NFL Draft 2020: Jeff Okudah shares an interesting moment from his combine meeting with Raiders’ Jon Gruden

While a cornerback is certainly on the Raiders’ offseason wish list, Jon Gruden’s team will probably not be in a position to draft Jeff Okudah — the highest ranked cornerback in the 2020 draft — with the 12th overall pick. In their most recent mock drafts, CBS Sports draft analyst Ryan Wilson has Okudah going to the Panthers with the eight overall pick, while fellow CBS analyst Chris Trapasso has the Lions selecting Okudah with the third overall pick. That didn’t stop Gruden and Raiders general manager Mike Mayock from meeting with Okudah during last week’s NFL combine. And based on what Okudah shared from his interaction with Gruden, the meeting went quite well.

“It’s surreal,” Okudah said of meeting with Gruden during an appearance on NFL Network. “Sitting in a room with Gruden (last) Wednesday, and we were just talking football. He was like, ‘Hey man, are you from planet earth?’ I said, ‘Yeah. I just like football a lot.'”

In that way, Okudah and Gruden are kindred spirits. A football lifer, Gruden played college football at Division III Muskingum, then at the University of Dayton before breaking into coaching as a graduate assistant in 1986. He broke into the NFL as an offensive assistant with the defending two-time champion 49ers in 1990, working under then 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren and helping coach Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice. A dozen years later, Gruden was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after leading the Buccaneers to their first title. And after a decade in the broadcast booth, Gruden’s passion for the game led to his return to the sidelines with the Raiders in 2018. 

Like Gruden, Okudah also has a deep passion for football, one that started as a kid playing the popular “Madden NFL” game on his video game counsel. But after a while, Okudah wanted to experience the game for himself, not through a television screen. That’s what his unrelenting drive to become one of the best football players in the country truly started.

“You’re getting a straight technician,” Okudah said at the combine when asked how he would sell himself to NFL teams. “If you really love football, watch the tape, because you’ll see someone that really is in love with being a better player. Technique is something that I really pride myself on… . That’s something that I’ve always just tried to pride myself on something that I care deeply about.”

At Ohio State, Okudah prided himself on helping raise what was already an incredibly high bar when it comes to defensive backs. As soon as his name is taken off the board, Okudah will continue Ohio State’s run of six straight years where a former Buckeye defensive back has been selected during the draft. In 2018, his former teammate, Denzel Ward, was drafted by the Browns with the fourth overall pick.

“I think it’s just about trying to be better than the defensive backs that came before you,” Okudah said about the culture that exists at Ohio State. “The bar is always set so high at Ohio State as what is the expectation for a great corner. Denzel set the bar high. He set the bar really high. I wanted to take that bar and I wanted to move it up a little higher for the next guy, and he can hold it up higher for the next guy, and it just keeps going from there.”

Often compared to Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Okudah said that he studies all of the NFL’s elite corners, specifically Patrick Peterson and Stephon Gilmore, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. And regardless of where he plays, Okudah said that he is taking his passion for the game, and his desire to be the best at his craft, to whatever organization calls his name.

“I’ll never get complacent because I feel like there’s always a constant chase,” said Okudah, who will take part in Ohio State’s Pro Day later this month. “I’m chasing some of the great corners in the game right now, and there’s corners that are chasing me. I feel like, if you understand the constant chase, you’ll always be good on the field.”

And you never know — maybe Gruden and the Raiders trade up to land Okudah depending on how the first round plays out. A move like that could certainly be in play.

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