Azeez Ojulari, thought by many to be a certain first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, fell all the way to No. 50 in Round 2 due to concerns about a high school knee injury. The New York Giants gladly scooped him up, and Ojulari had an excellent rookie season.
What now for the 22-year-old edge defender out of Georgia? Let’s discuss that as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.
By the numbers
Contract: Year 2 of four-year, 6.774 million rookie contract | 2022 cap hit: $1.539 million
Career to date
Ojulari set a franchise rookie record with 8.0 sacks (Lawrence Taylor’s 9.5-sack rookie season came before sacks were an official statistic). He had 49 tackles (eight for loss) and 13 quarterback hits, as well. Ojulari played in all 17 games, totaling 780 defensive snaps (67 percent).
There is, though, plenty of room for improvement. Pro Football Focus gave Ojulari a 56.9 pass-rushing grade, just 47th out of 51 qualifiers. Ojulari’s pass rush win rate of 9.9 percent was also 47th, and his pass rush pressure rate of 6.3 percent was just 33rd.
As a run defender, Ojulari’s 62.5 PFF grade placed him No. 30 among 50 qualifiers.
Ojulari entered the offseason understanding that, rookie sack record notwithstanding, he had to get better.
The first thing he did was sculpt his body. Listed at 240 pounds on the Giants website, Ojulari showed up to offseason workouts with muscles popping out of his long-sleeve shirt and said he was up to roughly 255 pounds. He said he played last season around 245.
Ojulari said he knew he needed to be stronger.
“I feel like as a rusher you’ve got to have some type of power with you when you rush. You can’t just always go speed,” he said. “These tackles today nowadays are so athletic and good, everyone is very professional. So you’ve got to add — you’ve got to switch it up a little bit.”
Outside linebackers coach Dean Wilkins, who came from the Baltimore Ravens along with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, was impressed by the offseason work Ojulari put in.
“I’m really excited working with him. He’s just such an A plus personality, he works so hard in the classroom, in the weight room and then out here you see him flying around to the football,” Wilkins said. “The thing with him, loved him watching him when we got here in February watching him on tape, you recognize this is a guy that had an exciting, big year in Year 1, right. But then he comes in and he looks like the Incredible Hulk coming in and you recognize that this is a guy that put in work from the time that great season ended until he came back here.
“Any time you add lean muscle mass like that it just makes you a bigger, stronger, better football player … right now he’s moving around really well. He put on the right type of weight. If I looked like that I don’t know if I’d ever wear a shirt.”
One worry about Ojulari coming out of Georgia was that he did the vast majority of his pass rush work with one move. Productive rookie season or not, it sounds like Ojulari is intent on broadening his repertoire.
In addition to the power he has added, Wilkins is trying to refine other aspects of Ojulari’s game.
“It’s a really great player to work with,” Wilkins said. “Just the little things in his pass rush. His footwork, his handwork, his get off. These are things he’s really buying into right now, the little details of it that can take his game to the next level.”
Ojulari should benefit in 2022 from a full year of NFL experience. He should benefit from the strength he has gained. He should benefit from Martindale’s pressure schemes, which are designed to confuse offenses rather than strictly rely on winning 1-on-1 matchups.
Ojulari should also benefit from the presence of No. 5 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
“I know how elite he is and how good of a player he is,” Ojulari said of Thibodeaux.
With Thibodeaux on one side and a coordinator who designs defenses to spread the sacks around, there is no guarantee Ojulari improves on his 8.0 sack total from a season ago. The arrow on his career, though, seems to be pointing up.