INDIANAPOLIS – If Jeff Okudah had chosen not to work out at the NFL Scouting Combine, few would have blamed him.
After all, he’s already projected by many to be the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, and the expected top two picks in the draft – Joe Burrow and Chase Young – both opted not to participate in any drills at the combine.
Okudah, though, has dreamed of participating in the combine for years. He’s seen some of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, such as 2011 and 2016 fifth overall picks Patrick Peterson and Jalen Ramsey, solidify themselves as top draft prospects by putting together spectacular performances in Indianapolis. And now he wants to follow in their footsteps.
“Coming to the combine is a dream, so just being here is a dream come true,” Okudah said Friday during his combine interview session. “I watched Jalen Ramsey's combine video, Patrick Peterson's combine video. I want someone down the road to say 'Let me turn on Jeff Okudah's combine video.'
“Right now in my apartment, I have a whiteboard and I have all of Jalen Ramsey and Patrick Peterson's combine numbers on there, and so I think it's just about putting my numbers up with theirs.”
Okudah is planning to do everything at the combine this weekend, including the 40-yard dash and defensive back drills, and he’s looking to prove he’s an elite athlete.
“I want to prove that my footwork is really, really good for someone that's my size,” Okudah said. “Going to the field work, showing really good footwork, really loose hips and putting that on film for y'all to watch.”
Given that Okudah is already the consensus choice to be the top defensive back in the draft, one could argue that he has more to lose from potentially having a disappointing workout than he has to gain from a spectacular performance. At the least, someone could make the case – as Young did in explaining his decision not to work out – that he didn’t need to be focusing his energy on trying to perfect his technique for combine drills instead of just playing football.
That’s not the way Okudah sees it, though. For him, it’s another opportunity to compete and prove that he deserves to be a top pick, and he’s confident he’ll do what he needs to do to make participating in the combine a beneficial decision.
“There's risk/reward for anything,” Okudah said. “So for me, it's just no different than going out there and going against (former Clemson wide receiver) Tee Higgins all game. It's always gonna be risk/reward, so you choose if you're gonna get the reward or you're gonna get the risk.”
Okudah has already impressed during combine weigh-ins, measuring in at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds with 32 5/8-inch arms and a 78 5/8-inch wingspan (the longest of any cornerback at this year’s combine). The weigh-in did reveal that Okudah has had a permanently dislocated finger on his right hand since high school – resulting in his left hand measuring in 5/8” wider than his right hand – but Okudah, as evidenced by his play with that injury at Ohio State, said that doesn’t affect him on the football field.
“So I jammed my finger in high school. I dislocated it, really. So I tried to tell the guy, do my left hand because the right hand has a dislocated finger from a long time ago. He made me do both, and then when I got out there, he's like 'Pinky deformation,'” Okudah said, laughing as he told the story and showed the crowd of reporters his right hand. “Y’all can say it's deformed, but it's got a little nub on it. It's part of the game.”
Jeff Okudah explains his "pinky deformation," which is why his left hand measures 5/8" wider than his right hand. pic.twitter.com/Ay2RkqVaDu— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) February 28, 2020
By proclaiming that he wants to put up the same kind of numbers that Ramsey and Peterson did in their combine workouts, Okudah is setting high expectations for himself. Ramsey’s numbers at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine included a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, an 11-foot-3 broad jump and a 41.5-inch vertical jump. Peterson’s numbers at the 2011 combine include a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, a 6.58-second 3-cone drill and an 11.01-second 60-yard shuttle.
|Player||School||Year||Ht||Wt||40||Bench||Vert||Broad||3-Cone||20 Shuttle||60 Shuttle|
That said, Okudah has never been one to expect anything less than the best from himself. He’s not a huge trash talker – as he said Friday, he saved most of that for Damon Arnette during their Ohio State careers together – but he’s always had an air of confidence about him, one that manifests itself in both his play on the field and his interviews with the media.
So it didn’t come as a surprise on Friday when he had the perfect response for a reporter who questionably suggested that he had “a tendency to get kind of sloppy.”
“I had zero pass interferences, zero holdings, so cut the tape on again,” Okudah replied. “I think you might see something else.”
Someone who I'm guessing didn't watch much Jeff Okudah last year asked him about having "a tendency to get kind of sloppy."— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) February 28, 2020
Okudah's response: "I had zero pass interferences, zero holdings, so cut the tape on the game. I think you might see something else." pic.twitter.com/oQ3rrtP3q1
He’ll get the chance to put up memorable numbers and show that his technique isn’t sloppy on Sunday, when he and the rest of the defensive backs will go through their on-field workouts on the final day of the combine.