As he established himself at Ohio State as the best cornerback in his draft class, Jeff Okudah found a role model in Darius Slay. In each of the last three seasons, Slay earned a Pro Bowl selection with the Detroit Lions, who hold the No. 3 pick in the draft. The two are mutual admirers and have been in touch by phone and text.
“He does a lot of techniques that I use, moving my feet good, staying on top, making plays on deep balls,” Slay told The Detroit Free Press in January. “You can tell he takes the deep ball away easily, but with him being so quick and so long and aggressive, he can take away a lot of other stuff.”
At 6 feet 1 and 205 pounds, Okudah is a bit bigger than Slay, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles last month, and his presence commands attention.
“You just see the physical stature when he walks in a room,” said the Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley, who was a co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach for Ohio State during Okudah’s time there. “Corners usually aren’t as big as he is. Usually guys that are as tall and broad and strong, they don’t play the position. And in the N.F.L. game right now, that’s what all the wideouts look like, so you’re trying to find a guy to match up with them.”
Okudah has it all, Hafley said: size, speed, acceleration, instincts, inquisitiveness and competitiveness. He has endured a lot already, losing his mother, Marie, to lymphoma just six days after arriving on campus as an early enrollee in January 2017. In an article this year in The Players’ Tribune, Okudah said he welcomed the chance to tell N.F.L. teams about her.
“I’ll tell them that we never had the most money, in terms of our financial situation,” he said. “And that we didn’t have the most time, in terms of our years we got to spend together. But we had the most love — that’s for sure.”
At Ohio State last season, Okudah said, Hafley was both a friend and an inspiration. Hafley coached in the N.F.L. for seven years, and he recognizes traits in Okudah that he saw in the top defensive backs he knew then.
“What separates the Pro Bowlers I’ve been around — Ronde Barber, Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman and even Donte Whitner, those elite guys — their mind-set’s different,” Hafley said. “They have a different level of competing and working and they’re driven to the point where nothing’s going to stop them. And Jeff’s got that.”