COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a star-studded class that includes a school-record five 5-star prospects and the highest player rating average in 247Sports history, it’s tough to stand out. So it says a lot about Jeffrey Okudah that in a haul that some have proclaimed the greatest in Ohio State recruiting history, he’s the headliner.
Already on campus as an early-enrollee, Okudah checks off all the boxes that make a prospect popular.
He hails from the talent-rich state of Texas. He’s the highest-ranked signee in the Buckeyes’ historic 2017 haul. He’s capable of playing multiple positions. And unlike many of his new classmates, his recruitment came relatively down to the wire, as Okudah committed on Jan. 7 in the midst of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
But the biggest reason Okudah arrives at Ohio State with as much hype as he does? Because he’s worth it.
Okudah isn’t just the nation’s seventh-ranked prospect in the 2017 class, he’s the seventh-best prospect the Buckeyes have landed in the modern recruiting era, per 247Sports. In addition to cornerback, recruiting services have listed the South Grand Prairie, Texas, native as a 5-star safety and wide receiver, although the expectation is that he’ll compete for one of the open cornerback spots on the Ohio State depth chart in 2017.
“That’s my intention,” Okudah said on National Signing Day. “I know a spot’s open. It’s just all-out competition. I know the best two corners will get out on the field.”
There stands reason believe Okudah will be one of those players.
At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, his size mirrors that of former lengthy cornerbacks who have found success under Urban Meyer, such as Eli Apple, Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. The New York Giants selected Apple 10th overall in the 2016 NFL draft and Lattimore and Conley could each hear their names called in this spring’s first round.
“A lot of big corners have a lot of success,” Okudah said. “Just looking at the NFL, Richard Sherman and Aqib Talib, those are some big corners and some of the best corners in the NFL. I really think the height matters.”
The nation’s top-ranked corner, Okudah also possesses a ready-made skill set that should aid his pursuit of early playing time. And with his inherent athleticism, there are several places on the Buckeyes defense he could potentially play, be it nickel back, safety or a hybrid role.
For now, however, his focus remains on earning a starting spot, likely opposite junior Denzel Ward. In doing so, he’ll battle alongside fellow 5-star freshman Shaun Wade, incoming transfer Kendall Sheffield and 4-star cornerback Marcus Williamson.
And while sophomores Damon Arnette and Joshua Norwood are also on the roster, Meyer has every intention of putting his newcomers on the field.
“We targeted those guys from Day 1,” Meyer said of Okudah, Wade and Williamson. “And we got the three primary guys.”
As spring practice approaches, Okudah is still in the process of playing catchup.
“I’m trying to get in here seven days a week,” he said. “I’m just trying to come (to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center) and get as much extra work in as I can. Working with Coach (Kerry Coombs), I’m going to start watching a lot of extra film. Right now I’m just trying to get my technique down on the defense.”
But while he may consider himself a work-in-progress, the reality remains that Ohio State has never recruited a defensive back like Okudah.
In the same vein as Jalen Ramsey at Florida State or Jabrill Peppers at Michigan, Okudah possesses the ability to dictate the entire defense based on where he lines up. On one play he could be a pure corner, the next, a blitzing nickel back. Perhaps Meyer and his staff will even test out those early wide receiver projections.
But regardless of where he winds up position-wise, this much seems clear: Okudah will make an early impact in his college career.
Of the six recruits ranked higher than him in Ohio State history, five enjoyed extensive playing time as freshmen and four went on to become NFL draft picks. A likely fifth future pro comes in the form of Okudah’s new teammate and Buckeyes sophomore Nick Bosa.
In fact, only one OSU prospect ranked higher than Okudah failed to live up to the hype, as injuries derailed the career of running back Sam Maldonado.
Okudah doesn’t plan on becoming the second.
“It’s time to go to work,” he says.