The 2022 NFL Draft is a deep and talented one, particularly at the EDGE position. EDGE defenders are expected to dominate the top of the draft and have a strong presence in every round.
One of those players were expected to go very early in the draft is David Ojabo from the University of Michigan. Ojabo exploded onto the scene with a dominant 2021 season, where he notched 11 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, and 5 forced fumbles. Ojabo has had a unique path to the NFL; he was born in Nigeria, moved to Scottland as a child, and didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school.
Ojabo was already considered something of a “boom or bust” prospect due to his incredible potential and limited track record. Then he tore his Achilles tendon in a non-contact injury at the Michigan pro day. Ojabo has also long been linked to the New York Giants as an option to improve their pass rush.
Will his injury knock him out of the first round? Would the Giants still be interested?
Prospect: David Ojabo (55)
Games Watched: vs. Michigan State (2021), vs. Penn State (2021), vs. Ohio State (2021), vs. Iowa (2021 Big 12 Championship Game)
Red Flags: Torn Achilles tendon (2022)
Games Played: 13
Tackles For a loss: 12.0
Forced Fumbles: 5
Passes Defensed: 3
Best: Explosiveness, athleticism, competitive toughness, versatility
Worst: Experience, injury history
Projection: A starting EDGE defender in a multiple of 1-gap 3-4 defense.
(Ojabo is Michigan EDGE number 55)
David Ojabo is an explosive, versatile, and instinctive EDGE defender from the University of Michigan.
Ojabo boasts a versatile frame at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, which allows him to impact the game in a variety of ways. He is a dangerous pass rusher, has the ability to drop in coverage, and is stout at the point of attack in run defense. Ojabo played from both the left and right sides of the defense, exclusively lining up in a 2-point stance as a stand-up rusher when Michigan used packages with two down linemen.
Ojabo has a remarkably quick get-off when rushing the passer, with an explosive first step that has no wasted energy or movement. He fires off the ball with solid pad level and shows a surprising variety of pass rush moves for an inexperienced player. Ojabo rushes with a bull rush, long-arm, swipe, and rip moves, and occasionally a spin move as well. He shows the beginnings of a pass rush plan and flashes the ability to move fluidly from a primary move to a counter when his initial pass rush stalls. Ojabo is able to win with power or speed, making him difficult for blockers to anticipate.
He is an effective rusher who is able to affect the quarterback directly (with sacks, hits, and forced fumbles) and indirectly, by forcing the quarterback to his teammates or pressuring him into mistakes.
Ojabo is a capable coverage player as well. He appears comfortable in space, getting good depth in his zone drops and moving well to pick up offensive players in coverage. He is also capable of running with tight ends and running backs in man coverage, though he shouldn’t be asked to cover particularly athletic players or true receivers.
Ojabo is also an effective run defender on the edge. He generally plays with good leverage to maximize his play strength and does a good job of fitting his hands on blockers’ chest plates. He is able to hold up against offensive tackle blocks and is seldom moved off the line of scrimmage, and is able to discard blocks to make plays on the ball carrier.
Inexperience is the primary downside to Ojabo’s game. He is already capable of impacting a game, but there is definite room for improvement with experience. Ojabo can be inefficient and inaccurate with his technique, leading to slightly slowed or longer paths to the football than are strictly necessary. At times his hands can flail in his rushes, creating opportunities for blockers to get under his pads. Likewise, he could beat blockers more quickly with crisper, more efficient hand usage. Ojabo can also appear a bit tentative in taking on blockers in the run game. He doesn’t explode off the ball in run defense the same way he does when rushing the passer. Teams will want to find out whether that is coached or if Ojabo is thinking through his run fits as opposed to simply trying to beat blockers.
The biggest red flag is obviously Ojabo’s Achilles injury. He tore his Achilles during a drill at Michigan’s pro day, putting his future in question. Teams will want to monitor his recovery closely, and it’s fair to wonder if he will get all of his athleticism back after recovering and how long it will take to get back to his pre-injury form.
Overall Grade: 8.1
Prior to his injury, Ojabo projected as a rotational EDGE defender who should push for a starting job in a “multiple” or one-gap 3-4 defense very early in his career.
Ojabo was strictly a stand-up pass rusher at Michigan and was taken off the field when their defense used three or four down linemen. While that might put some limitations on Ojabo’s scheme fits (at least to start his career), enough NFL defenses are sufficiently “multiple” that he can find a fit on most teams.
He is already an effective run defender, but teams might want to put him in situations where he can simply rush the passer first while work with him to play a bit faster in run defense. That might make him a “third down pass rush specialist” at the very start of his career, but Ojabo should push for a “starting” role sooner rather than later. He is a smart and instinctive player, which suggests that he could improve rapidly with consistent coaching.
Of course, his torn Achilles needs to be considered. That will likely push back his development and teams might be conservative in how they use him early in his career. The biggest issue for teams will likely be the uncertainty his injury creates. A torn Achilles is a significant injury, and while he might be able to practice before the 2022 season starts, we do not yet know how long it will take him to regain the full measure of his athleticism.