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Uchenna Nwosu, OLB, USC

Colorado v USC
Uchenna Nwosu
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Career Notes...Nwosu appeared in 52 games, starting 28 contests, including his final 27 appearances. He closed out his career with 168 tackles (94 solos), as he posted 12.5 sacks for minus 70 yards and 20.5 stops for losses totaling 97 yards. He had one interception with 19 pass deflections, along with causing and recovering one fumble.

The 2017 Season...Nwosu earned All-Pac 12 Conference first-team honors, concluding his college career with an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl. The now 245-pound strong-side linebacker started every game, finishing fifth on the team with a career-high 75 tackles (47 solos). He ranked second on the squad with 9.5 sacks for minus 52 yards and 11.5 stops for losses of 56 yards, adding nine quarterback pressures. He recovered a fumble that he advanced one yard, intercepted one pass and deflected 13 passes.

Body Structure: Nwosu might lack bulk for a defensive end, but has good quickness. He will likely remain at strong-side outside linebacker at the pro level, but he has that raw power and burst to be explosive coming off the edge. He is solidly built with good upper body muscle definition, firm midsection and good hip width. He also has a strong lower body frame to hold his ground, as he displays thick thighs and calves and a good bubble. Since enrolling at USC, he has added 40 pounds of muscle to his frame. He has low body fat (8%) and still has room to add at least another ten pounds without losing any of his quickness.

Athletic Ability: Nwosu has good quickness, but it is his all-out hustle that makes him look mush faster in his backside pursuit. He has good agility and balance on the move and adequate change of direction agility, but shows some hip stiffness when having to move suddenly. He accelerates into the backfield with good urgency and has the strength to jolt a blocker much bigger than him. He is much stronger with his upper body than in his legs and can be pushed back off the snap, as he does not generate a strong base to hold ground firmly, especially when trying to combat double teams

Football Sense: Nwosu is a highly intelligent athlete who reacts in an instant when he sees the play develop. He should be very capable of digesting a complicated playbook, as he learns football well and is not the type that will be fooled by misdirection or play action. He seems to do a better job of finding the ball when attacking the backfield rather than working down the line of scrimmage, but you see he stays within his backpedal and is quick when dropping back in pass coverage. Still, there are times where he can get lost working through a crowd and while he is a “gamer,” his motor runs hot and cold, as there are times where he simply disappears in games (see 2017 California, Utah, Notre Dame contests).

Athletic Report

Key and Diagnostic Skills: Nwosu has good backfield awareness and won’t bite on play action. He does a good job of making plays in front of him, bit looks sluggish moving laterally in pursuit or when having to change direction. He seems to know schemes up front and acts accordingly and gets into good position to take out the short area receiver on the screens. He needs to do a better job of using his hand punch to jolt blockers and has become a bit too reliant on his outside speed move and a smart blocker can have good success pushing him out and around the pocket.

Playing Strength and Explosion: When he plays with his hand down, Nwosu generates a good burst off the snap and quick hand usage to get an edge on the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder. He has good angle concept in the backfield to close on the quarterback in a hurry. He is effective at getting his hands up to deflect the pass or obstruct the quarterback’s view (see 2017 Stanford, Colorado, UCLA games). He does have issues when he stands up at the line, as he will drop his hands and leave his chest exposed for a blocker to lock on and he does not have the lower leg drive to prevent from being pushed back. He is a quick twitch athlete who can burst up field, but must show better consistency using his hands to disengage.

Lateral Pursuit/Range: Nwosu has functional lower body strength, but better upper body power. However, it is his quickness that helps him deal with stronger opponents. When he uses his hands well to control, he gets leverage, but he lacks the sand in his pants to prevent double teams from washing him out at the Xs, where he will generally get pushed and struggle to get off blocks. When Nwosu keeps his pad level down, he moves down the line effectively and can use his hands well to drag the lead blocker down. He just shows inconsistency with his lateral movement (seems stiff in the hips), but compensates some with his hustle. When he gets too tall in his stance, he will reach and lunge, leading to missed tackles.

Use of Hands: Nwosu runs hot and cold in this area. He uses his hands well to control and get rid of blocks when he keeps his hand down before the snap (gets good explosion on the rise), but when he plays in a stand-up position, he only generates a soft fend-off. When he gets separation, he can penetrate and defeat blocks.

Tackling Ability: Nwosu is good at locating the ball. It is hard to fool him with misdirection or play action and he is efficient at taking out the outside leg of the ball carrier to prevent them from falling forward for extra yardage. He makes a good effort to have the correct pad level and helmet placement and showed in 2017 that he can strike and jar the ball loose (see California game).

Run Defense: When Nwosu keeps his hand down, he can fire off the snap and take on the offensive tackle with good leverage, but will get driven off the line when he gets too tall in his stance. He has the feet to disengage vs. lead blockers, but is best when slipping blocks by lineman rather than try to engage them in battle. When he fails to keep his hands active, he exposes too much of his body and will get stuck on blocks.

Pass Defense: Nwosu has enough burst and athletic ability to discourage the passer from throwing into his area, as his anticipation and burst lets him get a quick jump on the ball. His ball awareness skills lets him locate the ball quickly. He does a good job of picking up and switching off on receivers, keeping the play in front of him. He has an explosive break on the ball and keeps his hands properly extended to wrap and secure. He is also highly effective at getting a piece of the ball in attempts to deflect the pass (see 2017 Stanford, Colorado, UCLA games). His ability to track the ball in flight will allow him to stay on the field for every down at the next level.

Pass Rush and Blitz: Nwosu shows good up field speed and bend coming off the corner to beat a lethargic offensive tackle or counter back inside if the lineman overplays him outside. He just lacks an assortment of rush moves, otherwise. He can free up on twists and games, but has to be moving to be effective, as he is no threat to win one-on-one confrontations with bigger, stronger linemen. He shows the burst to accelerate around the corner on the pass rush and close the deal on the quarter-back. He shows good tenacity running the horn to get to the passer. He is most effective on stunts and twists and when he stays at a good pad level, he has the extra surge to finish the deal off.

Compares To...

Brian Orakpo - Tennessee Titans: While teams at the Combine were looking at Nwosu more as an edge rusher, the 2017 season showed that he might have better potential as an outside linebacker, but some question whether he has the range to play there. If his future employer uses him as a rush end, he will get a good piece of the quarterback, but his pass defense skills and lack of bulk to play with his hand down still makes his future appear to be in the second level.

Expected Draft Slot: Day 2