The days following the draft are filled with tremendous hope and hype where fans and pundits like to predict and project big rookie seasons for every one of them. However, that is often not the case because making the jump from college to the pros can be a steep and sometimes arduous one for first-year players.
With that in mind, here’s the second in a series of articles that detail realistic year one expectations for each member of the Baltimore Ravens 2021 draft class.
OLB Odafe Oweh
Round 1 No. 31 overall
The former Penn State Nittany Lion has arguably the highest upside of any member of the Ravens draft class and perhaps of any edge rusher in this year’s rookie crop. His elite athleticism is a big reason why, but so is the team he landed with where Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale will undoubtedly find creative ways to unleash it.
The Ravens are among the league’s best at drafting and developing quality-to-elite edge rushers. The last two they selected in the first round—Terrell Suggs (2003) and Peter Boulware (1997)—combined for 11 Pro Bowls and each helped the franchise win a Superbowl title in the prime of their respective careers.
Oweh was a very non-traditional Ravens draft pick, especially for a player that went as high as he did. Despite not having prolific sack production in college, general manager Eric DeCosta and Co. used a first-round pick on him anyway because they not only believe he has the physical traits that can translate to greater success at the next level but also because he is tailor-made to play in their system.
“He’s a great fit. He’s an aggressive player, runs to the ball, very fast. He’s in the backfield constantly, he’s knocking people back into the backfield, running things down from behind,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “I think he’s a perfect fit for our defense, I know our defensive coaches are excited, I think our players are going to love him. We’re really excited to have him. This player is going to make a difference for us.”
One coach that was especially impressed at his awe-inspiring Pro Day workout was his new positional coach, Drew Wilkins, who said that it was the best workout that he has ever witnessed in person.
Ravens OLB coach Drew Wilkins said to defensive coordinator Don Martindale that Odafe Oweh had, "the best workout I've ever seen live, ever."— Kyle P Barber (@BB_KylePBarber) April 30, 2021
“Myself and Drew Wilkins were there, and we were able to watch him perform right in front of us,” Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz said. “To watch him bend, watch him explode [and] to turn the corner through the bags, it was really impressive. It just kind of matched up with what you’re seeing on tape in terms of athleticism.”
Oweh didn’t record a single sack in his final collegiate season and only had seven in 20 career games. He doesn’t believe that the lack of that stat hurt his draft stock nor does it tell the true or whole story of how dominant he was last year or can be at the next level.
“People that really understood and watched football, understand what I was doing out there, and that sacks weren’t where it ended with me,” Oweh said.
“I was very disruptive; I caused a lot of havoc; I was very stout in the run game; I was beating my man; I was always there. So, people really understood that the zero sacks thing, that had no definition of who I was as a player.”
Oweh is still relatively new to the game of football as a whole since he only played it for two years in high school before playing for Penn State from 2018-2020. He knows he needs to improve his fundamentals and is excited for the chance to grow with Ravens.
“What I probably have to work on his general technique and experience in the game,” Oweh said. “I started five years ago so I’m going to play catchup but I love to learn. It was a tough first 30 picks. I was just waiting to be given that chance. I’m happy Baltimore believed in me.”
Both Suggs and Boulware eclipsed the double-digit sack threshold in year one and were crowned Defensive Rookie of the Year. While Boulware started all 16 games, Suggs made just one regular-season start but was highly potent and productive as a situational pass rusher and broke the franchise rookie sack record that Boulware previously held with 12.
I envision the Ravens will implore Oweh in a similar fashion to T-Sizzle during his rookie season even though he showed he could be a strong run defender in addition to a pass rusher in his final season in college.
Like with Bateman, I’m holding off on statistical projections until training camp when I do my ‘bold prediction’ series. However, I expect the Oweh to be heavily involved on defense as a rookie in a rotational role and probably on special teams too where he could be a menace knifing through punt protection units to try to block kicks.