Jeff Okudah entered rare territory when the NFL draft unfolded Thursday night.


He became the highest-drafted cornerback in two decades when he was selected by the Detroit Lions with the third overall pick.


The selection followed former Ohio State teammate Chase Young, the premier pass rusher who went one spot earlier when he was drafted by the Washington Redskins.


Both were unanimous All-Americans for the Buckeyes last fall and had long been projected to land near the top of the draft after they bypassed their senior seasons to turn pro.


The likelihood of Okudah moving up to as high as No. 3 only increased when Detroit traded reigning Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay last month to the Philadelphia Eagles for two draft picks, leaving a position of need in its secondary.


Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only two cornerbacks have ended up as high as No. 3 in the draft.


The most recent one prior to Okudah had been Shawn Springs, another Ohio State product who was the third overall pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 1997.


Bruce Pickens, a former Nebraska cornerback, also went third to the Atlanta Falcons in 1991.


Okudah is viewed as a possible lockdown corner in the NFL, and his profile as a prospect took off during his junior season, his first as a full-time starter for the Buckeyes after he was a rotational player as an underclassman.


Starting all 14 games for Ohio State last season, Okudah intercepted three passes and broke up nine more, leading the team in both categories, a critical component for a defense that ranked first in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense, allowing 259.7 yards per game.


In addition to All-American honors, Okudah was also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back.


At 6 feet 1 and 205 pounds, he is also regarded for his athleticism, even though his opportunity to shine at the combine in Indianapolis in February was cut short when he pulled out of drills due to injury.


Okudah was considered a five-star prospect when he enrolled at Ohio State out of Grand Prairie, Texas.


He signed with the Buckeyes in part because of the program’s reputation as an NFL factory for defensive backs.


Then he joined the club Thursday.


With his selection, he became the fifth Ohio State cornerback to be drafted in the first round, a string of selections that included Denzel Ward, who went fourth overall to the Cleveland Browns in 2018.


ESPN’s pre-draft coverage featured Okudah, telling the story of his later mother, Marie, who died of lymphoma in 2017, six days after he enrolled as a freshman at Ohio State.


"I know mom’s looking down on me really proud right now," he said during the ESPN feature.


jkaufman@dispatch.com


@joeyrkaufman