By Dylan MacKinnon
As we talked abut earlier in the week, the Eagles got very little production from their defensive ends. Ends not named Sweat got 3 sacks in the regular season, across 1400 snaps. And I do not really care that Ryan Kerrigan finally showed up in the final game with 2 sacks when he had 3 tackles all year despite getting a ton of playing time. Defensive End is a massive need for the Eagles. And one name that is going to come up a lot this off season is Michigan’s David Ojabo. Of the edge rushers that have any chance of falling to the Eagles, he is the most highly regarded. But is he truly someone worth spending a first on, or would he be a reach for a need since the top names were off the board?
Came Out of Nowhere
You’d have been forgiven if before the college season, you did not recognize the name David Ojabo. Before this year he had just one tackle to his name. He played 0 games his freshman year, and in just part of 6 games his sophomore year. But then in his junior year, he showed up in a big way. Ojabo came out in his first year getting consistent playing time by getting 11 sacks, and forced 5 fumbles.
Part of what contributed to him taking a while to come onto the scene is he is still fairly new to American Football. Before committing to play football at Michigan, he only had a year of experience in the sport. The reason he started so late, is that he was born in Nigeria, moved to Scotland at 7, and lived there until he was 17. Meaning after just 3 years playing Football, he became one of the best edge rushers in the Nation. The question is does the lack of experience make him more or less interesting as a prospect. Is this a player still only scratching the surface of what he can be, or should we be concerned he is a on year wonder?
To figure that out, its important to look at not the numbers, but the tape and his athletic profile. Lets start with his profile. The first thing you will notice is that he is big. He played Basketball before Football, and he looks like a basketball player. 6 foot 5, 250 pounds, he has a powerful frame, and plays like it. He has both power and length. But he also has the explosiveness to go with it. Both when it comes to straight-line speed to run someone down, but also in terms of lateral agility. For someone so big you will be surprised how capable he is when it comes to finesse moves. His spin move in particular often leaves lineman in the dust. Combine all his athletic traits, and it tells the ale of a player who can maybe be even better the more he learns the game.
One of the Michigan O Lineman he often faced in practice had high praise for Ojabo.
“He’s just a freak athlete. The speed, the athleticism that he brings. He’s got the power. He kind of brings it all to the table. As an offensive lineman, we really don’t know what to expect when we set back against him.”- Zak Zinter- OL at Michigan
So while his lack of experience is certainly something to consider, it is also important to understand that it could also be a positive. Because no one was the best player they can be in year 5 of playing Football. He is already producing and is still learning the game. His athletic ability gives him the potential to be truly great, And even if he doesn’t reach those heights, if he is only as good as we saw this year, that is still a good player.
What Does he Still have to Improve?
Predictably, he still has a lot to learn in the area of technique. The way he uses his hands stands out as an area he definitely needs to improve. On snaps where he can not evade the blocker with his finesse moves, and has to engage with the block, he often has to exert too much energy the shed it. He has the size and power to be able to do so, but he makes it harder on himself than it has to be. There are ways he could use his hands to better take advantage of his length and power.
The tackles he will face in the NFL will be much more athletic than those he faced in the BIG 10 on a game to game basis. He wont be able to rely on ghosting by them the way he did in College every play. To be successful as a pass rusher he will have to improve his technique when engaging with blocks.
The run game is also an area where he he needs to be better. For one, because its much more likely you will have to engage with a blocker when it is a running play because the offensive lineman will be attacking you instantly as opposed to when its passing down. So much of the same problems he has engaging on pass rushes hurt him on run plays. Scots will also tell you that he shows less energy on run downs than pass downs. Possibly because his poor technique makes him have to wear himself down more than he should have to. He also needs to get better at reading run plays so he can better react to the run play.
It all comes down to that technique. The good news is that is the area he can most easily improve. You can not teach someone to be as big and athletic as he is. But you can coach someone up to know the technique of being a pass rusher better. Some practice sessions with fellow Michigan Alum Brandon Graham could lead to him improving greatly in that area. So while these issues are certainly important to consider, it does not change the fact he has huge upside. He is literally still learning the game. He said so himself.
“Every day I’m still learning, for real. I learn terms, even the basic rules of football. I’ve come a long way.” – Ojabo said to Michigan Live
Dedicated To Success
A word many will use to describe Ojabo is dedication. Despite all the barriers to his success, he was going to put the work in to get there. That is why he moved to the United States on his own at just 15. He knew he was a gifted athlete, and could be a pro athlete at something, and felt his potential was limited in Scotland. So he immigrated to America, and enrolled at Blair Academy, a private school in NJ.
He tried out both Soccer and Basketball, in which he was good not great. But he saw another gifted athlete at the same school getting tons of offers from premier colleges all around the nation. That classmate was Odafe Jayson Oweh, who just finished his rookie season with the Ravens, tallying 5 sacks. Ojabo thought, if Oweh can get all those offers, so could he. So he walked into Coach Jim Saylor’s office, and said the following.
“My name is David Ojabo. I’m more athletic and tougher than Jayson and he has 30 football offers. You mind if I try football next season?”- David Ojabo to Jim Saylor
It seemingly convinced Coach Saylor, as he did make the team. But it was a rough start. he not only had never played Football, he barley even watched it. Simple terms like 3 point stance, and hash mark, meant nothing to Ojabo. But Saylor credited Ojabo with being incredibly easy to coach. Saylor even remarked in an interview with Michigan Live that he enjoyed molding someone so inexperienced. He also recalled a Freshman making fun of Ojabo in early practices for knowing so little. But Saylor when asked couldn’t even remember where that Freshman ended up, and meanwhile Ojabo is about to become an NFL player.
But the more he worked, the more it lead to results on the field.
“There were games where he was in the backfield as the quarterback was getting the ball. He was so quick that those big offensive linemen couldn’t even touch him.” – Coach Jim Saylor
He dedicated himself to learning how to play the game. Stayed late to watch tape. Worked at his craft, and it paid off. Saylor remarked on remembering that they knew he was going to play College Football just 4 weeks into working with him. His natural abilities were that impressive. In act Rutgers gave him an offer before he ever stepped on the field. And many more followed. By the end, he had 25 offers, and went with Michigan partly because the cold weather was close to what he was used to from Scotland.
And then again at Michigan it was a slow start. But he kept the same attitude of wanting to constantly improve.
“He was always willing to learn from anybody. He was always like, ‘What do I need to do better?’ to the upperclassmen. ‘Can I get help?’ Him and (Josh) Uche would always talk, him and Kwity (Paye).”- Michigan Defensive Lineman Mike Morris.
And we saw this last year that work finally paid off. All of this is to say, if Ojabo is still a bit inexperienced, he wont stay so for long.
“Trust me he’s going to keep getting better. He’s one of those kids who’s going to thrive on little successes.” – Coach Jim Saylor
What The Draft Experts Say
“Right away, Ojabo’s high-level physical tools stand out on tape. He might end up being a freakier athlete than Aidan Hutchinson, who was on Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” this past offseason. At 6’5″, 250 pounds, Ojabo has impressive length and a fairly dense frame. That length provides a dangerous conduit for power. Additionally, he uses that length proactively to produce turnovers and disrupt passers in structure.
Ojabo’s frame is made even more dangerous by the exceptional athleticism contained within it. He has top-tier explosiveness off the snap, and he also has great torso flexibility. He can accelerate quickly while reducing his surface area and pinching the corner. Furthermore, he has a devastating ghost move, with which he uses his burst and contortion to shade by tackles with minimal contact.”
“Michigan EDGE defender David Ojabo is sure to elicit excitement from NFL decision-makers and coaches alike given his raw tools and the bright flashes of high-level understanding of the game that peek through on film. Ojabo is very green in the grand scheme of things; he didn’t play organized football until his junior year of high school after being born in Nigeria and moving to Scotland at the age of 7. And yet, Ojabo is still very much a high-impact defender and shows surreal natural feel and instincts for the game despite the lack of experience—his nose for the football and brilliant rush counters are awesome to take in.
And with a high school background in track (he won a prep state title in the 100m dash in 2018 with a 10.93s time), Ojabo has freakish burst and range as an athlete to help make an impact on the perimeter as both a pass rusher and in pursuit. Ojabo isn’t a perfect prospect, but his ceiling may be as high as any 2022 pass rusher not named Kayvon Thibodeaux.”
Ojabo probably has a lower floor than the top edge rushers in the draft this year. which is why his stock isn’t as high. The fact he does not yet have the technique they do means there is a slight chance he can’t adapt in the NFL. But his upside, is just as high. If he can learn how to truly be a defensive end, he can be as good as anyone. His crazy athleticism makes the ceiling sky high.
And this is not another Davion Taylor where its a guy so raw he can barley play right away. Ojabo was already productive despite not knowing the game. Which makes it very alluring what he will be able to do when he learns the technique (if he learns it). Of all the guys we talked about so far, Ahmad Gardner, and Nakobe Dean, Ojabo is slightly riskier than they were. But man if he pans out, he could do so in a big way. Keep a close eye on his name draft night for the Eagles.
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