Jeff Okudah to carry on Ohio State’s cornerback tradition in the NFL draft

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 23:  Justin Hilliard #47 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates with teammates /bbd4 #4 and Jeff Okudah #1 after intercepting a Penn State Nittany Lions pass in the fourth quarter at Ohio Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Penn State 28-17.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Combined ShapeCaption
COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 23: Justin Hilliard #47 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates with teammates /bbd4 #4 and Jeff Okudah #1 after intercepting a Penn State Nittany Lions pass in the fourth quarter at Ohio Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Penn State 28-17. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Ohio State is pumping out cornerbacks the way Georgia has turned out running backs in recent drafts.

This year’s top cornerback is Jeff Okudah, who projects as a top-10 selection, following in the footsteps of Denzel Ward, who went fourth overall in 2018.

“He is what Stephon Gilmore (out of South Carolina) was coming out,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “(What) Patrick Peterson (of LSU) was coming out. He’s going to be expected to be one of the best cornerbacks in this league.”

Okudah was a one-year starter at Ohio State and was an unanimous All-American selection.

“He has that skill-set,” Kiper said. “He has the mindset for it. He’s a very aggressive player. A good tackler. He’s not too ‘handsy’ in coverage, even though he is aggressive.”

In 2017, Ohio State cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore (11th) and Gareon Conley (24th) went in the first round. Lattimore went on to win the Associated Press defensive rookie of the year award.

In 2016, Eli Apple was selected 10th overall. In 2014, Bradley Roby, who played at Peachtree Ridge High, was selected 31st.

“We’ll let Florida and LSU have the DBU debate,” Okudah said. “We just claim BIA now. That’s Best In America. Our defensive backs have consistently been the best DBs in the country. We have the staff and the numbers. So, we don’t really concern ourselves with the DBU debate any more.”

Okudah could go as high as No. 3 overall to the Lions to help replace Darius Slay.

“In high school, college, I’ve always been trying to watch Darius Slay, trying to emulate the things he does,” Okudah said. “He’s a great player. He plays with great technique.”

Okudah, whose parents immigrated to this country from Nigeria, played 41 games and made 15 starts, but he intercepted only three passes.

“Coach (Jeff) Hafley always told me, ‘Don’t force it,’” Okudah said. “It’ll come. As long as you’re not dropping any interceptions, just catch the ones that come to you.”

Okudah had some problems with being too aggressive early in his career.

“For the first two years of my career at Ohio State, I played through the hands,” Okudah said. “Then I saw that it was leading to pass interferences. When the ball was underthrown, they’d come back through you.”

Last season, he worked on looking back for the football on underthrown passes.

“I didn’t give up any deep balls,” Okudah said.

Hafley was Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator before he left to become Boston College’s head coach in December.

“I kind of credit him for the leap I’ve taken in my career,” Okudah said. “He’s a coach that’s had a tremendous impact on my life. The way he’s taught me the game. The way he’s helped me develop as a person.”

Most draft analysts believe that the Lions, who picked up former Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant after he was released, may be able to trade back and still get Okudah.

"I don't see him getting past -- eight would be the absolute floor," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "And that's provided some quarterbacks really go up there, when you've got five, six and seven with the Dolphins, Chargers and Panthers. I can't see him getting to eight, but that would be the absolute floor."

Okudah has started to scout the Lions.

“I know (Lions coach Matt) Patricia is a heavy man-to-man guy,” Okudah said. “Coming from the Patriots, they run a lot of man-to-man. They’re allowing man-to-man matches to let the defensive line get home. So, I’ve been studying a lot of those top groups.”

Florida’s C.J. Henderson, LSU’s Kristian Fulton, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson and Clemson’s A.J. Terrell also are top cornerbacks in the draft.

Henderson reportedly is a draft target of the Falcons, who are looking to trade up. They have traded up in the first round in five of 12 drafts run by general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

Henderson entered the draft after his junior season.

SiriusXM Radio analyst Gil Brandt said that Henderson was a “good football player” but added that there is a flaw in his play.

“There is a little bit of (a question) about how good he is against the run or how good he will tackle,” Brandt said. “In today’s game when we are throwing so many screens, you better have somebody who can tackle.”

Henderson finished his career with 92 tackles, 22 pass breakups, six interceptions, four sacks and seven tackles for loss over 34 games. He played under former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham at Florida.

Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette projects to be selected in the second or third round.

“I feel like if you love a redemption story, you respect Damon Arnette a lot, someone that had a lot of doubters his first four years at Ohio State,” Okudah said. “A lot of guys like to cower, blame a lot of people, but he just put his head down and kept working through a broken wrist.”

AJC’s 2020 POSITION BY POSITION DRAFT SERIES

Quarterbacks: Joe Burrow leads classTop 10
Running backs: Cam Akers' life lessonTop 10
Tight ends:  Harrison Bryant top prospect Top 10 
Guards/Centers:  Solomon Kindley a late-rounderTop 10 
Offensive tackles:  Austin Jackson's life lesson | Top 10 
Wide receivers: Jeudy or Lamb  | Top 10
Defensive tackles: Brown, Kinlaw stand outTop 10
Defensive ends: A 'generational' talentTop 10
Linebackers: Simmons a position-less LBTop 10
Safeties: Loaded with Georgia talent | Top 10
Part 11: Special Teams
Part 12: Cornerbacks

--

The Bow Tie Chronicles Podcasts:

Can be found on Google, iTunes and TuneIn

For more content about the Atlanta Falcons:

Follow me on Twitter @DorlandoAJC

On Facebook at Atlanta Falcons News Now

Atlanta Falcons coverage on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Have a question? Email me at dledbetter@ajc.com