If you ask five different draft evaluators who the top EDGE prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft is, odds are that you would get five different answers.
Without a clear-cut player at the top of the depth chart, who gets the title of “EDGE 1” is open to far more personal opinion than in other years. Some evaluators prefer a player with clear athletic upside and are willing to overlook technical flaws, while others want a high floor and don’t want to take a risk betting on potential or have much of an appetite for a potential injury risk.
And if you made a Venn diagram of what those five draft evaluators are looking for, Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari might just be at the center. Ojulari is young with plenty of athletic upside, but he has also shown a solid foundation for future improvement.
Is that enough to make him EDGE 1?
Prospect: Azeez Ojulari
Games Watched: vs. Auburn (2020), vs. Tennessee (2020), vs. Florida (2020), vs. Alabama (2020)
Red Flags: ACL (2018)
Games Played: 23
Tackles For a loss: 18.5
Forced Fumbles: 5
Passes Defensed: 2
Games Played: 10
Tackles For a loss: 12.5
Forced Fumbles: 4
Passes Defensed: 2
Best: Athleticism, first step, length, versatility, mental processing
Worst: Technique, consistency
Projection: A starting EDGE with scheme versatility.
University of Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari has the athleticism, frame, and versatility to be a contributor in a variety of roles at the NFL level. He has a good blend of size, speed, and agility, and is able to play both defensive end and outside linebacker, as well as a hybrid between the two. Ojulari lined up as an EDGE in Georgia’s multiple front defense, playing on both the left and right side, as well as from a two- and three-point stance.
Ojulari times the snap very well and features a good first step. He is frequently one of the first players moving at the snap of the ball and accelerates quickly out of his stance. Ojulari has good lower-body flexibility, with the ability to fire out of his stance with good hip and pad level. He is able to beat offensive tackles to their spots with his speed, as well as win with surprising power. Ojulari tends to favor a long-arm move, taking advantage of his long arms and natural leverage to engage blockers first while keeping himself clean. He generally places his hands well, consistently finding blockers’ chest plates and taking inside leverage.
Ojulari is also able to turn speed into power or use his hands to shed blocks when offensive linemen aren’t able to truly lock them in. He has the ankle, knee, and hip flexibility to bend the edge and carry speed into the backfield. He also has the agility and short-area quickness to change direction quickly, allowing him to make last-second adjustments to his rushes or break them off to pursue quick-hitting passes. He is also capable of dropping into shallow coverage zones and running with players for a short distance.
He has surprising play strength, and is able to not just beat tight ends in run defense, but set a firm edge against offensive linemen, as long as he is playing with leverage.
Ojulari also shows good mental processing, quickly diagnosing plays, responding to misdirection, and getting his hands in the air to clog passing lanes.
Ojulari has the foundation of a good pass rush arsenal, but it still needs to be developed. He can occasionally forget to bring his hands with him on rushes, instead trying to win by using his shoulder. Ojulari can struggle to shed blocks or disengage from linemen when they are able to lock in and establish their blocks. He can also be inconsistent with his use of leverage, at times popping up at the snap. In those cases he can be blown off the ball by opposing blockers.
Teams will likely want to take a second look at his medical reports following his 2018 ACL tear, but that likely isn’t a big concern more than two years later.
Overall Grade: 8.7 - This prospect has all the athletic tools to be a productive starter early in his career. He has a relatively high floor but will need some slight development to reach his full potential.
Azeez Ojulari projects as a starting EDGE early in his NFL career. He has all the tools to be a consistently productive player with the versatility to fit into a variety of defenses. He would probably fit best in a “multiple” defense which would allow him to use his entire skillset, rushing from across the defensive front and playing from a two- or three-point stance.
That versatility should be an asset for a creative defensive coordinator, as Ojulari can be a moveable piece who can be used to exploit athletic mismatches along the offensive line or influence blocking schemes.
While Ojulari isn’t a player who should be asked to drop in coverage often, or be relied upon to hold up in coverage against athletic pass catchers, he does have the ability to drop into shallow coverage zones. That ability to at least occupy an area of the field as a coverage player, and potentially run with some running backs or tight ends, should be an attractive quality for a defensive coordinator who likes to use zone blitzes.
Ojulari has the potential to be a disruptive speed rusher off the edge, particularly as he is able to effectively use power counters, but he will need some development to reach his full upside. That isn’t necessarily a knock on Ojulari, simply recognizing that a 20-year old with just two full seasons on a college field. It would probably be more noteworthy if his tools were honed and he was coming to the NFL as a polished technician.