Falcons’ Jeff Okudah carted off with ankle injury

 Falcons cornerback Jeff Okudah (1) grabs a pass during a minicamp on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, in Flowery Branch, Ga.
 Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons cornerback Jeff Okudah (1) grabs a pass during a minicamp on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, in Flowery Branch, Ga. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH — About an hour into practice Friday, Falcons cornerback Jeff Okudah sustained an right ankle injury after breaking up a pass.

He stayed down after the play and waved team trainers over. He was carted off the field with one of the trainers holding Okudah’s right ankle.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith didn’t want to speculate on the severity of the injury.

“With Jeff, it’s an ankle,” Smith said. “We’ll have more after he gets done with an MRI. Hopefully, it’s optimistic, and he’ll be back out there. I hate to be that vague.”

Some players took a knee and paid their respects to Okudah.

“He was working each and every day, proving himself,” running back Cordarrelle Patterson said. “When a guy goes down like that it (feels bad). It’s football. He’s going to be good. Hopefully, it’s nothing major. I don’t know anything. I just saw him on the cart. Hopefully, it’s nothing major and he can be back out here soon as possible.”

Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett reacted to the injury.

“That’s not good news,” Jarrett said.

Okudah, who was the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, by the Lions, was acquired April 11 in a trade for a fifth-round pick.

After releasing last season’s opening-game starter Casey Hayward, the Falcons entered training camp with a gaping hole in the defense at right cornerback. Darren Hall got the first shot at the spot after Hayward sustained a torn pectoral muscle last season.

Cornell Armstrong, a scrappy fighter, ended the season as the starter, and he re-signed. The Falcons were grooming Okudah to take over that spot.

A rash of injuries have short-circuited Okudah’s start in the NFL, with him missing major parts of his rookie season and nearly all of the 2021 season. In 2022, he started and played in 15 games.

Teams completed 46 of 76 passes (59.7%) for 681 yards and a touchdown last season when throwing at Okudah, according to Pro Football Reference’s advanced stats. Teams had an 87.6 passer rating when targeting Okudah, which they did at an average depth of 10.9 yards.

The ball was in the air for 411 yards, and Okudah allowed 270 yards after the catch. He had 73 tackles, six missed tackles and one interception.

When he was coming out of Ohio State, Okudah was thought to be a can’t-miss prospect with size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and speed (4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash).

The Falcons entered training camp hoping to have two top-flight cornerbacks and pair Okudah with A.J. Terrell, who was taken 13 picks later in the 2020 draft.

Okudah helped the Buckeyes win three consecutive Big Ten titles from 2017-19. He was named first-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-Big Ten in 2019 in his only season as a full-time starter.

Okudah and cornerback Mike Hughes, a first-round pick (30th) by the Vikings in 2018, both are reclamation projects. Hughes has been with three teams, the Vikings, Chiefs and Lions. Tre Flowers, who was signed as a free agent, replaced Okudah with the first-team for the remainder of practice.

Also, the Falcons are high on cornerback Clark Phillips III, who was drafted in the fourth round.

“We feel like we’ve got good depth in the (defensive backs group),” Smith said.

Hughes, Phillips and Dee Alford are competing for the open nickel back spot after Isaiah Oliver signed with the 49ers in free agency.

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