Ohio State University has been known for sending top tier cornerbacks to the NFL Draft. Since 1999, OSU has had 10 corners come off the board in the first round. For a comparison, no other school has sent more than 5 in that period.
Okudah came out of Grand Prairie, Texas, where he attended South Grand Prairie High School. Going into college, he ranked as a 5-star recruit and the top cornerback prospect. The real spark was lit in 2017 when his mother Marie passed away after her battle with lymphoma. That year, he played in all 14 games and recorded 19 tackles and one pass breakup.
After the season, he underwent shoulder surgery but did not start a game in 2018. Even with zero starts, he led the team in pass breakups (8) and also totaled 34 tackles. In his junior year, Okudah shined and broke out as one of the top corners, leading the Buckeyes with three interceptions and nine pass breakups. He also tackled 35 times and forced two fumbles.
Okudah was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist along with being first-team All-Big Ten and first-team Associated Press All-American.
The accomplishments all provide a good reason as to why Okudah is a top prospect in the draft this year, but it takes more than just some awards to stand out. Some say he has the potential to be one of the best corners in the NFL. But what makes Okudah stand out from the rest and why is he ranked so high on draft boards?
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Okudah has size. He’s 6’ 1” and weighed in at 205 pounds at the combine. He uses his size to his advantage to make big plays and make big stops. He is also good at staying with his man.
Take this play from the Fiesta Bowl this year. In this play, there is little separation between Okudah and Clemson WR Justyn Ross (#8). Ross is a big receiver who measures in at 6’ 4”, but that doesn’t seem to stop Okudah from stripping the ball. Ross makes the catch, but with the physicality of Okudah, he forces a fumble which was returned for a touchdown. The tackle also brings Ross out of bounds, which doesn’t allow him to recover the ball.
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On top of his aggressiveness and physicality, he also has great awareness. This play comes from the late 1st quarter against Nebraska. To be able to make this interception while on the ground is not easy. His ability to see the ball from that angle is impressive and to make the quick adjustment to get his hands up to make a play is absolutely stunning.
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I liked his Fiesta Bowl tape so much I had to take another play. Okudah is matched up against Clemson receiver Tee Higgins, also a solid prospect in the NFL Draft. When you watch the play, Okudah is glued to Higgins the entire route. Even though it’s a short route cutting into the inside, Okudah can run the routes the receivers can and stay with them.
The hold on Higgins is also another sign of just how hard he likes to press his assignments. Even with the constant pressure he puts on his assignments, Okudah registered zero pass interference and zero holding penalties. This important stat shows his discipline is perfect because he knows how far to go without being penalized.
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Okudah can also be a playmaker when it comes to tackling. Not many corners in the NFL are known for making big tackles, but here’s an example of Okudah doing just that. It’s a short quick pass to the outside to get an easy 1st, but Okudah comes up to make a difficult tackle. He goes for the legs to get the runner on the ground immediately, making his attempt more effective.
Overall, Okudah is a solid athlete which makes him a top prospect in the NFL Draft. He has long strides when in pursuit and has great closing speed. With these traits, Okudah has a high ceiling to succeed as a boundary corner. His quick feet make him solid in man coverage and has the speed to keep up with some of the fastest receivers. When up at the line, he’ll get in your face and he’s definitely not scared of anyone.
Hopefully not too many scouts and teams looked at his combine work because it wasn’t his best. Okudah struggled during field drills before hitting his head on the turf. For me, it’s looking more at the tape. The combine is important as well, but you certainly cannot judge a player for a couple rough days. Because of his poor combine, his draft value has gone down a little.
His route anticipation is also a little concerning for teams. He can read routes as well as anyone else can, but his ability to anticipate off the line and to read a receiver’s steps are subpar. The poor anticipation showed up on coverages he lost. Teams should be concerned with his footwork. When Okudah wants to make a turn or any kind of lateral movement, he seems to slow down in his speed to make the move, which is correctable with conditioning and training, but if not fixed, he has the potential to lose matchups against agile NFL receivers.
Okudah also has the tendency to slack off on the field. What I mean is when plays are not near him he takes the plays off. This is common for corners at the college level and certainly can be corrected in the pros. If he wants to prove that he could be one of the best corners in the NFL, he has to play every down he’s on the field.
The way he plays his position is somewhat incomplete. At Ohio State, Okudah rarely played press coverage. And when he did, it was clear he was unfamiliar. The upside for him is that he can fix this. With the proper teaching and his length, he could be turned into a player who is better playing that style of defense. On top of that, he likes to swat the ball away with his hands. This is a good trait because it shows his good ball skills, but Okudah only has three career interceptions. That lack of production could be enough for teams to look elsewhere during the draft.
Okudah is coming into the draft with the same amount of talent and hype Jalen Ramsey did. In fact, he might even be better than Ramsey was coming out of college. You can compare him to Denzel Ward, the 4th overall pick by the Browns in 2018. Okudah right now is projected to be picked right around that range Ward was.
Okudah has a lot of upside because of his “work hard” mentality and his desire to play his best. He looks a lot like Marshon Lattimore did when he came out of Ohio State. Both have similar play styles and almost identical physical measurements. Okudah also has the potential to be a No. 1 corner in the league and a future Pro Bowler, but I think he will be that and more.
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Here is a video of Ryan Clark comparing Jeff Okudah to Miami’s Byron Jones. Clark gives his take and opinion on Okudah.
Where Does Okudah Fit?
Mock drafts have been going nuts with Okudah landing in Detroit. It’s a big need for them with Darius Slay out of town. The Lions are also led by head coach Matt Patricia who is indeed defensive-minded. Detroit also brought in a new defensive coordinator in Cory Undlin, who was Philadelphia’s defensive backs coach for four years, so having a coach who has closely worked with defensive backs is big for Okudah’s development.
Detroit is the right fit for Okudah. He has the opportunity to shine there and become the top player in their secondary. With the right coaching and technical development, Okudah can be the No. 1 corner in the league and really make an impact for the Detroit Lions soon.