INDIANAPOLIS – Top NFL cornerback prospect Jeffrey Okudah has a deformed pinky.
Okudah confirmed this shocking news after it came up when his hands were measured at the league’s scouting combine this week. His left hand was 9 1/8 inches, his right hand 8 1/2.
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“I jammed my finger in high school. I dislocated it, really,” Okudah said Friday. “I tried to tell the guy, ‘Do my left hand because the right hand has a dislocated finger from a long time ago.’ He made me do both. And then when I got up there, he’s like ‘Pinky deformation!’ ”
Okudah held his damaged digit aloft for examination by reporters.
“Y’all can say it’s deformed, but I feel like it’s just got a little nub on it,” he said. “I love all my fingers the same.”
Unfortunately for Eagles fans, Okudah’s less-than-perfect pinky is unlikely to push him out of the top 5-to-10 picks in the first round of the entry draft. Okudah will almost certainly be long gone before the Eagles’ scheduled 21st overall selection. Several members of this year’s highly touted wide receiver draft class were asked at the combine to name the best corner they played against in college. The ones who had played against Ohio State all named Okudah, who is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, and has run a 4.49-second 40-yard dash.
Though corner is a perennial Eagles need that has never seemed more pressing, getting up to Okudah might require a 2016 Carson Wentz-draft series of moves for a team that is looking at this as a watershed year for replenishment. The Eagles also need to add talent at wide receiver, safety, defensive line, and linebacker. They are expected to try to make a big push in free agency at corner, but of course until they actually sign someone, the possibility of taking a corner high in the draft is a strong consideration.
If they can’t get Okudah in the first round, the Eagles might have a shot at the guy who manned the other corner at Ohio State, Damon Arnette, who projects to go in the second or third round. Arnette is 5-11½, 195 pounds, loud and aggressive but not as smooth as Okudah, with a more complicated history.
Arnette played poorly in 2018 while clashing with the defensive coaching staff. He never got into real trouble off the field, but he had a reputation for liking a good time more than film study.
Frustrated with the direction his college career had taken, Arnette originally planned to declare for the 2019 draft, in which he was projected as a late-round prospect. As he was gathering his belongings to leave campus after the season, conversations with family friend and former Buckeye Cris Carter and the just-hired Ohio State co-defensive coordinator, Jeff Hafley, convinced him to change his mind.
Carter told Arnette that Arnette wasn’t ready for the pros. Hafley told him he could help him improve. Arnette became a much more consistent player last season as a fifth-year senior. He told reporters Friday that he felt he matured as a corner and as a person as he and his girlfriend prepared to welcome their son, Tyson “Ace” Arnette, born last month.
“Every day I think about that decision that I made to come back and how it could have been, and I‘m just thankful that I did come back,” Arnette said Friday. “Coach Hafley [now head coach at Boston College], he was a part of the big change I made in my life. … He’s helped me become a smarter football player, a better football player, a better man. He showed me what it means to really play for your coach and your position coach. Everything he said to me has just been to help me, so I’ll always appreciate him for that.”
Arnette ended up playing the entire 2019 season with a broken wrist, something Okudah mentioned in his session with reporters.
“If you love a redemption story, you respect Damon Arnette a lot,” Okudah said. “He’s someone that had a lot of doubters his first four years at Ohio State. … A lot of guys like to cower up, blame a lot of people. But he just put his head down and kept working. Through a broken wrist, he just put his head down and kept working. And I think he’s really starting to reap the benefits of resiliency.”
Asked how he has changed, Arnette said, “I am more confident. I feel like I’m more technically sound. That ‘dog’ in me that I had in me, that’s who I feel like I am [all the time] now, instead of just sometimes. … I feel like overall, I’m just more ready now than I was last year.”
Someone asked Arnette if he felt it was fair that observers still cite “character concerns” when assessing him.
“I’ve never gotten arrested, I’ve never had an abuse charge or anything like that, so character concerns, I feel like that word is just used real loosely when you really think of what character concerns really are,” he said. “I was just a young man that just needed to mature a little bit more.”
Okudah said Arnette pushed him to be better.
“When the bar is set so high, it’s like, me and him are really competitive. We’re the ultra-competitors,” Okudah said. “Watching him make a play, I’m really happy for him. But then it’s like, ‘When is it going to be my turn? It’s my turn to make a play now. I can’t let him get too far away from me this game.’ And vice-versa. In that way, we have a symbiotic relationship, and it’s worked out really good.”