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Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah Plans On Bringing A ‘Winner’s Mentality’ To The Team That Drafts Him

College cornerbacks are not supposed to do all of the things that former Ohio State standout Jeffrey Okudah is already capable of doing on the football field. A unanimous All-American selection last season, Okudah’s physicality, technique, instincts, football IQ, and mentality are all top-notch. As a result, he’s expected to go high in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Plenty of mocks have him tabbed at No. 3 overall to the Detroit Lions, which would make him the highest cornerback drafted since at least the turn of the millennium.

Okudah, a former five-star recruit out of Texas, was one of the centerpieces of a stout Buckeye defense last season. Now, he’s ready to take on his next chapter, one that seems destined to end up with Okudah’s name being kicked around in any discussions of the best cornerbacks in the league.

One day before Okudah learns where he’s going to start his NFL career, we spoke to him from his home in Texas about the process, playing his college ball in Columbus, and the role his family has played in getting him to this point.

I know the process has been a bit different than usual but how’s it been for you and what all have you done as you get ready for the draft?

It’s definitely been different. Just finding ways to work out, kinda innovative about it and just being smart about it with COVID-19. I’ve been going to the top floor of my parking garage, running around it for cardio, working out in my living room. It’s just been a different process.

I know there are rules, regulations every has to follow, but what’s the plan for draft night?

Going to my family’s house, being with loved ones, and celebrating with them.

You came to Ohio State as a blue-chip corner, where’s the area you believe you’ve grown the most as a football player during your time in Columbus?

I think it’s my knowledge of the game, just knowing the Xs and Os, learning the why behind what offenses do. I think once I started to learn that, the game just started to slow down so much for me.

What is the thing in your game you’re the most proud of and why?

The biggest thing I’m most proud of is the ability to keep wanting to learn, learn more things, never feel complacent. I know my freshman year, there were things I couldn’t do in press man that I can do now. I just learned from watching film how that’s supposed to look, just studying that and studying that and getting it figured out. A few years later now, I can do it.

Corner is an interesting position because I think it has to blend a bunch of different things. I wanna ask, what do you think is the most important thing for a cornerback to have: Good technique, the knowledge of what an opposing offense wants to do, or reliable instincts that never let you down?

Having good eye discipline, so just always know where to place your eyes in zone, or you have different eyes in man-to-man. So just knowing what you’re looking for, how to look for it, little keys that can help you play faster.

I always like asking dudes who are the guys you model your game after and what do you like about their games? It can be NFL, college, current guys, older guys, whomever.

I like Stephon Gilmore’s game a lot, I like Pat Pete, and I like Sherman, I think the way he reads route concepts, the way he makes plays on the ball, is first-class.

It seems like you like bigger, physical cornerbacks. Is that how you like to play?

Yeah, I’ve got to. I’m 6’1, 205, so I don’t have a choice at this point. [laughs]

During your time in Columbus, you played huge games against Penn State, against Michigan, against Michigan State, Big Ten Championships, bowl games, the playoff. How do you think being this battle-tested and playing in so many big games makes you uniquely ready for the NFL?

I think it’ll translate a lot. We played a lot of games, but we also won a lot of games, so having that winner’s mentality, anyone at Ohio State will do anything to win a game. So I think just having that winner’s mentality, it’ll be contagious, and I feel like you pass it along in the locker room and have a team turn around pretty fast.

I can ask you about any number of guys at Ohio State, but there’s one in particular. I’m gonna ask you the exact question you asked Mel Kiper: Why is Damon Arnette not considered one of the top DBs in the draft right now?

That’s something that I just sit here and I think about a lot. I really don’t know, I’m genuinely confused, because I think if you look at the tape, you look at the numbers, he has some of the better numbers in the country, and guys didn’t catch a lot of balls with him. So I feel like he should be one of the top cornerback prospects.

Can I get a very quick scouting report on him?

He definitely wears his heart on his sleeve. Aggressive, he’ll wear down a lot of receivers. If you’re not mentally tough, he’s gonna wear you down for four quarters.

Ohio States sends a ton of dudes to the NFL every year, who are the guys you’re tightest with and have they given you any advice on becoming an NFL player?

I’m really cool with Marshon [Lattimore] and Gareon [Conley], which is kinda weird because they left right before I got there. But they’ve been giving me a bunch of advice about how to go about your rookie year, routines that worked from them. So I’m just taking notes from everybody and just trying to figure out how to twist it into my way.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten? It can be from someone in the league, someone at Ohio State, someone not even in football.

I was talking to LaDainian Tomlinson about a month or two ago and was asking him, “So, what advice would you give a rookie coming in?” And he was like, “Shut up and work, and let your work ethic speak for you.” To me, it’s not a big thing, it’s kind of something that I’ve always just thought about, anyway. And so once he told me that, it sounded like … if he tells me to do it, I’m gonna do it.

The last football question, how did Ohio State prepare you for this moment?

Definitely prepared me for this moment just because we’ve had a lot of secondhand experiences just watching guys get drafted. And on top of that, at Ohio State, there’s been adversity that we’ve had to go through. So with this whole coronavirus pandemic, I think the locker room at Ohio State, the highs and lows, have prepared me for tomorrow. So I think whatever happens, I think that I’ll be just fine.

What do you have going on with Old Spice?

It’s actually really cool. We’re not physically at the draft this year, but the NFL and Old Spice, they teamed up to give us a red carpet experience, and this is virtual. Everyone can check out the hashtag #NFLDraftRedCarpet and see what everyone’s wearing tomorrow on Draft Day.

You’ve got something special planned out? Any scarlet and gray in that thing?

I actually think there will be some scarlet and gray. I think, about the colors, it will definitely incorporate some scarlet and gray.

What’s Jeff Okudah favorite thing to do off the field?

I’m a big Netflix guy. I like to sit on Netflix and I’ll watch a whole season maybe in a day or two.

You can watch one thing on Netflix, what are you gonna be checking out?

Prison Break.

I know family is something important to you — I read your piece in the Players Tribune from 2017 last night. Can you speak to how important your family has been in getting you to where you are today?

Family’s definitely been big. Having their support, I would say, it takes a village to raise a child, so having a lot of support, a lot of sacrifices, to see everything come together. Obviously I’m grateful for all of that. I don’t take it lightly and I just wanna make everyone proud.