Jeff Okudah family emigrated from Nigeria to New Jersey in 1990 and soon relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where he became a five-star football recruit at South Grand Prairie High School. Versatile athlete, also played wide receiver and averaged more than 24 yards per catch in 2015. Ascended steadily at Ohio State. Did not start until 2019 but played regularly in 2018 and played well – tied for ninth on the team with 26 unassisted tackles and tied for team lead with eight pass breakups. Started all 14 games in 2019 and was a shutdown cornerback in a big season: Sixth with 29 unassisted tackles, No. 1 with nine pass breakups and 3 picks.
Cornerback draft stats: Okudah is the 11th Ohio State cornerback drafted in the first round since 1999, and the first taken in the first round by the Lions since 1998, when they took Terry Fair of Tennessee 20th overall. That made it two straight after Bryant Westbrook of Texas fifth overall in 1997.
Since 1999, Ohio State has sent 10 cornerbacks to the first round of the NFL Draft (no one else has more than five in that span). Okudah hopes to become the next Buckeye pass defender to join that group. He strengthened his claim during the 2019 season, starting all 14 games and garnering first-team Associated Press All-American, first-team All-Big Ten, and Jim Thorpe Award finalist honors. Okudah led the Buckeyes with three interceptions and nine pass breakups as a junior, also posting 35 tackles and two forced fumbles. Despite not starting a game in 2018, he tied for the team lead in pass breakups with eight while also recording 34 tackles.
Okudah’s mother, Marie, passed away in 2017 after a long battle with lymphoma.
Jeffrey Okudah Biography and Profile
Jeffrey Okudah (Jeff Okudah), born 2 February 1999, is an American football cornerback for the Detroit Lions of the National Football League. He played college football for the Ohio State Buckeyes, and was drafted by the Lions in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The highest-rated cornerback in the 2020 NFL Draft is Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah, who many believe will be a top-5 pick this April. Jeff Okudah has a well documented affinity for family and representing his upbringing well. Both of his parents are of African ethnicity and of Nigerian descent.
Hailing from the Igbo tribe, he mentions that the tribe stresses strong values, humbleness, and respect. His parents moved from Nigeria to Grand Prairie, Texas during the early 1990’s (Arkansas Democrat Gazette). His love for the game of football first started when he was introduced to video games. The virtual reality aspect taught him the basic rules and the interworking of how it operated. His first on-field action came in the third-grade and his love for it continued to grow.
Okudah’s quiet leadership and toughness on the field caught eyes in his sophomore season. There aren’t many college cornerbacks with his combination of size—bigger than Ward (5’11”, 190 lbs)—speed, football IQ and smoothness in transitions.
“He does a lot of techniques that I use, moving my feet good, staying on top, making plays on deep balls,” Slay told The Detroit Free Press in January. “You can tell he takes the deep ball away easily, but with him being so quick and so long and aggressive, he can take away a lot of other stuff.”
Throughout his career, his biggest inspiration was his mother, Marie Okudah, who battled lymphoma since he was two-years old. He and his sister, who’s a student at Texas A&M were her main caretakers while she fought her battle. Their mother tragically passed away (January 2017) after her long fight with the illness. Shortly after signing with the Buckeyes, Okudah released a heartfelt thank you letter in the Players Tribune dedicated to her.
At South Grand Prairie High School (TX), Okudah was a two-sport star in track and football. A class 6A all-state selection as a senior, he recorded 43 tackles and five pass breakups during his final season. The No. 2 ranked cornerback in the country, he graduated early and enrolled in January (2017). He proved to be an instantaneous success. Earning playing time in all 14 games after the exit of eventual first-round selections in Marshon Lattimore (New Orleans Saints) and Gareon Conley (Oakland Raiders), he amassed 19 tackles and one pass breakup. Starting all 13 games as a true sophomore, Okudah recorded 32 tackles and eight passes defensed.
Okudah took his game to another level and was the best defensive back in college football during the 2019 season. He was a shut down down corner that dominated wide receivers. Importantly, his ball production is vastly improved over his 2018 season and he totaled 35 tackles with nine passes broken up and three interceptions on the year.
The only game where he had some issues was with Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. Against the Badgers, Okudah made some superb plays in coverage, but also was beaten for a would-be touchdown and was fortunate that his safety broke up the pass in the end zone.
“You just see the physical stature when he walks in a room,” said the Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley, who was a co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach for Ohio State during Okudah’s time there. “Corners usually aren’t as big as he is. Usually guys that are as tall and broad and strong, they don’t play the position. And in the N.F.L. game right now, that’s what all the wideouts look like, so you’re trying to find a guy to match up with them.”
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Okudah ran well in the 40 with a time of 4.48 seconds. However, teams have heard he’s run faster on other occasions and he probably is faster than that. Sources felt Okudah struggled in the field drills at combine before his day ended early after a hard landing with his head hitting the turf. Considering his tape and body of work, that day looks like the anomaly.
Okudah is a well-rounded prospect who does everything well. He is very good at preventing separation as he can vertically stay with speed wideouts and run the routes with receivers. Okudah has the size and physicality to match up with big wideouts and the speed to defend the vertical threats. Given his aggressive and physical style of play, Okudah sits on routes and really challenges receivers to run by him.
Downfield, Okudah is a tough defender, using his length to cover up wideouts, speed to run with them, and a burst for recoverability. He can jam receivers with the ability turn and run with them downfield. Over the past couple of seasons, he did a very good job of slapping passes away, and as a junior, he showed improvement to produce some interceptions. Okudah is a good tackler and willing run defender who does not hesitate to close on a ball-carrier to make a hit in space.
Analysis of Jeff Okudah’s Game
Jeff is a capable zone defender as well. Okudah does a good job of getting to landmarks in his zone drops as well as showing good discipline in picking up and passing off receivers entering and leaving his zone. He also does a good job of keeping an eye in the backfield, reading the quarterback, and triggering downhill on underneath plays.
Okudah shows good patience and discipline in all areas of his game. His easy movement skills allow him to wait until a receiver commits before opening his hips. He trusts his fluidity and burst to not allow separation out of breaks. Okudah also shows good ball skills at the catch point. He is skilled in subtly disrupting receivers and making plays on the ball without being flagged for pass interference. He also has an explosive closing burst to make plays on the ball despite the receiver appearing open.
He is a capable tackler who is generally sound in bringing ball carriers to the ground, though he isn’t a hard hitter. Okudah is also a willing run defender who shows good technique in taking on blockers and doesn’t hesitate to make plays on running backs.
There is some question about Okudah’s long speed, particularly after his 4.48-second 40-yard dash. He might have issues running with particularly athletic receivers at the NFL level. Okudah will also have to pay close attention to his hand usage at the top of routes. He can occasionally be “grabby” as he makes plays on the ball and could be flagged for pass interference at the NFL level if he isn’t careful. And while Okudah does have good ball skills to disrupt at the catch point, he does not come down with many interceptions.
Jeff has the traits to emerge as a starter immediately as a rookie and should be one of the best players on his team early in his career. A top-five value.
Okudah projects as a starting cornerback immediately upon entering the NFL, with the versatility to play in any coverage scheme. Okudah should be a very good cornerback in the NFL for a long time.
He has true scheme versatility, with the ability to line up in man, off, or zone coverage and cover a team’s number one receiver. And while there might be some questions about his speed, he is an explosive athlete with a powerful lower body and impressive closing burst. That burst, combined with his fluidity and length, give him a large catch denial radius, as well as the ability to bait quarterbacks and making plays on the ball.
Okudah is a good-enough tackler for a college defensive back prospect, and while he doesn’t often lay heavy hits, he generally does a good job of picking angles and aim points that allow him to get the ball carrier to the ground. He is a willing run defender and shows good competitive toughness in dealing with blockers and attacking swing passes and wide receiver screens.
He will need to watch his tendency to grab receivers as he makes a play on the ball. He is generally subtle about it and does so in a way that isn’t apparent to the officials — Darrelle Revis was fantastic at this — but it still could get him called for pass interference while he adjusts to the NFL.
All told, Okudah is the best defensive back in this draft class and should be one of the first players drafted. He can help a defense immediately, even if he doesn’t get plaudits for generating turnovers.
Jeff Okudah Quick Facts
- Will be remembered as one of the great cornerbacks for a school rich in cornerback/defensive back history.
- The first Ohio State cornerback to earn unanimous All-America honors.
- Announced on New Year’s Day that he would be foregoing his senior season at Ohio State in 2020 to make himself available for the NFL Draft.
- Earned first-team All-America recognition in 2019 by the Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, Walter Camp, American Football Coaches Association and The Sporting News.
- While Ohio State has produced four first-round NFL Draft cornerbacks in the past four years with Okudah expected to make that five-in-five in April, the school has seen just one of those players – Denzel Ward in 2017 – earn first-team All-America honors. Prior to Ward, the last cornerback named first-team All-American was Roby in 2012.
- Is now one of Ohio State’s 32 Big Ten-leading total of unanimous All-Americans.
- He and Chase Young give Ohio State a total of 87 consensus All-Americans to rank second nationally among all FBS schools (Notre Dame, 102).
- In 2019, Okudah was a finalist for the Thorpe Award, which honors the nation’s outstanding defensive back, and started every game for the 13-1 Buckeyes, who extended a run of outright Big Ten Conference championships to a league record three consecutive years.
- Intercepted the first three passes of his career – vs. Miami and two vs. Nebraska – and had nine pass break-ups and two forced fumbles to go along with 35 tackles (29 solo).
- Was a huge part of a defense that was No. 2 nationally in fewest passing yards allowed (156.0 per game), No. 2 in pass efficiency defense (97.50) and No. 1 in total defense, allowing just 259.7 yards per game.
- Caps his career having played in 41 games with 15 starts.
- His career statistics include 88 tackles (68 solo) and a total of 21 passes defended (18 break-ups and three interceptions).
- Was majoring in communications and had earned OSU Scholar-Athlete status.
- Okudah is one of only four Ohio State defensive backs to be awarded unanimous All-America status, after Jack Tatum in 1970, Michael Doss in 2002 and Malik Hooker in 2016
- Doss and Hooker each played safety.
- Tatum, it has been learned, played more of a linebacker and safety position – perhaps he was the original “bullet” – giving Okudah the unique honor of being the only unanimous All-American at cornerback for a program that has produced All-Americans such as Shawn Springs, Antoine Winfield, Malcolm Jenkins, Bradley Roby and Ward.
- Enrolled in classes at Ohio State is January of 2017.
- U.S. Army All-American Jeffrey Okudah was a unanimous 5-star recruit and considered the No. 1 cornerback prospect in the nation by 247Sports and the No. 1 safety prospect according to both Rivals and ESPN.
- Considered one of the Top 10 players in the nation overall, with 247Sports and ESPN ranking him No. 7, and Scout and Rivals Nos. 12 and 16, respectively
- A tremendous athlete who also had the No. 2 cornerback ranking as a senior by Scout.
- One of the Top 2 players out of talent-rich Texas this recruiting cycle and an American Family Insurance all-USA defensive back.
- Posted 43 tackles, five pass break-ups and 795 total offensive yards in helping South Grand Prairie, coached by Brent Whitson, to the Texas class 6A state playoffs in 2016.
- Named second-team Class 6A all-state as a senior by the Associated Press.
- Averaged over 24 yards per catch as a receiver in 2015 and also contributed 46 tackles and four pass break-ups.
- Finished second, to Ohio State teammate J.K. Dobbins, at the Nike+ football ratings competition at The Opening in Beaverton, Ore.
- Is the son of the late Marie Okudah.
- His guardians are Jane and Patrick Obodo.
What Other People Are Saying About Jeff Okudah
“Exceptional man coverage skill set; has lightning quick feet, oily hips and overall athleticism to mirror the twitchiest of receivers. His body control is outstanding and when combined with the aforementioned traits, it leads to rapid transitions and smooth pattern matching. Willing to crowd routes early, leverage the release and make the receiver’s route difficult. Outstanding recovery speed which helps him overcome some calculated guesses. Ball skills developed nicely in 2019 and he showcased the ability to locate the football and make aggressive plays on it. Aggressively plays through the receivers hands and keeps raking at the football. Emerged in 2019 as more of a physical presence, willing to play through contact and tackle. Jeffrey Okudah is an early first round talent with the upside to become one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He features an elite man coverage skill set both in terms of physical gifts and how he applies them to mirror routes. There is room for improvement in both zone and press coverage but overall, he’s a scheme-versatile defender. Additionally, Okudah showcases the physicality and ball skills that make him a complete package,” Marino said.
“Jeff Okudah is going to be a star at the NFL level — there’s no coverage he can’t play, no role he can’t fill in the secondary. Okudah pairs prototypical size with trust in his technique and dynamic movement skills and should be a lockdown cornerback at the NFL level in just about any system. This is a top of the 1st-round caliber player that will excel in man or zone and can be used to mirror and erase the opposition’s best receiver in the NFL. A future Pro Bowl and All-Pro player,” Crabb said.
What makes Okudah so special? It’s partially his athleticism and size, both of which are ideal for an outside cornerback who plays in man coverage. But one Ohio State staffer said he’s “the most mature and self-motivated cornerback out of the recent ones” they’ve had. Mature and self-motivated are two words not often used to describe cornerbacks, who can be high-maintenance and attention-seeking.
“We’re talking about a kid who enrolled early and was a scholar athlete as a true freshman,” said the area scout. “At most schools he starts right away, but [Ohio State] had Denzel Ward and Kendall Sheffield in there. He’s the most naturally gifted cornerback I’ve seen since Ramsey—but he’s not going to worry you with his mouth.”
If you’re looking for someone to build a defense around, this is your guy.