Through the first two weeks of the 2021 season, the best rookie edge defender by a wide margin has been Baltimore Ravens’ outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. One could even argue that he has been the most impactful first-year defender regardless of position.
His overall grade from Pro Football Focus through two games is 80.4 which ranks second on the Ravens’ defense and third among all rookies on either side of the ball. Although it’s too early to anoint anyone prematurely, Oweh should be viewed as one of the early favorites to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The highest-graded rookies this season are all on defense pic.twitter.com/zZVd4RaeOS— PFF (@PFF) September 20, 2021
Despite the fact that he has yet to make his first career start, Oweh has still been able to make his presence felt early and often. He’s recorded a sack, five total tackles, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and seven pressures in his first two career games.
When the Ravens selected Oweh with the second of their two first-round picks in this year’s draft at No. 31 overall, many pundits viewed the former Penn State standout as a developmental prospect, some even labeled him a project.
However, in just two games, he’s proven his doubters wrong, his skeptics false and dispelled all preconceived notions that his learning curve would be too steep for him to make a significant impact in year one.
Who would’ve guessed that the rookie pass rusher who had no sacks in his final year in college despite possessing elite athleticism would prove to be the most impactful of a class that featured more accomplished edge defenders?
He hardly ever comes off the field and has already established himself as the most complete edge defender on the Ravens’ roster. His 86 defensive snaps are the most among all players at his position on the depth chart and he continues to prove that he is just as stout setting the edge against the run as he is effective at rushing the passer.
The former Nittany Lion has made quite the indwelling impression in his short time as a Raven making several splash and momentum-swinging plays. He recorded his first sack in nearly two years in his first career game, along with a pressure that led to an interception in overtime.
The following week, he helped propel the Ravens to their upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs with a pair of pivotal plays. He generated a key pressure that led to the interception that sparked the team’s late rally, and he helped seal the victory with a clutch forced fumble and recovery in the game’s final minutes.
ODAFE OWEH WELCOME TO THE LEAGUE!— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 20, 2021
NOW ON NBC! pic.twitter.com/6hDbrKClBX
“That’s the kind of play we envisioned him making when they drafted him,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s the kind of play that he and I talked about him making this week as we were preparing...For him to come up and make that play in that situation is just something that will be remembered the rest of our lives.”
Oweh’s impressive performance against the Chiefs earned him a nomination for Pepsi’s Rookie of the Week. However, if he keeps on his current pace of making difference-making plays and showing up in the box score, he’ll be poised to bring home the top individual honor a first-year defender can earn.
The Ravens have had a handful of first-year defenders make strong cases for the award the last decade and a half but none have brought home the hardware since Terrell Suggs in 2003 when he set the franchise single-season sack record for a rookie with 12. The future Hall of Famer was a situational pass rusher in his first season, Oweh on the other hand will likely only see his role on the defense increase as the season goes on.
Taking into consideration his effectiveness that is borderline dominance, and the age of the veteran players at the position such as Pernell McPhee and Justin Houston who might need to be on snap count to preserve them for the long haul, Oweh could lead the Ravens edge defenders in defensive snaps by an even wider margin by the time the expanded regular season ends.
The rookie appears to have the ‘clutch’ gene when it comes to making timely impact plays. While the Ravens still have All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, they lost a significant playmaker when the ball-hawking Marcus Peters suffered a season-ending torn ACL. They haven’t had a consistent impact or presence from an edge defender since Suggs left. Oweh is already proving that he has some ‘it’ factor in him.