When former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and EDGE Jayson Oweh were training in Santa Ana, California, neither wanted to complete drills first. Parsons had this theory: Whoever went first, the second person was always going to have a better time. They would see what the other was doing and one-up it. Those intense, competitive days of training saw each star collegiate defender record personal record after personal record. All of it was in preparation for the only time both top-ranked players in their respective positions would be able to perform in front of NFL evaluators.
Parsons, who finished his collegiate career in three years, and Oweh, a redshirt sophomore, were ineligible for the 2021 Senior Bowl. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the annual NFL Scouting Combine was canceled. Other than their three years of tape, Thursday would be the last time either could show league personnel what they could bring to the next level.
Parsons often got the edge in earlier training. He was the first to crack a 1.5-second 10-yard start; Parsons recorded consecutive personal records on that particular day. Oweh wasn’t able to catch Parsons then, but he knew he had to take it up a notch after seeing his teammate’s efforts.
Now, after a full morning of various drills, Oweh had the edge; Parsons admitted as much after the day’s events.
“It feels really good to be able to perform in front of these people that could potentially get you a job,” Oweh said Thursday. “It gives you an extra adrenaline rush to be on your P’s and Q’s and to be as good as you can. It was definitely humbling. I started out playing football in my junior year of high school so to be here in five years, it’s God’s plan. It’s been a blessing.”
Both players faced their own set of challenges this past season. Parsons opted-out, turning his complete attention to the 2021 NFL Draft while Oweh, on paper, improved in every statistical category except one; it’s the most important category for an elite NFL EDGE. In seven games, Oweh didn’t record a sack. Oweh faces another challenge. He has far less experience playing the sport than most of his draft colleagues, but Oweh has been adamant about one thing: He has his best years of football ahead of him.
Oweh might have stunned onlookers with his numbers Thursday, but he warns against thinking a breakout Pro Day performance is an anomaly. In fact, Oweh didn’t do as well as he wanted to; it’s a scary thought for future opponents and a welcomed one for NFL teams looking to bolster their pass rush.
Oweh measured in at 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds; this was expected. What followed were uber-impressive marks in every drill. Oweh finished in the 96th-or-better percentile in all but one task. He clocked a 4.36-second 40-yard dash (landing in the 99th percentile). He had a 4.21-second short shuttle (89th percentile) and a 6.83-second 3-cone (98th percentile). He recorded a 39.5-inch vertical jump (96th percentile) and an 11-foot 2-inch broad jump (99th percentile). Oweh wanted a 4.35-second 40-yard dash time and to run the short shuttle in under 4.2 seconds. He thinks he could have shaved off a tenth of a second on his 3-cone; he’s mad at that time. The same competitiveness Oweh showed in three seasons at Penn State and that pushed him to complete workouts with Parsons during pre-draft training was bursting through on Pro Day.
“A lot of people, they’re always going to talk so it’s good to put it down and let people know these are really my numbers,” he said. “People wouldn’t believe it, [saying], ‘It’s an anomaly. It can’t really happen,’ but I just did it. It feels good to just let people know who I am, show people who I really am.”
Oweh tries to let the talk go. He hears the clamors that have followed his career and how he’s been boxed into either a strict pass-rush specialist or edge rusher who can only play the run. This is where Oweh’s lack of experience comes into play; his ceiling is so high because of his development over the past five years. He has great potential that will come with an incubation period, but when his explosiveness, bend, and length all work in unison, Oweh can be an unstoppable pass rusher. People just have to know where to look.
In 2020, he could have had five sacks versus Indiana alone; Oweh describes the missed opportunities as being “a split second off.” Even if he would have recorded five or six sacks all year, “people would still come up with things to say.”
Oweh’s efforts cannot always be quantified in the form of sacks or Pro Day numbers, and that’s OK. He’s put in the work to tailor his athleticism to the bigger, faster, stronger NFL competition; he’s tightened up his technique and gained a deeper knowledge of the game; and one NFL team will get a determined, highly motivated rookie.
“If you really are a savant of the game and you really understand what is going on in the game—and you watch film, you don’t just look at the box score—you understand that that’s not even who I am; that’s not even the type of player that I am,” Oweh said. “This is probably the best thing that could have happened to me because I’m using it as motivation… and it’s just helping me become more of a complete football player.”