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Giants’ Azeez Ojulari makes Lance Zierlein’s DROY watch list

NFL.com’s draft expert ranks the Giants’ EDGE 9th most likely to be the defensive rookie of the year

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Georgia vs Cincinnati Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Training camp is officially under way for the New York Giants, as it is are for the rest of the NFL.

And with training camp comes our first opportunity to see all the new players to enter the NFL on the field. This is also the time of year in which we start to seriously ask which teams are the favorites to make the post-season (and win the Super Bowl), as well as which players are most likely to receive awards after the season is over.

NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein put forth a pair of lists over the last two days detailing his top 10 candidates to win the Offensive and Defensive Rookie Of The Year awards. While no Giant made the watchlist for OROY, EDGE Azeez Ojulari was named by Zierlein as a potential Defensive Rookie Of The Year.

9th - Azeez Ojulari (EDGE, New York Giants)

The Giants had way too much rush production come from their big men up front — defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who had 11.5 sacks, was the only player to post more than four last season — so they’re hoping Ojulari can give their attack more life off the edge. The tape can be a little uneven at times, but his flashes are really eye-catching. Georgia did so much rotating along their defensive front that I didn’t always feel like he was able to get into a groove. He’ll be on the field full-time for the Giants, and if the coaches can cultivate those flashes into a skilled rush, Ojulari will be a legitimate contender out of this group.

Raptor’s thoughts

The Giants’ pass rush occupies an interesting place in the discussion of the Giants’ defense as a whole in 2020. While the defense was good enough at getting quarterbacks on the ground last year — after all, they did have 40 sacks, which was in the top half of defenses — they struggled to field a “natural” pass rush. As Zierlein points out, Leonard Williams was the Giant to have more than 4 sacks last year. Thanks to injuries and a general lack of pass rushing talent, the Giants’ defensive front struggled to generate consistent pressure. The defense as a whole was largely forced to rely on the secondary to create opportunities for coverage sacks or for schemed pressure in the form of blitzes.

All that combines to be the biggest mark in Ojulari’s favor with respect to (potentially) winning the defensive rookie of the year award: Opportunity.

Ojulari figures to be a (nearly) every-down player for the Giants’ defense thanks to his draft position and natural pass rush ability. Not only do the Giants want to get Ojulari on the field thanks to his draft slot, they want to develop

Ojulari is a bit raw as a technician, coming out of college with just one reliable pass rush move. However, he has good athletic traits with long arms and an explosive first step. That speed is the second biggest point in his favor. The Giants lacked a speed rusher in 2020 and had the slowest pass rush in the NFL last year — ranking 32nd with a Pass Rush Win Rate* of 32 percent.

*Note: Pass Rush Win Rate measures the percentage of pass rush attempts in which defenders beat their blockers in 2.5 seconds or less.

The Giants’ addition of Ojulari, as well as Elerson Smith, should provide a significant boost to the pass rush’s overall athleticism and Ojulari stands a good chance to frequently be the first player to the quarterback.

Will that be enough to get him the defensive rookie of the year trophy? That might be a bit much to expect from a player who still needs a bit of development. Ojulari exploding onto the scene would certainly be a welcome turn of events for the Giants, but I think they’d settle for him being an impact EDGE defender as a rookie and helping their defense as a whole.

Other NFC East Rookie Of The Year candidates

DeVonta Smith (WR, Eagles) - 7th OROY
Jamin Davis (LB, Washington) - 2nd DROY
Micah Parsons (LB, Cowboys) - 1st DROY