Everyone knows that Ohio State is the one program in the nation with the true claim to “DBU” (sorry, I don't make the rules), and for anyone that would like to argue, please refer to this graphic:
The Buckeyes have been producing elite talent in the secondary for the greater part of the last two decades, and business has been booming at an even higher rate in the last few years. In just the last four NFL Drafts dating back to 2016, Ohio State has had five defensive backs drafted in the first round, including the likes of Eli Apple, Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Denzel Ward. The highest pick in recent times was Ward at No. 4 overall in 2018, but that will likely change this year.
Meet: Jeff Okudah. As the consensus top cornerback in the 2020 NFL Draft, the majority of projections and mock drafts have the ridiculously talented DB going at No. 3 overall to the Detroit Lions, which would make a lot of sense given the team just traded away their top corner in Darius Slay this offseason. If not Detroit, the New York Giants could be another potential suitor at No. 4, given the team’s need at almost every position on defense.
Regardless of the which smart NFL GM snags Okudah, the Buckeye corner is undoubtably one of the best players in this year’s draft. He has received the highest praise from almost everyone in the scouting community. PFF compared his performance at Ohio State to that of Jalen Ramsey’s at Florida State — known as one of, if not the, best collegiate corner prospects ever to enter the NFL Draft. I mean, just check out the scouting report by NFL analyst Lance Zurlein, who also compared Okudah to eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson:
Head coach and general manager’s dream prospect with blue-chip physical traits, mental makeup and personal character. He has size, length and foot quickness to road-block press release and elite closing burst to close catch windows or eliminate yards after catch. He has room for improvement with his recognition and balance at the top of the route, but quarterbacks rarely target and beat him over the top. He has a rigid adherence to technique, but squeezing coverage even tighter and trusting his traits, talent and recovery speed could make him one of the top shutdown corners in the game.
Still not convinced? Let’s dive into a little bit of the tape from Okudah’s dominant 2019 season. While the DB only managed to haul in three interceptions this season, this is purely a result of opposing teams being too scared to throw his way. When they did decide to take that risk, they paid for it.
Even when you think Okudah’s man is open, he isn’t. Against Nebraska this past season, the junior showcased his intelligence here on what was one of two interceptions in the game. Sagging off the receiver a bit, he was able to bait Adrian Martinez into thinking he had his man open on the out route, only to turn on the jets with his phenomenal closing speed and cut off the route, coming away with the INT. Because of the pre-snap motion, Okudah wound up almost playing a slot corner role on this play, again showcasing his versatility.
Another thing that makes Okudah so special is his ability to tackle in space. One-on-one with a wide receiver in the open field, the junior corner made plays time and time again. He is so solid as a tackler, and even on plays like this where a missed hit could result in a huge gain for the other team, he isn’t afraid to come up and make the stop. NFL teams will love his mix of both technique and physicality.
Defensive backs often get criticized for having bad hands, but not Okudah. Here, he is able to read the quarterbacks eyes and know where the pass is going, and is in the right position to make a diving interception after the wide receiver inexplicably stopped running the route. It’s ok, Okudah was there to run it for him.
I’m going to present this one without comment, but let’s just say if Okudah were to make a play on the ball like this in the NFL (or in any other football game on the planet), it would probably result in a fumble being called and six points for his team. But hey, what do I know? Regardless, even when his receiver manages to get his hands on the ball, Okudah never gives up on the play.
That physicality we were talking about? Yea, he’s got it.
Ohio State has a long line of elite defensive backs in the NFL. Guys like Ward and Lattimore in recent years and even Bradley Roby and Malcolm Jenkins if you go back just a bit further. All of them have excelled at the next level, and it seems like every year now there's another prospect coming out of Columbus that wants to be the next man up. Not only is Okudah that next guy, but with his intelligence, demeanor and skillset, he has a chance to be the best one of them all.