INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Okudah is the best cornerback in this draft class and a likely top 10 pick. Shortly after he completed his stellar junior campaign at Ohio State and declared for the NFL draft, Okudah reached out to one of the NFL players he looks up to the most – Detroit Lions Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay.
The two have since become friends, and Okudah talked Friday about what that friendship has meant to him.
"In high school and college, I'm always watching Darius Slay and trying to emulate the things he does," Okudah said. "He's a great player. He plays with great technique and he makes amazing plays. His nickname is Big Play Slay, how much better does it get than that?
"Just being able to reach out to him and talk to him and use him as a resource, really, I just think it shows what kind of guy he is, because he doesn't have to talk to me, honestly."
View photos from media availability at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020 in Indianapolis.
So what would a potential Slay and Okudah pairing in Detroit's secondary be like?
"I think it would be magical," Okudah said. "I think it would be really tough for that division."
There's a lot that has to happen in Detroit before that scenario becomes a reality, however.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn said earlier this week that he’s talked to teams about potentially trading Slay, who is entering the final year of his contract and has made it well known he wants a new deal.
"I think what we're trying to do is explore a trade," Quinn said of Slay. "That's not saying we are definitely trading him. We've had some conversations with other teams. Nothing to report right now. We're very much in the information gather phase of this."
Quinn said everything is on the table when it comes to Slay – signing him to an extension, trading the three-time Pro Bowler or having him play out the final year of his contract.
Whether or not Slay is a Lion in 2019 and beyond could factor into the Lions need for drafting a cornerback like Okudah with their first pick. Okudah is among the top defensive playmakers in this draft, alongside defensive end Chase Young (Ohio State), defensive tackle Derrick Brown (Auburn) and linebacker Isaiah Simmons (Clemson). All of those players could be in the mix for the Lions with their first pick.
"Okudah has ideal size (6-1, 205), length, twitch and competitiveness for the position," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah wrote of Okudah after making him No. 4 on his Top 50 players in this draft class. "He is very comfortable and effective in both press and off coverage. He is patient in press and very fluid/smooth when he opens up. He does a nice job of staying on top versus vertical routes and he can locate the football down the field.
"He has the agility to mirror underneath. In off coverage, he explodes out of his plant and he is a dependable open field tackler. This is a very clean player with a very high floor and ceiling."
Okudah is taking this pre-draft process very seriously and has studied all the teams selecting at the top of the draft. He knew personnel, scheme and the offseason decisions facing all the teams selecting high in the draft. He seems very well studied.
When it comes to the Combine, Okudah said he has a white board in his apartment with all the combine times and measurements for Jalen Ramsey and Patrick Peterson, hoping to at least match and hopefully better those results. Okudah and the rest of the cornerback class work out at the Combine on Sunday.
Okudah is a terrific talent and seems well prepared for his leap into the NFL. If Slay returns to Detroit for the 2020 season, the Lions are likely still on the lookout for a cornerback to play opposite him. Without Slay, cornerback could become a big need in this draft, depending on how free agency plays out.
Either way, Okudah could be a terrific fit for a Lions team that hasn't drafted a cornerback in the first round since Terry Fair in 1998.