Ohio State’s biggest game of the year was also one of the biggest recruiting weekends of the year, as a flood of highly-coveted prospects packed into Ohio Stadium to watch the Buckeyes defeat rival Michigan. During a break in the action, a video montage flashed onto the enormous video board above the south stands, touting the school’s prowess at developing first-round cornerbacks such as Eli Apple and Bradley Roby, and posing the question “Who’s Next?”
Of all the prospects in attendance that fall afternoon, the video was particularly appropriate for the eyes of Jeffrey Okudah, an elite defensive back who was still uncommitted at the time. Okudah is now enrolled as a Buckeye, and is next in line to continue Ohio State’s legacy as a premier program for cornerbacks.
The 6-foot-1, 190 pound Okudah is considered a five-star talent by all of the major recruiting services, and is listed as the No. 1 cornerback and the seventh-best prospect in the country by the 247Sports Composite. The versatile prospect is listed as a safety or as an athlete by other recruiting services, but is expected to initially compete as a cornerback for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State entered the Okudah sweepstakes early, offering a scholarship to the blue-chip prospect in the summer of 2015, before he even began his junior season of football. Okudah named the Buckeyes as his favorite a few months later, and though he flirted with Oklahoma and Florida State throughout the dance toward his decision, Ohio State was generally thought to be the team to beat.
Okudah finally announced his commitment to the Buckeyes on January 7 during the U.S. Army All American Bowl, donning a scarlet Ohio State cap to affirm his decision on national television. Okudah cited Ohio State’s ability to prepare him for a career in the NFL, but also for life outside of football, when asked about his decision. Moments later he published a heartfelt and eloquent article on The Player’s Tribune, detailing his motivation to give his family a comfortable life, whether through the football field or a boardroom.
“I’ve been told I have the talent to one day achieve my dream of playing in the NFL, and that’s great — but that’s not all that I think I have the talent for. In college, I want to take classes that challenge me to reconsider the way I look at the world. I want to intern at Fortune 500 companies, and to gain experience in boardrooms that are just as competitive as any locker room. And one day, I want to start a business that will ensure that my family will always be comfortable, whether football works out or not.”
Ohio State’s class includes three of the top six prospects out of the state of Texas, with Okudah, four-star running back J.K. Dobbins, and five-star linebacker Baron Browning, whom Okudah was instrumental in recruiting to Columbus. The trio all began their collegiate careers by enrolling early this month.
For the second consecutive year Ohio State will have to replace three-fourths of its starting secondary, and Okudah will utilize his extra time in the program to compete for one of the two cornerback spots vacated by Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, a pair of likely first-round selections. Okudah will have to overcome a number of more experienced players to crack the rotation, but if there’s one player on Ohio State’s roster with the pedigree to continue the school’s lineage of first-round defensive backs, Okudah might be the most likely candidate.
Okudah undoubtedly believes in the coaching staff to help him become just that:
In a class full of potential NFL guys, Jeffrey Okudah might be the most talented of the bunch. Okudah has size (6’1 ½, 190 lbs) to play right away and uses his size to hit like a truck from the secondary. With the departure of Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, Okudah has a legitimate chance to be a Day 1 starter at cornerback for the Buckeyes — which is why he’s already on campus.
Okudah possesses the attributes to play right away. He is a natural athlete who shows extremely high football IQ and is rarely, if ever, out of position. He has a fluid back pedal and transition out of the back pedal, which allows him to stick to his man in man coverage. His quickness against top competition was on display in the U.S. Army All-American game, when he broke up slant patterns and his speed was shown in top camps as he stuck with the country’s best wideouts on fly patterns. The Texas native is a true ballhawk.
Ohio State cornerbacks need to show up in run support, and that is where Okudah separates himself from the average true freshman cornerback. He is an extremely violent player who flies up out of his back pedal to lay the hammer on ball carriers. He runs through the ball carrier and has no regard for his own safety. It’s impressive to watch.
With the two starting corners from last year’s team out of the picture, Okudah is too talented to waste away on the bench or primarily on special teams. He possesses the total package and should be a Day 1 starter in Greg Schiano’s defense. — Christopher Jason