What loss of star cornerback Jeff Okudah means for Buckeyes

What loss of star cornerback Jeff Okudah means for Buckeyes

Austin Wardalmost 2 years
Aritcle written by:Austin WardAustin Ward

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Jeff Okudah 3 by Birm-Lettermen Row

COLUMBUS — The chance to take another shot at a national championship at Ohio State was admittedly enticing for Jeff Okudah.

But his draft stock is far too high to ignore, and ultimately the decision was the one that was anticipated all along for the junior cornerback.

Okudah is moving on to the NFL Draft. And the Buckeyes will surely once again have a first-round pick at the position thanks to the impressive physical tools, cover skills and reliability of the All-American defensive back.

“J.K. [Dobbins], Chase [Young] and I, we’ve all said that we don’t want to leave here without a national championship,” Okudah said before the Fiesta Bowl. “For us, that’s one of the goals we set — even in recruiting — that’s what our goal was to do, win a national championship.

“To leave here without winning one, I think that’d be something you’d really have to consider when making a decision about the next level.”

Those decorated Buckeyes didn’t reach that top goal thanks to the loss to Clemson, and Dobbins already announced his intentions to head to the next level before Okudah confirmed his plans on New Year’s Day. Young will likely follow suit shortly, giving Ohio State at least three early departures to replace for next season.

How does the loss of Jeff Okudah mean for Ohio State? Lettermen Row is breaking it down here.

Jeff Okudah-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah played his last game for the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Jeff Okudah helped reestablish Ohio State secondary

There was a brief hiccup in the Ohio State defensive backfield and the streak of first-round draft picks from the secondary came to a halt last year. But Okudah is going to get a new string started in the spring, and the work he and Damon Arnette did alongside Jordan Fuller and Shaun Wade left no doubt that the Buckeyes again are squarely in the mix as the best secondary in the nation. Okudah was snubbed for the Thorpe Award, but the All-America voters got it right by naming his a first-team pick — backing up what the NFL scouts have been seeing in him for the last couple years. Okudah deserves a ton of credit for getting the Buckeyes back on track, and his legacy as one of the school’s all-time great cornerbacks is secure.

How will Buckeyes replace Jeff Okudah?

All eyes immediately shift to Jacksonville on Saturday where Shaun Wade will be making his decision about his future, and there’s no way to overstate how important that will be in shaping the Ohio State roster next season. There is a bit of growing optimism that the redshirt sophomore will return and try to boost his stock into a surefire first-round pick by playing as an outside cornerback for the Buckeyes next year, but Wade’s versatility and athleticism might entice teams to take an early shot on him already. So, with Okudah officially gone, Ohio State will be on pins and needles for the next couple days. If the Buckeyes hang on to Wade, that will surely ease some of the pressure on Cam Brown and Sevyn Banks as they wouldn’t have to go into next season as the top guys at the position. Both are going to be key cogs for Ohio State, but obviously Wade would elevate the ceiling for the unit.

Does Ohio State need to get involved with transfer portal?

The Buckeyes have taken a big hit to the depth in the secondary. And while there is a lot of confidence in the potential with guys like Brown and Banks, Ohio State will probably be closely watching the transfer portal to see if there’s a cornerback who has the ability and mindset to fit in with the defending Big Ten champions. That need really was amplified when Clark Phillips flipped to Utah during the early signing period since the early-enrollee cornerback looked capable of coming in and making an impact right away for the Buckeyes. No matter what happens with Wade, Ohio State is probably going to be looking for somebody on the transfer market who can help in the secondary.