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Odafe Oweh is breaking out and still hasn’t reached his ceiling

The 2021 first-rounder is emerging as the consistent difference maker the Ravens envisioned when they rolled the dice on traits over production.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta went against the front office’s historical precedent when he used the second of his two first-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft to select outside linebacker Odafe Oweh at No. 31 overall out of Penn State.

Both he and his predecessor, Ozzie Newsome, had always expressed the value they place on college production in pads during the pre-draft process over impressive athletic attributes in shorts. Needless to say, when he used a top 32 pick on a player who tested off the charts at the NFL Scouting Combine that year but recorded just seven sacks in 20 career games in college, with none coming in his final season, it came as a bit of a shock.

Oweh made what some viewed as a risky gamble look like a brilliant decision during a standout rookie season. He led the team in forced fumbles (three), finished second in sacks (five) quarterback hits (15), and made several clutch plays to come up with turnovers in high-leverage moments.

Unfortunately, instead of taking his game to the next level, Oweh experienced the proverbial sophomore slump that sometimes plagues second-year pros who showed a lot of promise as rookies. While he improved as a run defender, his pass rush stats dipped as he recorded fewer sacks (three) and quarterback hits (11) despite playing more defensive snaps.

Oweh appeared to be back on track as a pass rusher at the start of the 2023 season before an ankle injury he suffered in Week 2 put him out of commission for the next four games. Since he made his return to action in Week 7, the third-year pro has been arguably the most consistently disruptive force on a Ravens’ defense that leads the league with 44 sacks.

“He worked incredibly hard at it, and he’s still on the ascend,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “He’s getting better all the time, and I don’t think he’s even scratched the surface yet about what kind of player he can be pass rusher [or on] run defense, all of it.”

Oweh has recorded a sack in four of the last five games including three straight and believes that he agrees that he is only just beginning to tap into the wellspring that is his full potential.

“I’ve really always felt that,” Oweh said Tuesday. “I feel like there’s still so much I can get better at, in all aspects of my game because I started [playing football] late. The place where I got drafted, obviously, it required a lot of expectations early, but I’m still very much in [the] developmental stage. I still have a lot to prove. There’s still a lot to get better on, so I agree. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.”

In the Ravens’ Week 11 season-sweeping victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Oweh had a dominant full-circle perfomance. He recorded a career-high pressure rate of 35 percent and seven pressures, all but two of which came off the left side where he went up against former Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., according to Next Gen Stats.

The four-time Pro Bowler was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for the first-round pick that the team used to select Oweh in 2021 and his fourth sack on the season came when rushing relentlessly off of Brown Jr.’s side of the line.

Both Oweh and Harbaugh credit the work that first-year outside linebackers coach Chuck Smith and assistant head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver have done with all the pass rushers to improve the overall performance of the defensive front.

“Obviously, Chuck and guys like ‘Weav’ are helping us better this year in terms of the pass rush scheme, what we’re looking at [and] get-offs,” Oweh said. “Having a plan of attack and staying relentless.”

Oweh admitted that early on in his career, when opposing quarterbacks would get rid of the ball quick or his initial move didn’t work, he would give up on the rush plan altogether. Now that he has added more moves to his pass rush repertoire and has a relentless motor, he is grateful to finally be able to see the impactful fruits of his labor.

“It was tough, obviously last year, [then] getting injured,” Oweh said. “I felt like I was hitting my stride. But I just thank God that I’m making plays [and] leaving a little on the table as well. There’s just more to build on, and I’m just blessed to be where I’m at right now.”