Ohio State football: Jeff Okudah’s sophomore season expectations in Detroit

Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Jeff Okudah celebrates a third down stop during the second quarter of the NCAA football game against the Wisconsin Badgers.ghows-LK-200418814-a6384c09.jpg
Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Jeff Okudah celebrates a third down stop during the second quarter of the NCAA football game against the Wisconsin Badgers.ghows-LK-200418814-a6384c09.jpg /

Former Ohio State football player Jeff Okudah is on the verge of starting his sophomore season with the Detroit Lions after an inconsistent and injury-riddled start to his career. Okudah, who was selected with the 3rd overall pick, totaled 43 tackles and two pass deflections before undergoing season-ending surgery in mid-December to repair a muscle injury.

“I’m feeling great. I’m definitely trending towards 100%. I think that’s a testament to the staff the Detroit Lions have,” Okudah said during media availability in May. “It just feels like I have a different level that I wasn’t able to tap into last year. I feel like just kind of moving around and not having that pain in my groin anymore, it just feels like a different level.”

The 6’1 cornerback signed a 4-year deal with Detroit in July before suffering a hamstring injury during training camp and missing the first week of the regular season. That injury could have impacted his progress as he played a step slow at times, allowing 38 catches on 50 targets. Okudah picked off Kyler Murray for his first career interception in his second start.

A year later, the Lions organization looks a lot different as Matt Patricia was replaced by head coach Dan Campbell. Campbell brought defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn along with him, who coached Okudah and other highly rated prospects at The Opening nearly five years ago. Okudah was a 5-star shutdown corner from Grand Prairie, Texas at the time.

“When I went to The Opening leading into my senior year, coincidentally he was the DB coach. It was a fun weekend,” Okudah explained during the offseason. “We learned a lot from him, just to see everything come back full circle to where he’s now my defensive coordinator, has me really excited to get to work.”

Glenn discussed his message for Okudah heading into his second season: “Let your best be good enough for us. Don’t try to live up to be the third pick in the draft. We don’t need you to do that. We just need you to be the best Okudah you can be and that’ll be good enough for us. And whatever that is, it’s going to come with some competition.”

Okudah was a major addition to Ohio State’s 2017 class, alongside Chase Young, JK Dobbins, Baron Browning, and Shaun Wade. The Grand Prairie product exploded as a junior, finishing with 34 tackles, nine pass deflections, and three picks. He earned All-Big Ten honors and was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist before fulfilling his dream and declaring for the draft.

The 22-year-old has dealt with a lot over the last several years as his mother Marie sadly passed away in 2017 after a long battle with lymphoma. Okudah also played through a labrum injury for three years including his freshman season with the Ohio State football program that eventually required surgery in 2018, before missing part of his rookie season in Detroit due to groin surgery.

Okudah touched on his mental health heading into his second year: “I came with the mindset that there’s not too many times in life when you’re able to get a fresh start on so many different elements. I’m just embracing that. Mindset has always been not really proving people wrong but just proving myself right.”

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He will certainly have a chance to do that as the Lions start the regular season against a trio of Super Bowl contenders in the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, and Baltimore Ravens. Okudah recently finished the preseason with four tackles and one pass deflection as he hopes to refine his technique and exceed expectations in 2021.