Azeez Ojulari has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the 2021 NFL Draft class. It’s not just because of his age; the redshirt sophomore is obviously just scratching the surface of his potential as a premier pass rusher. Ojulari, who is arguably the best edge defender in the 2021 class, exudes the versatility that makes pass rushers dangerous at the next level. He’s quick; he’s strong at 240 pounds and has bend with an explosive first step.
Teams have had a number of questions centered around how Ojulari’s game will translate to the pros. He only has two years of tape at Georgia, and with no annual NFL Scouting Combine, there was only one opportunity for him to show that versatility, that quickness. During Georgia’s Pro Day on Wednesday, Ojulari measured in with a 34 3/8-inch arm length. He recorded 26 reps on the bench. Ojulari clocked two 40-yard dash times in the 4.6-second mark and completed his Pro Day with a 10-foot, 7-inch broad jump. Ojulari’s length has been a concern in the pre-draft cycle; his measurements Friday put him in the 80th percentile (for arm length) and 90th percentile (for wingspan) of draft-eligible EDGE rushers.
Still, the NFL executives and scouts in attendance had queries.
- Is he a SAM linebacker?
- Is he a pass rush specialist?
- What can he do outside rushing the passer? Is he going to play in space?
“Every team that I’ve talked to today, that’s probably the first question I get is, What do you think Azeez is?” head coach Kirby Smart said. “There’s a lot of questions there that they want to know because they’re talking about investing a lot of money into those high draft picks.”
Ojulari has consistently been projected as a first-round pass rusher since he declared for the draft in January; in most mock drafts, including The Draft Network’s latest mock, he’s gone to a team in the mid-to-late 20s. But this class, across the board, has depth. Ojulari has to separate himself from his more senior peers, Kwitty Page and Jaelan Phillips, and another budding young talent in Gregory Rousseau.
“I feel like I’m the most bendy and versatile,” Ojulari said after Friday’s events, “and I got the explosive first step. I can also drop in coverage too. You’re not just getting the pass rush out of me, you’re getting all three downs. I can play all three downs.”
With all of the talent in the 2021 class, there hasn’t been that singular big-name pass rusher, no premier EDGE; at least not in the same scope as previous drafts. There’s no Chase Young, who was selected second overall in 2020. There are no Bosa brothers; both Joey Bosa (2016) and Nick Bosa (2019) were selected in the top three of their respective classes. This year, there hasn’t been a name to jump off the board, but Ojulari still believes, “I’m that guy.”
Ojulari has more than impressive film and unmatched development. He was able to be a playmaker on the Bulldogs’ defense on multiple occasions, including in the second half of the 2021 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. He’s continued to show his commitment this offseason, working with EXOS in Pensacola, Florida, to put on more mass with an emphasis on nutrition.
He’s a player teams can build their defense around; he’s a leader despite his youthfulness. It’s a rarity that college freshmen are named captains of their team, but Ojulari earned that honor; and across two seasons at Georgia, totaled 14 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss in 2019 and 2020 combined. The 2020 season was Ojulari’s best, finishing with 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss; three of those sacks came in Georgia's Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati and garnered defensive MVP honors. He’s tough; his presence is felt both on and off the field, and more than a scheme fit, Ojulari can help strengthen a team’s culture.
“When you start trying to build a defense, whether you’re in the NFL, college, or high school, it starts with what kind of toughness do you have,” Smart said. “When you rank tough players, Azeez Ojulari is really high. He strikes; he gets contact. He’s never shied away. He doesn’t complain when you go full pads. He wants every part of it. He’s a high-character player off the field; he’s going to be an asset in the locker room.
“He’s going to make your whole team better so I’m excited to see where he goes. Somebody’s going to get a great young man in Azeez.”
- Aug 18, 2022
- Aug 18, 2022