Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 3: Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah

Eric Edholm
·9 min read
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

3. Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah

6-foot-1, 205 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.70 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Long, highly athletic coverage ace who is just starting to hit his peak and profiles as a future All-Pro at one of football’s most demanding positions.

The skinny: A 5-star Rivals recruit (top-20 nationally and the top-rated safety in the 2017 class), Okudah chose the Buckeyes over Oklahoma and Florida State. He graduated high school early and enrolled at OSU early, playing in all 14 games in 2017 as a true freshman reserve at cornerback and making 19 tackles, one pass breakup and one fumble recovery.

Okudah underwent shoulder surgery after his first season and wasn’t able to crack the starting lineup for the loaded Buckeyes, but he tied for the team lead in passes defended (eight) and made 34 tackles and one fumble recovery. Okudah played in 13 games that season, starting once (at Purdue).

As a junior in 2019, Okudah made 35 tackles, three interceptions, nine pass breakups and two forced fumbles, starting all 14 games. He was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist — and frankly should have won it — as well as being named first-team AP All-America and first-team All-Big Ten.

Okudah, who turned 21 years old in February, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft. He attended the NFL scouting combine and completed all of the drills except for the 3-cone and short shuttle.

Upside: Textbook height, weight and length — some of the longest arms in the 2020 DB draft class at 32 5/8 inches. Wingspan (78 5/8 inches) puts him in the top 10th percentile for the position and was longest of any DB at the combine this year. Blue-chip athletic traits. Combine testing included rare numbers in both the vertical jump (41 inches) and broad jump (135 inches) — both good for upper fifth percentile for corners — plus a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash.

Outstanding feel for coverage — great feet to mirror his man. Nice tight pedal with choppy feet. Chokes off routes and forces receivers out of their comfort zone. Uses his great length to reroute receivers and short-circuit their path. Glues to receivers in man coverage and forces tight-window completions — then plays through the receiver’s hands.

Case in point here against Michigan: Watch Okudah work over the top of the quick slant and disrupt this ball at the catch point against Michigan’s 6-foot-4 receiver, Nico Collins:

Textbook coverage against a bigger receiver.
Textbook coverage against a bigger receiver.

Did a great job in the national semifinals against Clemson’s highly touted receivers, Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins, holding them to a combined four catches for 44 yards (and one two-point conversion) on nine targets against Okudah. He had several eye-opening plays in coverage this game, but watch him here (at the top of your screen) in bail technique, basically on an island out wide in cover-1, staying in gorgeous phase with Ross and never really letting him have a shot at the ball:

You can't play much better bail technique against an elite receiver than this.
You can't play much better bail technique against an elite receiver than this.

Press-man technique is terrific. Squares up like a basketball defender and works his hands, hips and feet in harmony. Plays on the balls of his feet. Patient at the line and can flip his hips when it’s time to go.

Allowed a mere 41.6 percent of passes to be completed against him. Only beaten for two TDs in three years. Didn’t allow a reception longer than 28 yards last season, per PFF, and never allowed one longer than 38 in his career. Cut way back on penalties from 2018 to 2019 — only one penalty last season (unsportsmanlike conduct for a late hit on Michigan’s Ronnie Bell) compared to five flags total the year before.

Positional instincts only appear to be growing. Plays the receiver in man and knows the right moment to look back for the ball. Really good eyes and timing for the position, too. Technique is consistent snap to snap.

Plays with physical mindset. Loves to disengage from blocks and come up hard in run support — takes that part of his game very seriously. Battles every snap, whether it’s a pass or a run. Enjoys delivering a big hit when it’s called for.

Showed clear growth under various systems at OSU (three different secondary coaches, two coordinators), capable of handling whatever was thrown at him. Comes from CB factory at OSU — 10 first-round picks at the position since 1999.

Alpha confidence as a cover man — doesn’t back down from a challenge. Handled receivers of all shapes, sizes, skill levels and traits adeptly. Acted like a coach in the secondary, helping line up teammates and fix problems on the fly (see Big Ten championship vs. Wisconsin).

High personal character and football temperament — raised to be humble by his parents. Highly intelligent and exacting in his preparation and execution. Sets the bar high for himself and surpassed sky-high expectations as elite recruit. Arrow pointed way, way up. Could be the best corner in football in due time with the right seasoning and experience. Very clean evaluation with few major negatives.

Downside: Speed is considered adequate — 10-yard split time of 1.60 seconds puts him in the lower third for the position and long speed is good but not elite. Didn’t record 3-cone drill or short-shuttle drills, which are indicators of short-area quickness.

Limited experience — only one year of starting and fewer than 900 snaps in coverage over three seasons. Wasn’t asked to blitz at all last season — only did it a handful of snaps in the 2018 season. Played predominantly on the left side and was only used selectively in the slot (although the 2019 Penn State game featured him extensively inside). Limited playmaking production — zero interceptions entering last season. Ohio State played a lot of press-man and press-bail coverage and not as much off coverage. Appears more proficient in man than zone at this stage (although very good in both).

Here’s a zone-coverage snap from the Buckeyes, and Okudah (No. 1, the far left defender here) is a little flat-footed off the snap against the slot cross, carrying that route for an extra second. He doesn’t feel the 12-yard dig route and allows WR Justin Shorter to find a soft spot to make the catch:

Okudah just can't seem to locate the route to his right before making the tackle.
Okudah just can't seem to locate the route to his right before making the tackle.

Clemson bucked the season-long trend of other Buckeyes opponents and went after Okudah from the opening whistle. He can struggle a bit on extended pass plays, which wasn’t a huge issue at OSU with the Buckeyes’ great pass rush.

But watch on this two-point try vs. Clemson, where Okudah just loses Ross at the tail end of what was a good rep otherwise:

It's a tough ask, but Okudah can't quite stick with Ross on the two-point conversion.
It's a tough ask, but Okudah can't quite stick with Ross on the two-point conversion.

Got a little grabby in 2018 — four pass-interference penalties and one holding call. Three of the PI calls happened inside the red zone. Can get a little jumpy and jittery in that part of the field. Has a history of shoulder surgeries that must be vetted — initially injured it in high school and later had it repaired following his freshman season at OSU.

Shows a little tightness in his movement at times — not quite as fluid in transitions as a few other corners in this class. Had a few hiccups in his combine positional workout.

Best-suited destination: Okudah is a Day 1 starter with a skill set and mindset to handle any combination of coverages and assignments. There might be teaching moments as he faces off against some of the NFL’s best receivers, but there’s no reason to think he can’t fit just about any system out there and adapt accordingly, even if we’d love to see him use his great man technique extensively.

Among the teams we could see being most interested in his services — with a reasonable chance to be in position to draft him — include the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Las Vegas Raiders, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and Miami Dolphins.

Did you know: In January 2017, Okudah enrolled early at OSU to start his career with the Buckeyes. Less than a month later, his mother died after her long battle with lymphoma.

When Okudah declared for the draft, he announced it in a touching letter addressed to his late mother via The Players’ Tribune.

They said it: “Most definitely Jeff Okudah. Just doing a lot of studying on him, he’s a long guy, fast, very patient with his feet, technician guy, has good speed. Just studying him all that week [before] Ohio State was pretty good. You learned a lot of stuff about him. ... I think Jeff Okudah is the best opponent I went against.”

— Penn State WR K.J. Hamler at the combine, on the best opponent he faced this year

Player comp: We believe Okudah can develop to the level Stephon Gilmore has reached in the NFL.

Expected draft range: Top-10 pick.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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