Julian Okwara And The Race For EDGE3

Photo: © Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Young is going in the Top-5. Probably Top-3. He's a highly-productive freak athlete from an illustrious program with a sky-high ceiling.

A.J. Epenesa, if he comes out, is going in the Top-20. Probably Top-15. He's a freak athlete with questionable productivity from a storied program with a sky-high ceiling.

That's EDGE1 and EDGE2. Who's EDGE3?

At this juncture, that's a muddier question than we'd like for it to be. Florida's Jabari Zuniga has been disruptive when healthy, but that's only been for three games this season, and a lot of his work comes from the inside rush lane. Syracuse's Alton Robinson has fallen to the wayside, with an unproductive year born of a lack of development. LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson has been springy, Boise's Curtis Weaver has been dominant at his lower level, Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos is still long as all nothing.

And then there's Julian Okwara.

The preseason EDGE3 for The Draft Network who remains EDGE3 after the October update to the consensus big board, has been up-and-down this season. He boldly declared before the season that he was hunting 18.5 sacks, and had one across the first three games of the season, which included a goose egg in critical gut-check game against Georgia bookend Andrew Thomas. Then, his mother and father came to the Virginia game, and he ripped the Cavalier offensive line for three sacks -- back on track, until he met NFL Draft riser OT Austin Jackson of the USC Trojans, who pitched yet another shutout against Okwara.

Has Okwara played poorly this season? I don't think so, but in a race for EDGE3 in which his competition is fading, Okwara's failed to separate from a lackluster pack.

The remaining schedule? A blue-blood matchup against Michigan tonight, followed by Virginia Tech, Duke, Navy, Boston College, and Stanford. But that grouping isn't what it seems: you see Michigan and Stanford and think NFL linemen, but both teams are struggling massively in the trenches this year, while Boston College is 1st and Duke is 6th in Football Outsider's Sack Rate.

So the national spotlight games might go well for Okwara, who should rip up Michigan's lumbering offensive line tonight -- and hopefully they do. Perception matters in scouting, and a strong game against the Wolverines and the Cardinal seem to carry more weight than a blip of a poor performance against a middling ACC squad like Duke.

But stop-start production won't be enough to clearly slot Okwara as EDGE3. In the back-half of the 2019 season, nobody's got a bead on the spot, but Zuniga's getting healthier, Weaver's chasing records, Gross-Matos' team defense is suffocating and powering Penn State's outside playoff bid, and Chaisson's wearing No. 18 for the LSU defense as they run the inside track on the playoff hunt.

If you aren't gaining ground, you're losing it -- welcome to the NFL Draft cycle. A Day 2 pick in 2018 who went back to school in 2019 to beat personal goals and rise into the first round, Okwara is swinging and missing at the plate of his senior year thus far. One dominant performance against Virginia showed life, but isn't enough for Okwara to keep his stock afloat. The race for EDGE3 is a tight one, and while Okwara still has arrows in his quiver in not only the remaining schedule, but in the Senior Bowl and what should be a strong Combine, we spent a whole offseason calling him a future first-rounder and he's yet to foot the bill.

If a future first-rounder is taking the field against the Wolverines tonight, it'll show up on more than just the film, which hasn't been all bad for Okwara this year -- it'll show up on the stat sheet too.