By Bryce Shadday | @Bryce_Shadday
Sports Capital Journalism Program
Ohio State’s defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah were back in Indianapolis. Less than three months before, Okudah and Young, consensus first-team All-Americans, helped lead the Buckeyes in a come-from-behind, 34-21 victory over Wisconsin that gave both players a third Big Ten Championship.
If Young and Okudah are drafted within the top five picks at the 2020 NFL Draft, as many expect, it will be the second time in five drafts and third in Ohio State history. In 2016, defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott were drafted back-to-back at picks three and four. The first time it happened was in 1997 when offensive tackle Orlando Pace and cornerback Shawn Springs were selected with picks one and three.
Young is projected to be drafted second overall by the Washington Redskins. Former Ohio State teammates Dwayne Haskins and Terry McLaurin were picked by the Redskins in last year’s draft. Young says he and Haskins talk all the time about coming to Washington. “He wants me to come there,” said Young.
After Nick Bosa, the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, was injured during the 2018 Ohio State season, Young received his opportunity to display his skills. It would be an understatement to say that he capitalized on that opportunity. In two years, he recorded 31 sacks, second all-time at Ohio State. Current Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel holds the record with 36 sacks from 1993 through 1996.
During Young’s 2019 campaign, he led the nation in sacks with 16.5 and led with six forced fumbles. In addition to his sacks and fumbles, his 21.5 tackles for loss were good for second in the nation.
He won the 2019 Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player and the Hendricks Award for the top defensive end. Young became a finalist for the most prestigious award in college football, the Heisman Trophy. He finished fourth behind his Ohio State teammate Justin Fields, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, and the winner of the Heisman, Louisiana State’s Joe Burrow.
Young does not lack confidence off the field. “I definitely think I’m the best player in this draft,” he said.
Okudah arrived at Ohio State in the same 2017 recruiting class. On Friday morning, Okudah bounced around from one media stage to another before taking his place at a podium to answer more questions. The second question he was asked was about was his “sloppy play” that led to penalties. “I had zero pass interferences, zero holdings,” he said. “Cut the tape on that again. I think you might see something else.”
He had shut down that question as effectively as he could shut down a team’s best receiver. Okudah and his fellow Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette allowed a total of one passing touchdown during the entire season.
Draft speculation has linked Okudah to teams such as the Detroit Lions and the Miami Dolphins. Veteran Lions cornerback Darius Slay has been a mentor to Okudah throughout this process. He says that he and Slay talk often and that it has been great to have Slay to reach out to. “I think it’d be magical,” said Okudah when asked about potentially playing with Slay.
Unlike Young, Okudah will participate in all Combine drills this weekend instead of waiting for the Ohio State pro day. “I think coming to the Combine is a dream come true,” he said. Okudah mentioned that he watched the Combine tapes of other successful NFL cornerbacks such as Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson.
“I want someone down the road to say ‘Let me watch Jeff Okudah’s Combine video,’” Okudah said.
Okudah mentioned that he attended a meeting with the Oakland Raiders this week. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock talked with Okudah, who said he showed them that he liked football just as much as they did.
Okudah felt he must have left an impression on Gruden. He said he heard the coach ask, “Hey man, are you from planet Earth?”