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Prospect of the week: Azeez Ojulari, edge, Georgia

Is this Georgia Bulldog the edge rusher the Giants need?

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Cincinnati v Georgia Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The edge position for the New York Giants is a mishmash of maybes.

Maybe Lorenzo Carter comes back 100 percent from his Achilles tendon tear ... and maybe he can finally become a top-tier edge player. Maybe he can’t.

Maybe Oshane Ximines can come back 100 percent from his 2020 season-ending shoulder injury ... and maybe he can win over a coaching staff that seemed skeptical of him before he was injured. Maybe he can’t.

Maybe free agent-signee Ryan Anderson can handle a bigger role than he had with the Washington Football Team. Maybe he can’t.

Maybe Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin can handle bigger roles on defense than they had in 2020. Maybe they can’t.

So ... maybe the Giants enter the 2021 NFL Draft thinking about using their first-round pick on an edge defender. Which leads us to more maybe’s, since there is no consensus on how to rank the top edge rushers in this draft class.

Maybe you believe Michigan’s Kwity Paye is best in class on the edge. Is he, though, a guy who can play standing up? Can he really be a pass-rushing force off the edge.

Maybe Gregory Rousseau of Miami is your guy. He’s 6-foot-7 with looooong arms and physical tools that make scouts drool. He might be Jason Pierre-Paul. On Friday’s ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, yours truly opined that I think there’s a better chance he’s Damontre Moore.

Maybe you love Jaelan Phillips, the other high-regarded Miami edge rusher. Is he a guy who can play stand-up edge, though, or is he a 4-3 defensive end? Also, can you really risk a top-half of Round 1 pick on a guy with Phillips’ scary concussion history.

Maybe Jayson Oweh of Penn State is your guy. Oweh put on a ridiculous show of athleticism Thursday at the Penn State Pro Day.

Maybe you think Oweh’s Pro Day, the fact that his former position coach at Penn State, Sean Spencer, is now on the Giants’ coaching staff and the fact that Giants coach Joe Judge was in Happy Valley on Thursday mean Oweh could be on the radar. Maybe it does.

So, how come a guy with all those tools could not register a single sack in 2020? Can you really draft a guy at No. 11 who had zero production in his final collegiate season?

Maybe Joe Tryon of Washington is your guy. On today’s podcast, Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan made an impassioned case for why Tryon is criminally underrated after opting out of the 2020 season. Hunt selected Tryon for the Giants at No. 11 in recent mock draft for CBS Sports. I Like Tryon, but I can’t take him in the top half of Round 1.

Maybe you think the Giants should just select Micah Parsons and be done with it. I couldn’t really argue, to be honest.

All of this brings me to Azeez Ojulari of Georgia.

Without knowing who else would be on the board, I don’t know for certain that an edge rusher would be my choice for Giants with the 11th pick in the draft. I do know that if I chose an edge rusher Ojulari is the one I would be most comfortable plugging into the Giants’ defense.

Why? Let’s discuss.

I look at Ojulari and I see a player who can do a variety of things — things that Patrick Graham appears to want on the edge.

He can bend the edge and rush the passer. He can set the edge vs. the run, though at 249 pounds you might not want him playing many snaps as a down defensive end. He can play in space and comfortably drop into zone coverage in short areas of the field.

I don’t see that varied skill set from any of the other top edge players we have already mentioned.

And, oh by the way, Ojulari does not turn 21 years of age until June. So, you can make the argument that he still has immense growth potential both physically and in his pass-rushing skillset and knowledge of playing the game.

In his Ojulari prospect profile, Chris Pflum writes:

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.

“I just feel like my versatility and the way I use my hands the way I can bend. I feel like I’m the most bendy and versatile, and I’ve got an explosive first step. And I can also drop in coverage, too,” Ojulari told media after Georgia’s Pro Day. “So you’re not just getting a pass rusher out of me, you’re getting all three downs. I can play all three downs for sure.”

Giants Director of College Scouting Chris Pettit got a closeup look at Ojulari during the Georgia Pro Day.

Ojulari weighed in at 249 pounds and ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash. He’s not the biggest or fastest of the edge rushers in this class. He might, though, be the most well-rounded.

Ojulari does need more pass rush moves, but his 91.7 Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade in 2020 was second-best in college football among edge rushers to Nik Bonitto of Oklahoma. Ojulari was 12th in PFF’s pass-rush win rate stat. He is currently just 20 years old. You have to believe there is plenty of both time and room for growth.

In speaking with Hunt for the podcast I mentioned previously, he indicated he might shy away from Ojulari because his skill set is similar to those of Carter and Ximines. Maybe, though, that is the point. Especially if he is better. Carter, remember, is a Georgia product the Giants selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Consider this from Pro Football Network:

There’s a definite mold that Smart searches for in his edge rushers. In his diverse 3-4 scheme, Smart favors lighter, quicker edge rushers who can generate efficient pressure. Azeez Ojulari might be the next Georgia edge rusher to take this mold to the NFL, and he might end up seeing the most success.

If you were absolutely set on selecting an edge defender at No. 11, would Ojulari be your guy? He would be mine.