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New York Giants Edge Azeez Ojulari Blossoming into Legitimate Pass Rusher

In Azeez Ojulari, the New York Giants might finally have their first legitimate homegrown edge rusher since Jason Pierre-Paul.

The New York Giants haven't had the best of luck in the last ten years or so in certain areas.

The most glaring, of course, is in establishing the right offensive line combination. But right behind the bad luck the Giants have had in finding solid homegrown pass rushers.

Not that they haven't tried. Since trading Jason Pierre-Paul, the last of their homegrown pass rushers, the Giants tried to fill the pass-rushing void with free agents (Olivier Vernon and Markus Golden) and a pair of third-round draft picks (Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines).

Those attempts, while at times looking promising, have not been sustainable over the long term.

But of late, the Giants might have struck gold in their quest to find a solid homegrown pass rusher in Azeez Ojulari, their second-round pick in this year's draft.

Ojulari, a rookie out of Georgia, currently ranks second in pass-rush win rate among Giants defensive linemen and outside linebackers that have played a minimum of 50 pass-rush snaps this season.

Ojulari, who leads the Giants defense with 5.5 sacks, currently owns a 14.3 pass-rush win rate, second on the team behind defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence's 14.7 mark.

Ojulari, tied with Lawrence for second in total pressures (18) behind Leonard Williams, also tied the Giants franchise record for most sacks by a Giants rookie (5.5), matching the mark set by former defensive lineman B.J. Hill in 2018.

And Ojulari, who leads all NFL rookies in sacks, is coming off his best performance of his young career, a stint in which he recorded 2.5 sacks against a banged-up Carolina offensive line in the Giants win on Sunday.

"It was encouraging to see him play well, but this guy has been playing hard the entire time," said head coach Joe Judge.

"'ll say every week I’m just trying to get better," said Ojulari, who also recorded a sack in each of the Giants' first three games. " As I continue to play these games, I’m getting used to it and adjusting to the game speed and everything. It’s just kind of slowing down for me and getting better by the week."

Despite his pass-rushing success in which he finished his three-year stint for the Bulldogs with 68 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 15 sacks, and was ranked first in the SEC in both sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (4) in 2020, Ojulari still had to undergo a transition, according to Judge.

Within that transition, Ojulari has been rushing with a plan and figuring out his strengths and how to use them to counter what opposing blockers throw at him in their attempt to neutralize him.

"A lot of times the edge players as rookies, it’s a real big transition because it’s very different from college and the talent level is extremely different from college," Judge said.

"He’s been productive early in his career really just by playing within his own strengths and skillset. I think (Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Patrick) Pat (Graham) and (Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer) Spence and those guys are doing a really good job using this guy to what he does well, letting him go out there and just play fast."

As with most young pass rushers, learning to play the run has taken a bit longer to master, but Ojulari is also making progress there. According to official league stats, of Ojulari's 21 total tackles, only seven are solo efforts against the run, while he has eight assists and one tackle for a loss in run defense.

But the good news is that Ojulari's average depth of those tackles he is making is 1.8 yards, which is the second-lowest (behind Williams' 1.6 average depth of tackle) among the Giants' defensive linemen and outside linebackers.

The more reps he gets, the sharper Ojulari's run defense will become. But for now, the rookies pass rush is certainly a welcome addition to a pass-rushing unit that was dormant for far too long and is hoping that the sparks it's gotten from Ojulari, and the rest of the guys up front is contagious.

"I feel like we feed off each other in our defense, definitely," Ojulari said. "We feed off each other big time.

"The secondary covers, the rush gets there – so it's just feeding off each other and playing off each other’s energy. It’s just great having these guys that want to get to the quarterback and get after people. It’s just great competing out there." 

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