Jeff Okudah is going pro.
The junior cornerback announced Wednesday he will forgo his final year of eligibility at Ohio State and enter the 2020 NFL Draft.
Free Jefe. Jeremiah 29:11. pic.twitter.com/i9DSjUmrPa— Jeff Okudah (@jokudah) January 1, 2020
Okudah revealed his decision in a letter to his late mother published on The Players Tribune.
“I’m ready to take my place within the lineage of elite Ohio State cornerbacks, and proud Ohio State alums,” Okudah said. “I’m ready to keep challenging myself, to keep grinding for more, to keep working as hard as it takes to accomplish my goals.”
Okudah developed into arguably the top cornerback in college football this season after breaking out against Washington in last year's Rose Bowl. He recorded 35 total tackles, three interceptions, nine additional pass breakups and two forced fumbles this season, all the while he was dominant in coverage while routinely matching up with each opponent's No. 1 receiver.
Okudah earned unanimous first-team All-American honors along with defensive end Chase Young and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and he was also a finalist for this year's Jim Thorpe Award, which honors college football's best defensive back.
He finishes his three-year Ohio State career with 84 total tackles and 21 total passes defended, and he'll be immortalized with a tree in Buckeye Grove for his first-team All-American status. He acknowledged in his Players Tribune letter, though, that it's tough to leave Ohio State after the Buckeyes' Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson, knowing how close they came to the opportunity to play for a national title.
“I’m writing with a heavy heart, as we just went through one of the most brutal losses ever, to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals,” Okudah said. “It really could have gone either way — one bounce here or there, Mom, and I swear: I’d be getting ready for the National Championship Game. And to leave this program without winning a national title….. it hurts a lot.
“But I’m also trying to keep some perspective. And the truth is, I’m leaving with so much more to be proud of than to feel hurt about. Think about it: three straight Big Ten championships, three straight top five national rankings, three straight wins over TTUN, and a roster full of guys projected to play in the NFL. That’s a pretty good run for our class.”
Once the top-rated cornerback and a top-10 overall prospect in the 2017 recruiting cycle, he lived up to all of the hype surrounding him out of Grand Prairie, Texas.
A first-round lock, Okudah could be a top-10 overall pick. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller rates Okudah as the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2020 draft class. Okudah will become Ohio State's sixth first-round defensive back in a five-year span and seventh in a seven-year span, joining Denzel Ward in 2018, the trio of Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley in 2017, Eli Apple in 2016 and Bradley Roby in 2014.
Okudah becomes the second Ohio State junior to announce he is leaving early for the 2020 NFL draft, joining running back J.K. Dobbins.
With Okudah gone, Ohio State is now set to lose at least three of its starting defensive backs from this past season, with all eyes now on Shaun Wade, who will announce his decision on Saturday at noon. Wade is also viewed as a potential first-round pick, so the redshirt sophomore cornerback could also choose to forgo his final two years of eligibility and enter the 2020 NFL draft, though he could also opt to return in order to boost his draft stock and play cornerback on the outside rather than in the slot.
Whether Wade leaves or not, Ohio State's new defensive backs coach will arrive in Columbus needing to either replace the majority or entirety of the Buckeyes' starting secondary, as safety Jordan Fuller and cornerback Damon Arnette have also completed their Ohio State careers. A group of relatively inexperienced cornerbacks – Sevyn Banks, Cameron Brown, Amir Riep, Marcus Williamson, Tyreke Johnson, Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts – will have to step up to fill the void in 2020.
The 2020 NFL draft will take place from April 23-25 in Las Vegas.