PFF: Julian Okwara Isn't Getting Enough Love

Bryan Driskell

Former Notre Dame defensive end Julian Okwara could only participate in the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine due to a late season leg injury. Okwara likely would have been a standout at the combine, and not being able to participate has limited the buzz surrounding the talented edge player.

Okwara was a consistent first-round name when the mock draft season started, but in recent mocks he’s not only out of round one, he’s dropping into round three.

Pro Football Focus analyst Anthony Treash has noticed the lack of attention Okwara has received recently, and he thinks it’s a mistake.

“If it weren’t for his season-ending fibula injury suffered in Week 11, Julian Okwara likely wouldn't be undervalued. Sure, the injury is a red flag, but when healthy Okwara proved to be one of the top edge defenders in the country. Over the last two seasons, he has produced a 19.1% pressure rate, which leads the FBS by nearly a full percentage point.

“We aren’t going to let him slide with his tackling, though. This is an area he must improve — he missed nearly a third of his total talking attempts in 2019. Okwara’s athletic makeup and explosiveness off the line is exactly what you want from your edge rusher. Not to mention, his bend is filthy.”

Okwara hinted at the combine that he would be healthy enough to participate in testing at Notre Dame’s April 1 Pro Day, which will be held on the South Bend campus.

IRISH BREAKDOWN REACTION: Getting injured certainly hindered Okwara’s ability to generate more offseason buzz as the draft gets closer and closer. But I don’t think the injury is the only reason Okwara isn’t getting more attention.

Okwara was an outstanding player for the Irish in 2018, and he was absolutely brilliant in Notre Dame’s 35-21 victory over Virginia, registering three sacks and eight quarterback pressures (according to PFF) in that win.

But overall his 2019 film just wasn't very good. There were some troubling areas in Okwara’s game this past season, and he just didn’t have the same level of impact he had the previous year, and the more people watch his film the more they see it.

As a junior, Okwara totaled 61 pressures and 21 hits/sacks on the quarterback according to PFF. He was on pace for just 46 pressures and 13 hits/sacks in 2019 prior to his injury.

He registered 26 run stops on 217 run snaps in 2018 (according to PFF), but he had just nine run stops in 183 run snaps in 2019.

His film just wasn’t as good as a pass rusher or run defender in 2019. Okwara didn’t show the same consistency as a pass rusher, and he wasn’t nearly as physical on the edge in the run game. It’s hard to dismiss this kind of drop in effort and production, and I believe that is also having an impact on his draft grade.

But make no mistake, a strong performance at the Notre Dame Pro Day will certainly boost his draft stock. Okwara’s game needs work, but his explosiveness, length and upside are outstanding. A low 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and other strong athletic numbers will make him a highly intriguing player, and you combine that with his 2018 film and he could creep back up towards the first round.

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