Football

Jeff Okudah’s Draft Position Not a Surprise to His Head Coach

Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah Michigan

According to the projections and mock drafts, Buckeye cornerback Jeff Okudah is going to be drafted somewhere between the third and ninth pick of tonight’s NFL Draft.

A First-Team All-American last season, one of Okudah’s goals when he arrived was to have his photo on the wall inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center with the other great Buckeye cornerbacks.

It was fitting goal because even before he was committed to Ohio State, he was seen by some as the next great Ohio State cornerback.

Once he committed, more people jumped on board.

When he enrolled early in January of 2017 and more people got to hear from him and know him, the bandwagon grew to well beyond capacity.

Okudah was the No. 1 cornerback in the 2017 recruiting cycle and never once at Ohio State did he ever live up to anything less than the expectations of being the best.

That doesn’t mean he was outstanding from day one. Few players are. But he was good enough to be part of the two-deep as a true freshman and step into the three-man corner rotation in the Cotton Bowl when Denzel Ward decided to sit out.

As a sophomore, Okudah was a mainstay in the rotation with Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield. All three were named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in 2018. Even without bulkier accolades, it was clear Okudah was on a path that most don’t travel.

Then came his junior season. Okudah was handed a third position coach in three years. Head coach Ryan Day went out and got Jeff Hafley from the NFL. As Hafley studied his new players, he saw what they did well, what they could work on, and then also had to implement new techniques and a new scheme.

Every step of the way, Okudah was ready.

Hafley was never satisfied, however, shying away from questions about Okudah and the NFL at this time last year. Hafley simply talked about the work that needed to be done. By the end of the year, it was clear that Okudah was a different player than the year before, but it wasn’t outside the expectations that everyone had for him.

“Well, I think a lot of guys make that leap in year two to three. I see it a lot,” Day said. “And it’s leadership, it’s with approach, it’s with a lot of things. I just think it all came together for Jeff. I think it was good having Jeff Hafley — they really hit it off. His approach and just his being three years into the program, all those things, just kind of added up for him.”

Day doesn’t have to think too hard about other players who made the jump from year two to year three. Even though running back JK Dobbins was productive from the outset, rushing for a school-record 2,003 yards last season was a leap. The same can be said of defensive end Chase Young, who set a school record with 16.5 sacks last year.

“And I think when you look at the timeline of a lot of our players, that’s pretty typical of when guys really turn it on,” Day said. “When you look at the season JK had, Chase, and Jeff. So I think that it was just kind of the natural evolution of his career. And he was always very, very talented. I mean, it was never like anyone was surprised that he’s going to be a top-five pick. We always kind of saw that in him and I think he just really took off last season.”

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