job, but always looking for a way to improve," Oruwariye said Wednesday. "I feel like I can be a lot more of a force in the run game, just being a sure-tackler and being that force from the outside from the corner position. And then just being consistent at the line of scrimmage, impeding the receiver’s release and making it more challenging for them at the line."

He's right about his tackling. Oruwariye was sound in this area in limited action last season, but he's missed three tackles so far in 2020. That's three too many. Otherwise, he's been about as reliable as the Lions could have hoped, one of the keys to a pass defense that's allowing nearly 100 fewer yards per game than it did in 2019.

So here comes the test. The Lions travel to Atlanta on Sunday to take on the most dangerous passing attack in the league. The Falcons are throwing the ball up and down the field, led by the best receiving duo in the game in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. If this rejuvenated secondary is for real, if Oruwiraye's emergence is legit, this is their chance to prove it.

“Everyone knows they got a great receiving core over there. We gotta come," Oruwariye said. "We got our hands full this week, so we just gotta trust the gameplan the coaches draw up for us. Make sure we make it a physical game and just try to play to our strengths. We don’t need to do anything spectacular. We just need to do what we do best.”