Ohio State is occasionally the forgotten school in the “DBU” conversation. Some fail to realize that at least one Buckeyes defensive back has been selected in each of the last six NFL Drafts. In that same span, there have been six selected in the first round.
What’s even more impressive? Current Buckeye Jeffrey Okudah might be the best of them all.
The consensus “best” cornerback prospect from OSU in recent memory is Denzel Ward. However, even Ward was met with questions about his size, and yet, the Browns felt no issue with selecting him fourth overall. With a blend of size, athletic ability, and some newly-found ball skills, Okudah has taken a commanding lead in the CB1 discussion for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Many, including myself, view this as a strong cornerback class — especially compared to 2019 when we only saw one cornerback selected in the first round, and it was the 30th overall selection. This year, I believe we could see as many as five cornerbacks selected in the first round. Names like Kristian Fulton and Bryce Hall have been favorites for the CB1 title, but neither has played at the level Okudah has this season.
Okudah’s three interceptions this season are tied for first in the FBS through four weeks. Prior to this season, Okudah had serious questions on if he could be the guy that made impact plays for his team and cause turnovers. If he was to be selected highly in the NFL Draft, he’d have to change that.
Life before CB1
As a recruit, Ohio State knew they had something special in Okudah. He was a five-star prospect and was viewed as arguably the No. 1 cornerback recruit in the nation. In 2017, Okudah enrolled early so that he could go through camp, and played an impressive number of snaps for a secondary that had multiple future NFL Draft selections. As a true freshman, Okudah wasn’t overly productive, but that’s to be expected when he was constantly fighting for playing time.
As a sophomore, Okudah became a full-time starter. As the season went on, Okudah got better and better, saving his best game for last. In OSU’s 28-23 win over the Washington Huskies, Okudah was lights out. He demonstrated all of the traits that made him a top recruit and that will eventually see him get drafted. The one thing he was missing was an interception.
Summer scouting overview
I took a deep dive into Okudah’s film over the summer. I mentioned his eye-popping physical gifts when talking about his strengths. He stands at 6’0 and weighs in at 200 pounds with long arms. He may not be the biggest cornerback ever, but his size is more than adequate. To pair with his size and length, he has excellent athletic ability.
Whether it’s his long speed or burst, Okudah has it in bunches. His physical gifts are best put on display when he sees the quarterbacks eyes and identifies where he’s throwing the ball. Okudah’s closing speed is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Here you see him close on a pass almost instantly to force an incompletion:
— CoachJay (@CoachJa85037088) January 1, 2019
When looking at his weaknesses, I mentioned his motor, technique, mental lapses, and ball production. His motor wasn’t a serious concern and still isn’t. He’s willing to get dirty and make a tackle. However, it’s unlikely he’ll attempt to chase down a running back that’s busted loose on the other side of the field.
For his technique, I said, “Okudah’s technique isn’t bad, per se; it’s just incomplete.” Okudah wasn’t asked to do certain coverages, and that’s no fault of his. I mentioned his lack of experience in press man, but his first career pick came on a press man rep.
Similar to his motor, his mental lapses were just a part of being a college football player. Mistakes happen; however, the fact that they’ve happened less and less frequently is encouraging. The last of my listed weaknesses… was his ball production.
Ball production, the climactic final chapter
My only real major concern with Okudah was his lack of ball production; really, a lack of ball skills in general. It wasn’t that I assumed he didn’t have any; it’s that he didn’t show any on tape. He had nine career pass deflections coming into the season, and no interceptions. I might be a traditionalist, but I believe a top cornerback should not only be able to cover an opponent’s No. 1 receiver, but he should also be able to cause turnovers. Okudah did one but had yet to show the other. This year, it’s been different.
After finally getting his first one against Miami (OH), Okudah had to get his hands on more. He did just that against Nebraska. His first interception of the game came on a diving catch where he showcased his elite closing speed, as he got in front of the receiver and pulled the ball in on his way to the ground.
His second of the day was even more impressive. He caught the ball from his back. After a ball was tipped in the air, Okudah had the concentration and presence of mind to bring the ball in, while on his back. What was the second most incredible interception I’ve ever seen (Brent Grimes), was also the final turning point into naming Okudah my CB1.
Jeff Okudah has his second pick in as many games pic.twitter.com/uyrKcSBbQH
— Buckeye Sports Bulletin (@Buckeye_Sports) September 28, 2019
Jeff Okudah can't stop snagging interceptions. He has his second of the quarter pic.twitter.com/R1jQHSrbCU
— Buckeye Sports Bulletin (@Buckeye_Sports) September 29, 2019
NFL Draft Overview
Okudah has done everything needed to establish himself as the draft’s top corner. However, just how high up draft boards can he climb? I currently have Okudah as my sixth-ranked prospect, but if he continues to show off his ball skills and suffocate opposing receivers, there’s no reason he couldn’t be top three by the end of the season.
Former Buckeye Denzel Ward is the highest-drafted defensive back in the past decade, being selected fourth overall in 2018. Can Okudah surpass him? That remains to be seen. However, I can say with comfortable certainty, Okudah is CB1.