Over the next few weeks, the Broadway staff will be taking a closer look at prospects the Titans could look to target in the 2021 NFL Draft based on positional need.
Today I am looking at one of my favorite edge rushing prospects in this class, a redshirt sophomore out of Georgia who has been frequently mocked to the Titans: Azeez Ojulari.
Azeez Ojulari | OLB | Georgia
Games I watched: Tennessee (2019), LSU (2019), Baylor (2019), Auburn (2020), Alabama (2020), Tennessee (2020), Florida (2020), Cincinnati (2020)
Ojulari is a young prospect set to turn 21 years old in June. He was a two-year starter at Georgia, playing in all 24 games (with 23 starts) after redshirting his freshman season. Ojulari led the Bulldogs in sacks and pressures in back-to-back years, with 34 QB pressures in 2019 plus 5.5 sacks and 35 pressures in 2020 with 8.5 sacks. He also finished last year with 12.5 tackles for loss and 4 forced fumbles (in 10 games).
In addition to winning Defensive MVP for his final game in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Ojulari was also named to the 2020 SEC Community Service Team. According to Georgia’s release, Ojulari’s community service activities included numerous visits to cancer patients in facilities ranging from New Orleans to Atlanta. He also participated in a series of events and programs to support students and athletes of all ages, from elementary to high school.
At 6-3, Ojulari is no hulking giant, but he has plenty of size for the EDGE position. He uses the long-arm quite a bit with his 35″ arms, and he also uses that length to win at the point of attack in addition to playing with great leverage.
On tape, he looks like a prototypical 3-4 OLB, but doesn’t have the size or strength to move inside on early downs. Although he lacks alignment versatility on the defensive front, he’s plenty capable and comfortable playing off the line and dropping into coverage or picking up running backs and tight ends out of the backfield.
Ojulari is aggressive and violent in run defense, especially when slanting inside. He sets the edge well and does a great job identifying and attacking pulling blockers. While he will occasionally lose the leverage battle, he can more than hold his own in the run game.
While watching his 2019 tape, I thought his hand technique left much to be desired. However, Ojulari made tremendous strides in his proficiency from 2019 to 2020 to the point that I now consider his hand usage a strength. He’s constantly working to keep his opponents’ hands off of him and has developed a violent and effective chop.
Speaking of chops, Ojulari appears to have perfected the pass rushing move known as the stab-club or stab-chop, as it’s easily his most frequent “go-to” move. The inside arm “stabs” — basically a long-arm to the tackle’s inside shoulder — and then the outside hand quickly “chops” down or through the tackle’s outside arm to disengage. Sometimes Ojulari adds a little jump to his chop to gain extra power.
When he’s able to land the stab to the tackle’s shoulder, the chop follows swiftly with his outside hand. Here’s a few examples of his signature move in action:
As key as the hands are to executing this move, the footwork is equally important. First he has to set up the stab by getting quickly upfield and exploding past the blocker. Then as he hits the chop, he’s able to round the corner without losing momentum by turning and pointing his feet at the quarterback. Look at the flexibility and athleticism required to make this next play… talk about bending the edge:
While Ojulari doesn’t really have any other moves beyond the stab-chop, his physical traits imply an extremely high ceiling for a player who is still improving.
At only 240 pounds, it’ll be interesting to see how Ojulari holds up setting the edge at the next level. I think he could stand to get stronger and more aware in run defense, as well as improve his awareness on screens/swing passes targeting his area. As Georgia’s best pass rusher, he was sometimes baited into rushing upfield while the opponent set up a screen right behind him.
Although Ojulari is great with his signature move, his overall pass rush arsenal still needs improvement. He’ll occasionally deploy the long-arm without the chop, and sometimes he’ll try a bull rush or a quick move inside, but he rarely wins with anything other than his patented stab-chop.
It’ll be important for Ojulari to develop at least one counter off of that move, because OL who start to anticipate the stab can defeat him. If that inside hand is knocked away, Ojulari can sometimes lose his balance or lose the necessary power for an effective swipe. Florida’s left tackle Stone Forsythe pretty much shut down Ojulari for the entire 2020 match-up.
Ojulari is much better rushing from the right side of the defense (against the left tackle) than he is from the left side. That may or may not be a limitation depending on how his future NFL team plans to deploy him.
Overall, his limited arsenal as a rusher doesn’t concern me too much, for a couple of reasons. One, he’s still only 20 years old. If he was a redshirt senior entering the draft at age 23, it would be a bigger concern. He’s still developing.
Two, the incredible improvement he showed in terms of technical refinement from 2019 to 2020 bodes well for his development going forward. That tells me he is a hard worker who spends his offseasons looking to improve, which an indication of a high ceiling for someone with his athletic traits.
Does he fit the Titans?
At this point, Ojulari is a better pass rusher than run defender, which is appropriate for today’s NFL. I believe he could contribute from day one, although he could be a bit of a liability in run defense early on. He should be drafted anywhere from the mid-first to the late-second round.
His fit with the Titans is a question of what they’re looking for at the outside linebacker position. Ojulari is similar to Harold Landry in that he plays on the edge and can drop into coverage without providing an easy target. However, if they want someone who can play inside as well as out on the defensive line, Ojulari is likely not their guy.
You have to think about it from a team-building perspective. The Titans need multiple pass rushers, and Landry is set to enter a contract year. Let’s say this offseason the Titans sign a bigger player to compliment Landry. They might then look to add a guy like Ojulari in the draft, someone who could hopefully slide in as Landry’s replacement if he were to depart next offseason in free agency.
I tend to think Jon Robinson needs to add the best pass rushers however he can find them, and Ojulari is the best pure pass rusher in this class as far as I’m concerned. He could be in play at No. 22 or in a possible trade scenario, either up or back into the early second round if he has a Landry-like slide.
To get an idea of what Ojulari can do, check out his cut-ups, available on YouTube:
Agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!