For many years, John Elway and the Denver Broncos have drafted cornerbacks, and for many years they whiffed.
Brendan Langley, Isaac Yiadom, Bradley Roby and Lorenzo Doss; none of them enjoyed a very impactful career with the Broncos. Roby was most successful of the three in the Mile High City, as a starter for five years, but he was never consistently good enough to warrant his original first-round pick.
Yes, Elway landed an all-time great Broncos cornerback in Chris Harris Jr. way back in 2011 as a college free agent. But, when it came to the draft, his third-round picks (Langley, Yiadom) were mostly wasted to this point.
Finally, it seems, Elway and the Broncos discovered a true talent in the third round in Michael Ojemudia.
Interestingly, after losing Harris in free agency this year and replacing him with A.J. Bouye, the Broncos looked to start Bryce Callahan and, it seemed, Yiadom. But, about a week before the regular season kicked off, Denver surprisingly traded away project player Yiadom, leaving many to wonder who the No. 3 CB would be.
De’Vante Bausby and Duke Dawson, two journeyman corners who have bounced around smaller leagues, looked to be the frontrunners. And, we heard little about the new rookie, which seemed to signal Elway missed again on a corner in the draft.
But, now it looks like the Broncos were keeping it secret how good a player they’d found in Ojemudia.
In four of his first five games, the rookie has defensed a pass. And he doesn’t just do so by staring the receiver down and flailing at the ball. This young man understands the importance of body position, he finds a way to get himself turned towards the ball, tracks it and knocks it down with confidence.
He’s also unafraid of playing physically with receivers, even if he has been called for pass interference for some ticky-tack hand fighting.
Of course, he hasn’t been perfect. One of his biggest mistakes came when he missed an interception in the end zone against the Steelers and Pittsburgh scored mere plays later.
However, he’s not only shown flashes of brilliance, but consistently great play.
This week, in the Broncos’ second straight win of the season and against the Patriots in New England, Ojemudia balled out. He enjoyed six tackles, which was third-most on the team, and he forced two fumbles.
Broncos fans will definitely remember the first; tight end Ryan Izzo caught the ball over the middle and Ojemudia jumped on his back and ripped the ball out of his hands, where Justin Simmons scooped it up and took off. That was a massive momentum shift, as the team’s second turnover of the day, and Denver capitalized by kicking a field goal.
If the second forced fumble is tough to remember, it may be because the ball bounced out of bounds before Denver could recover it. Either way, his phenomenal play caught the attention of not only Broncos fans, but national analysts as well.
He was the second-highest rated Denver defender in Week 1, and this week, he earned an 88.6 grade from Pro Football Focus, which was the highest of any rookie cornerback this year:
Michael Ojemudia played an absolutely stellar game yesterday against New England
88.6 grade (best game grade of any rookie cornerback this year)
89.8 coverage grade
6 tackles and 2 forced fumbles pic.twitter.com/HSBjSMIxRC
— PFF DEN Broncos (@PFF_Broncos) October 19, 2020
Of course, as is the life of an NFL cornerback, Ojemudia will have to continue to prove himself all season long. And this week, he’s got a truly tough test with the immensely talented Kansas City Chiefs. It seems unlikely he’ll be lining up against Tyreek Hill, but it could happen, and other wideouts like Mercole Hardman are athletic and tough covers as well.
Through about one-third of the 2020 season, things are looking quite promising for the Broncos’ rookie, and if he becomes a staple, it only cements Denver’s defensive backfield as one of the better in the league.