Futures: Georgia ER Azeez Ojulari
The 2021 edge rusher class is among the worst in recent memory. Not only is there no clear top-five pick along the lines of Myles Garrett or the Bosa brothers, but many of the top edge rushers in this class come with massive projection. Miami’s Jaelan Phillips briefly retired in college due to concussion issues, while Penn State’s Jayson Oweh earned zero sacks in seven games during his final season. There are so few prospects with reasonable floors and intriguing ceilings.
Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari presents the opposite conundrum of Phillips and Oweh. Gauging Ojulari’s floor is easy. He ran a 4.63s 40-yard dash and leaped 127 inches in the broad jump at 6-foot-2 and 249 pounds, while also clearing the 80th percentile in arm length. Ojulari’s length and explosion are a good starting point for any defensive end. The Bulldogs defender also put up decent production, posting 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and two passes defended as a redshirt sophomore in 2020.
The film backs up Ojulari’s high floor. Ojulari is the best run defender at the top of this edge class. He plays with an instant trigger that is seldom wrong, while possessing the length and strength to control blocks however he pleases. There is no worry that Ojulari will have to come off the field early in drives. Ojulari is a three-down player.
Ojulari’s specialty was handling pullers and splitters. Right as the ball is snapped, Ojulari (13, bottom of screen) reads the offensive linemen to his side down-blocking away from him and looks for a guard coming back his way. Ojulari finds said guard and squeezes down the line in a hurry to stand up the first puller, theoretically shrinking the lane for the second puller to work through. Unfortunately for Ojulari, the guard gets away with a pretty clear hold and teammate Richard LeCounte (2) fits this run with a horrendous angle. Ojulari’s instant recognition and ability to squeeze and stand-up the puller is impressive, though.
Here is Ojulari doing the same thing against Alabama. Ojulari is to the bottom of the screen in the first clip, top of the screen in the second clip. Ojulari again instantly IDs and squeezes the first puller in both plays. The designed rushing lane is taken away thanks to Ojulari, forcing each run to be bounced outside one way or the other. The second clip here is the most impressive of the bunch considering Ojulari squeezes it before the second puller can get through at all, then still comes off the block to help with the tackle for loss because he kept an arm free. Hell of a football play.
These are the kinds of plays that ensure Ojulari can get on the field. His length and strength are great tools in the run game, and he has the instincts and technique to make the most of those tools. Having a defensive end who can be trusted in the run game, especially against gap schemes, provides some peace of mind for a defensive coordinator.
Ojulari's ability to rush the passer is what will keep him on the field, though. Rushing the passer is what will get him, or any defensive end, paid. Though far from a useless pass-rusher, Ojulari does not possess the highest ceiling and is an incomplete pass-rusher as he stands right now.
Ojulari’s inhibiting factor as a pass-rusher is his bend, or lack thereof. Ojulari is explosive off the snap and has the strength to bully offensive tackles from time to time, but his flexibility around the arc often leaves something to be desired. That film-based concern showed up at his pro day, where Ojulari ran a 7.27s three-cone (38th percentile). Ojulari is not stiff as a board, make no mistake, but he does not have the high-end flexibility that almost all of the league’s elite pass-rushers do.
Ojulari (bottom) flies off the snap on this rep. His initial burst gives him the upper hand against the offensive tackle trying desperately to gain enough width and depth to catch up. Ojulari converts that advantage into a nice little hand swipe to free himself from the tackle, but he can not quite sink and turn the edge as comfortably as he needs to. Even with the quarterback getting this ball off in a timely manner, Ojulari still won fast enough initially that he could have closed the gap with a smoother, tighter angle around the edge and at least made the passer uncomfortable as the ball was coming out.
Here are a couple even closer calls against Kentucky last season. Neither rep is bad, per se, but they illustrate that Ojulari does not want to bend through contact and must instead run as deep an arc as possible in order to turn more feely. If Ojulari wants to thrive in the NFL, he is going to have to find ways to run the arc a bit tighter and get comfortable bending through contact. Ojulari clears the bar in terms of being a competent, baseline pass-rusher, but again, he is going to need to show a little more flexibility in order to find himself named among the league’s best.
And to Ojulari’s credit, it is quite clear he understands what he is best at and how to make it work. Ojulari can get uphill in a hurry, force a hurried engagement with the tackle, and free himself with violent hands. That alone will get him a few sacks a year in the NFL. Ojulari does have some issues with mixing up his approach, but perhaps that is more related to Ojulari’s youth than a complete inability to add moves.
Ojulari has the tools to win other ways, too. Same as in the run game, Ojulari’s length, strength, and short-area explosion can be a weapon when working inside. Ojulari seldom takes that approach through his own volition, but it proved to be a viable way to get to the quarterback when Ojulari was asked to stunt or twist inside.
Ojulari (top) stunts inside to the B-gap (between tackle and guard) on this rep to allow the blitzing cornerback to hammer the C-gap outside the tackle. Though the running back picks up the blitzing cornerback, Ojulari pops the tackle in the chest and drives through his inside shoulder straight to the quarterback. Ojulari also got some help from the opposite defensive end condensing the pocket, but it’s encouraging that Ojulari could show off some ability to work inside, even if only when forced to by design.
The light at the end of the tunnel with regards to Ojulari’s incomplete pass-rush approach is that he played his final season at just 20 years old. Ojulari will not turn 21 until June. Assuming development for any prospect can be a slippery slope, but it is probably fair to assume someone who started for Georgia as young as 19 and 20 years old is a sharp player with some room to grow. Ojulari also upped his production through his two seasons at Georgia, turning in 5.5 sacks in 2019 before jumping to 8.5 last year. It’s not like improvement is unprecedented for him.
Ojulari is the type of player I would want on my football team. More specifically, if I ran a 3-4 defense with stand-up outside linebackers, I would be itching to get him on my roster. Long, tough, explosive, and smart—Ojulari has all the tools to be a perfect glue piece for that kind of defensive front. Whether Ojulari can develop into a stud pass-rusher with middling flexibility and a lack of pass-rush moves (for now) is a hefty ask, though.
Ojulari is realistically a quality No. 2 in the NFL. You want him on the field on early downs, but he should not be your best pass-rusher. Somewhere in the 40- to 50-pick range is fair for a player like that in a normal class, but he is going to get pushed up in this seemingly weak edge rusher class. That said, Ojulari being a slight "reach," assuming he goes in the back half of the first round, does not make him a terrible pick. There just need to be reasonable expectations for what Ojulari can be, especially early on as he develops his pass-rush repertoire.