The Baltimore Ravens need to reload and revamp their edge defender depth chart after losing Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, and Jihad Ward in free agency. They are hosting some veteran pass rushers this week for visits but likely won’t sign one until after the draft when they won’t impact the compensatory pick formula.
This year’s class doesn’t have a clear-cut consensus at edge rusher but is chock full of several diverse and versatile prospects at the position. One such player is Joseph Ossai of the University of Texas.
There hasn’t been an edge defender from the program drafted in the first round since Brian Orakpo was taken 13th overall in 2009 but that drought could potentially end this year. The former Longhorn is one of the top pass rushers in the entire class and is viewed as a fringe first-round talent who won’t fall any further than the second.
He was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and wasn’t introduced to the sport or even watched a televised game until he was 10 years old. However, just as many of his fellow countrymen that came before him, he possesses the athletic traits to dominate in the NFL.
Ossai is an explosive athlete who has nice long arms that measure nearly 34 inches, which coupled with his strength and power at the point of attack, helps him quickly disengage from would-be blockers and be disruptive.
One of his best attributes is his non-stop motor that stays in high gear from start to finish and leads to a lot of plays being made from behind including strips sacks and tackles for loss. He racked up a whopping 29 tackles for loss over his final two collegiate seasons as a result of great hustle to the ball and his ability to cover a lot of ground in a very short amount of time.
He is still relatively new to playing the edge rusher position against higher levels of competition having just played it for one abbreviated season in college this past fall. Even though he played defensive end in high school he had played as an off-the-ball outside linebacker during his first two years at Texas. Despite playing on the edge for just one year in college, he led the Longhorns in sacks in each of the last two years, accumulating 10.5 in his last 22 games.
The fact that he’s been able to reach the level he’s currently at without much experience should scare teams that end up passing on him and excite the one that ultimately lands him because his ceiling and upside are extremely high.
Ossai possesses violent and active hands that he uses to shed blocks, fight through double teams and swim either inside and across an offensive tackle’s face or beat them around the edge. His quickness and acceleration would make him and excellent looper on twists and stunts.
Joseph Ossai, Edge, #Texas— Ryder McConville (@RyderM25) April 12, 2021
+ Motor always run hot
+ Positional versatility
+ Very good athleticism
+ Speed rush off the edge
+ Penetration ability
+ Powerful hands
+ Good length
+ Physical/Competitive toughness
+ Beats blocks w/ quickness#NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/gryoVGjIUv
He uses great burst and agility to move laterally down the line of scrimmage towards the ball on runs to the opposite side. His tenacious backside pursuit allows him to bring ball carriers and scrambling quarterbacks down in the backfield or for a minimal gain.
Ossai has shown the ability to both drop into coverage and make plays on the ball. Even though he switched positions last year, he was still used as a JACK linebacker at times. He recorded both of his career interceptions as a sophomore and even though he didn’t corral any passes as a junior, he was able to break up a pair.
He’s not a very instinctual edge player so don’t expect him to have the screen sniffing prowess of Terrell Suggs from the jump but that can be ingrained through coaching. He also plays a bit stiff at times can stand to loosen up his hips more to get an even greater bend around the edge, as well as move more effectively in space when tasked with dropping into zone coverage.
He can set a very strong edge against the run but needs to do it more consistently and sometimes finds himself out of position on runs to the outside. If selected by the Ravens, he’d have one of the elite edge run defenders in the league to learn from in Pernell McPhee during his rookie year.
Ossai could follow the Suggs route and be a situational pass rusher in year one while he learns the tricks of the trade and becomes a more complete player.
While his play recognition instincts aren’t optimal at the moment and he’s much more of a read-and-react player at this point, as a pass rusher he has shown a nose for the ball. He forced three fumbles as a junior, all of which came via strip-sacks.
The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ mantle already belongs to legendary Kansas City Chiefs bruising running back Christian Okoye who steamrolled defenses in the late 1980s/early 1990s. However, Ossai could go by a derivative nickname like the ‘Nigerian Night Terror” or something of a similar ilk because I believe the west Africa native will be keeping opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators up a night for years to come once he gets to the league.
If the Ravens believe that Ossai is their guy then they will likely have to take him in the first round at 27th overall if he’s still on the board or trade back to the top of the second. I highly doubt hell last until their original pick in round two at 58th overall like some pundits are projecting in deeper mock drafts but stranger things have happened.