NFL scouts buzzing about UCLA’s twitchy Osa Odighizuwa

Rob Rang

Over the past several weeks, NFLDraftScout.com has previewed the top NFL prospects for each of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 programs, as well as top independents Notre Dame and BYU. Among other conferences at the FBS and FCS level, the Big Ten and Pac-12’s bold decision to cancel their respective fall seasons in response to the COVID-19 pandemic means that NFL scouts will be evaluating prospects from their teams based mostly off of 2019 film. Until college football games officially return, we will be continuing our breakdown of each team with the mighty SEC on tap following the conclusion of the Pac-12 programs.

UCLA Bruins

Head Coach: Chip Kelly (third season)

2019 Record: 4-8

2020 NFL Draft Picks: Devin Asiasi, TE, New England Patriots – 3rd Rd, No. 91 overall

Darnay Holmes, CB, New York Giants – 4th Round, No. 110 overall

Joshua Kelley, RB, Los Angeles Chargers – 4th Round, No. 112 overall

Overview:

Looking strictly at their won-loss record, one might say that Year Two of the Chip Kelly rebuild at UCLA did not go much better than his first with the Bruins delivering just one more victory, giving him a 7-17 record in Los Angeles since returning to college football after spending the previous four years as the head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

That, of course, is far from what UCLA expects after Kelly’s previous dominance in the Pac-12 at Oregon, a remarkable four-year run from 2009-2012 in which the Ducks went 46-7 with two Rose Bowl appearances and narrowly losing the 2010 BCS title to Cam Newton and Auburn.

A closer look, however, shows a young team starting to click at the skill positions in much the same way he built Oregon into a Pac-12 powerhouse.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson built upon the flashes he’d shown as a true freshman, tripling his touchdowns (21) thrown while simultaneously improving his competition percentage (59.7%) and yards-per-attempt (7.5). He also finished second on the team to Chargers’ fourth round pick Joshua Kelley with four rushing touchdowns.

While Kelley certainly was the workhorse in UCLA’s offense last year, speedy Demetric Felton provided many of the team’s biggest plays, registering 15 plays of 20 or more yards in 2019, including four touchdowns of 75+ yards. His 55 receptions out of the backfield last year set a UCLA record for running backs and the team was led in receiving by redshirt freshman Kyle Phillips, whose 60 grabs (for 681 yards and five scores) were the most ever by a first-year player at UCLA.

While the Bruins have the sizzle and speed to compete in the Pac-12, until they are bigger, stronger and deeper along the line of scrimmage, however, they’ll continue to get pushed around by the top teams. UCLA’s inability to match up at the point of attack was especially obvious in blowouts at the hands of Oklahoma (48-14) and Utah (49-3), which led to humbling losses to rival USC and Cal, ending the season on a three-game losing streak after hopes of a return to bowl contention appeared possible with upset victories over Washington State and Arizona State, each of whom entered the game ranked in the AP’s Top 25.

This isn’t to suggest that UCLA completely lacks talent along the line of scrimmage. Their top two NFL prospects, in fact, line up there with twitchy defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa flashing the moldable traits to hear his name called earlier in the draft than any Bruins’ defensive tackle since the Packers made Kenny Clark the 27th overall pick back in 2016. Just like a young Clark – who agreed to an extension Saturday to become the best-paid nose guard in NFL history – Odigihizua is nationally underrated at this stage in his career and seemingly just scratching the surface of his potential.

Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Osa Odighizuwa, DT, 6-2, 279, 4.75, rJR

Given that UCLA surrendered nearly 35 points a game last year (ranking 116 out of 130 FBS teams and second-worst in the Pac-12 to Arizona’s 35.8), it might be hard to imagine that the Bruins boast one of the conference’s most gifted defensive linemen in Odighizuwa.

If his name sounds familiar, you are likely either a passionate NFL draft fan who remembers his older brother, Owa, who played for the Bruins from 2010-2014 and was selected 74 overall by the New York Giants back in 2015 or a fan of high school wrestling, where Odighizuwa dominated at David Douglas High School in Portland, Oregon reportedly winning an eye-popping 131 straight matches and three consecutive state titles.

With that kind of track record, one might assume that the long-armed and highly athletic Odighizuwa would have generated all sorts of recruiting interest. Instead, he was labeled as “just” a three-star recruit and signed with the Bruins amid relatively little fanfare.

After redshirting his first season on campus, Odighizuwa proved a disruptor once on the field, registering 5.5 tackles for loss (including a sack) among 15 total stops on the year while serving as part of a stready rotation. Interestingly enough, the former Portland resident enjoyed his best game against the Ducks, ravaging their veteran offensive line for three tackles for loss while also returning a fumble 51-yards for a touchdown against their hated rival up north, Washington.

He’s made steady improvement since, starting the final eight consecutive games in 2018 and nearly doubling his tackle total (29) with six stops behind the line, including three sacks. Starting all 12 games last year, Odighizuwa led the Bruins’ defensive linemen with 46 tackles while tying for the team-lead with 10 tackles for loss, including a career-high 3.5 sacks.

Those are similar numbers as to what his older brother posted during his first three years at UCLA (75 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks) before Owa exploded as a senior for 59 stops, including 11.5 for loss and six sacks.

While it remains to be seen if any Pac-12 play will occur this year due to the pandemic, it is easy to project Odighizuwa enjoying a similar jump in production as he gains more experience and puts his impressive traits to better use.

Strengths: Sawed-off frame well-suited to winning the leverage battle with broad shoulders, a thick and powerful base and disproportionately long arms. Explosive initial quickness to penetrate gaps and knock would-be blockers onto their heels. Surges out of his stance, taking long steps to eat up space.

Coordinates his upper and lower halves nicely, showing flexibility in his hips to twist and “get skinny” while delivering powerful hand swipes and sudden swim moves to wade his way through traffic.

Time spent in the weight room is obvious with his upper and lower body strength, earning a spot on Bruce Feldman’s annual Freak list with a reported 717-pound squat and 420 pound bench press… Has the ballast to anchor, including against double-teams when he keeps his pads low… Uses his long arms and impressive grip strength to latch on and drag down ballcarriers attempting to slip by, even as he’s being blocked… Coordinated athlete who changes directions smoothly for a big man and shows impressive top-end speed and terrific effort in lateral and downfield pursuit.

It is not uncommon to see Odighizuwa crash through the line initially only to reverse course and hustle downfield in pursuit to be in on the tackle 10-15 yards the other direction. Agility and effort to project as an effective interior pass rusher on twists and stunts. Appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential.

Weaknesses: ‘Tweener traits, lacking the length and sustained speed to wrap the corner as a traditional edge rusher, as well as the bulk preferred inside… A better athlete than football player, at this time. Negates his own power by standing up at the snap and allowing blockers to get into his chest. Lacks ideal awareness, losing sight of the ball with too many of his tackles happening downfield. Breaks down the door only to let the cat out, getting lured upfield and failing to see oncoming blockers, including traps, chips and cuts coming his way… Spends more time on the ground than a player with his strength and agility should… This issue is worsened because of Odighizuwa’s long strides which leave him off-balance and vulnerable to well-timed shoves to knock him off-course. Does not show enough awareness of passing lanes given his effort and length, knocking down just three passes in 30 games, including one in 2019…

NFL Player Comparison: Vinny Curry, Philadelphia Eagles – The 6-3, 279 pound Curry was a dominant force at Marshall off the edge, registering 49 tackles for loss and 26.5 sacks there but falling to the 59 overall selection in 2012 amid concerns about where he’d fit best along an NFL defensive line and how quickly he’d be able to handle the uptick in competition. Quick, strong and passionate, he’s proven a reliable contributor in the NFL since, providing scouts a glimpse as to what Odighizuwa may become with a little more fine-tuning.

Current NFL Draft Projection: Second-Third Round

The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Stanford:

1. Osa Odighizuwa, DT, 6-2, 279, 4.75, rJR

2. Jake Burton, OT, 6-5, 312, 6-5, 312, 5.10, rSR

3. Demetric Felton, RB/WR, 5-09, 185, 4.45, rSR

4. Quentin Lake, S, 6-0, 193, 4.55, SR

5. Obi Eboh, CB, 6-1, 194, 4.55, rSR – Graduate transfer from Stanford 

6. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB/WR, 6-1, 197, 4.55, JR

7. Stephan Blaylock, S, 5-09, 192, 4.45, JR

8. Paul Grattan, C, 6-3, 300, 5.20 – Graduate transfer from Villanova

9. Atonio Mafi, DT, 6-2, 363, 5.25, JR

10. Chase Cota, WR, 6-3, 198, 4.55, JR

*All 40-yard dash times are estimates

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