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2020 NFL Draft prospect profile: Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame

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Is Julian Okwara the pass rusher the Giants need?

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Louisville Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have issues at every level of their defense. Their chronic issue at linebacker is well covered, but they also have issues in the secondary and with the pass rush.

Those last two were particularly important for the Giants over the last three years. The Giants’ defense struggled to get off the field on third down, shut down offenses at the end of games, and do their part to keep the Giants’ own offense from having to keep up in shootouts. Overall, the Giants’ pass rush was anemic at best. Their ability to pressure passers with a four-man rush was among the worst in the NFL, which forced them to blitz to get consistent pressure. The problem there is that passers actually performed better when the Giants blitzed because the secondary couldn’t stand up. The Giants were sitting very uncomfortably on the horns of a dilemma.

They will likely have to address the pass rush in the draft. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham likes players who are “positionless,” which allows him to call a variety of looks to disguise his intentions. Notre Dame EDGE Julian Okwara has a very versatile frame and skill set, as well as the potential to grow into a impact player. Should the Giants consider the younger brother of former Giant Romeo Okwara?

Prospect: Julian Okwara (EDGE, Notre Dame)
Games Watched: vs. Louisville (2019), vs. Georgia (2019), vs. Virginia (2019)
Red Flags: Fractured Fibula (2019, required surgery)

Measurables

Stats

Games played: 45
Tackles: 79
Tackles for a loss: 24.0
Sacks: 15.5
Forced fumbles: 4
Interceptions: 2

2019 Stats

Games played: 9
Tackles: 19
Tackles for a loss: 7.0
Sacks: 5.0
Forced fumbles: 2
Interceptions: 0

Quick Summary

Best: Length, athleticism, bend, explosiveness, competitive toughness
Worst: Play strength, consistency
Projection: A rotational edge or pass rushing specialist on a “multiple” defense.

Game Tape

Full Report

Julian Okwara has an excellent combination of length and athleticism with a versatile frame for the edge position at the NFL level. Okwara played out of a variety of alignments in Notre Dame’s defense, lining up as a stand-up rusher, as a defensive end, a 5-technique defensive tackle, and played on both the left and right sides. He showed the ability to rush with good leverage and an explosive get-off out of both 2 and 3-point stances. Okwara shows the ability to overwhelm blockers with his first step to create disruption in the backfield. He does a good job of using his length to keep blockers’ hands from getting inside his framework and accessing his chest plate. Likewise, he shows the ability to uncoil his hips and transfer speed into power when blockers prepare for a speed rush. Okwara flashes good bend on outside rushes, with enough hip and ankle flexibility to flatten around the corner and carry speed into the backfield.

He flashes effective rip, spin, and inside pass rush moves to catch defenders unawares and take advantage of his athletic advantage.

Okwara can be slow to recognize misdirection in the backfield and slowdowns in processing new information can slow his play speed. Okwara can also be moved in run defense when he gets caught playing without good leverage. Finally, he needs to show more consistency in his pass rush, from timing the snap to playing with a plan and employing his hands rather than relying on his first step to overwhelm blockers.

Overall Grade: 6.3 - Has the traits to be an important back-up and rotation player. Could become a starter in the right situation with some development. A second-day value. [Grading Scale]

Projection

Julian Okwara projects best as a rotational edge defender and pass rush specialist early in his career at the NFL level. He has the traits to take on a significant share of the defensive snaps, particularly as the league continues to rely more on the pass. Okwara has the athletic upside to become a starter with some development and the right coaching.

Okwara has a very good first step to go with the length and athleticism to give NFL caliber blockers problems. If he can hone those tools and polish his pass rushing repertoire — in particular, learn to more consistently employ his hands — he has a bright future as a pass rusher in the NFL. Okwara has the ability to drop in coverage and stay with running backs and tight ends over short distances in shallow zones, which gives him further versatility for the right coach. However, he could be a liability in the run game early in his career, and that might hold him back from seizing a starting job. He needs to play with more consistent pad level against the run and will need to improve his play strength in any case. Okwara is capable of surprising power, but it is a function of his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. He can be moved if he isn’t the low man and doesn’t have the initiative. An NFL strength and conditioning program should help with that issue, but his upside as a run defender might be limited to pursuing plays from the back-side or trying to disrupt them in the backfield.

Okwara’s blend of length, athleticism, and versatility make him an intriguing piece for a one-gap, attacking “multiple” defense. Even if he only remains a pass rushing specialist, that is a very valuable skillset in the modern NFL.