The 2021 NFL Draft season is upon us and the first wave of free agency is now over. Now, scouts, coaches, and general managers will hit the road as all eyes will turn to the draft.
Among the 32 teams building their rosters to compete for the next Lombardi Trophy is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hold 10 picks in this season’s draft -- including the No. 1 overall pick. The Jaguars are entering a new era under Head Coach Urban Meyer, and the 2021 draft will serve as a catalyst to the Jaguars’ rebuild moving into the future.
As we march closer and closer to April’s draft, we will look at individual draft prospects and how they would potentially fit with the Jaguars. Instead of looking at any negatives, we are going to look at what the players do well and if they could match what the Jaguars need at the specific role or position.
In this edition, we look at one of the best edge defenders in the entire draft in Georgia outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari. Following a terrific 2020, Ojulari looks on track to be a first-round pick, but should that pick be Jacksonville's to make?
One of the youngest players in this year's draft, Azeez Ojulari was a top-10 weakside defensive end prospect and a four-star recruit entering college. He committed to Georgia over Alabama and Auburn, opting to stay in state and join Kirby Smart's defense.
Ojulari was redshirted as a freshman but started 13 games in his redshirt freshman season, earning the distinction of becoming the first freshman during the Kirby Smart tenure to be a captain during the season. He recorded 36 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2019, ending the year winning the team's Defensive Most Improved (co-winner) and Leon Farmer Strength & Conditioning awards.
Ojulari had his best season as a redshirt sophomore in 2020, earning second-team All-SEC honors and being named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award after 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and 12.5 tackles for loss. He came up huge in each of Georgia's biggest games, specifically when named the Defensive MVP of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl victory over Cincinnati.
What Azeez Ojulari Does Well
Watching Azeez Ojulari (6-foot-2, 249 pounds) as a pass-rusher, I got reminded of watching Yannick Ngakoue at Maryland during the 2016 NFL Draft process. The ways he wins against offensive tackles are eerily similar and should translate rather quickly, even if he doesn't yet have a complete toolbox of pass-rush moves.
There likely isn't a player in this class who runs the arc better than Ojulari. He didn't post good agility times at his pro day, but his tape shows he has no issues with bending around offensive tackles to win the edge. He is incredibly flexible in his lower body and can dip around offensive tackles with ease.
What makes him even more dangerous as a pass-rusher is the fact that when he does bend around the edge, he is able to explode back upfield and close on the quarterback in an instant. He is also very adept at using a "swipe" move to get separation from the tackle at the top of the arc, his go-to pass-rush move at this stage of his career.
Ojulari's first step is a thing of beauty. He looks like he is shot out of a cannon as a pass-rusher, putting slow-footed offensive tackles at a disadvantage from the jump. Whether rushing with his hand in the ground or in the dirt, he is able to eat up ground and get the upper hand off the snap on a frequent basis.
Ojulari has a smaller frame for an edge rusher and won't intimidate anyone with his size, but this doesn't mean he doesn't play with a physical edge. Watch him take on pulling offensive linemen at the point of attack against Alabama in 2020 and you will see how much Ojulari embraces the physical aspect of the position, even with his slight size.
When it comes to defending the run, Ojulari won't be a tough edge setter who shuts down offensive tackles, but he is a terrific backside defender thanks to his motor and quickness in pursuit. And when Georgia asked him to drop in coverage, which wasn't infrequent, he showed smoothness in his zone drops and good instincts and movement skills in space.
Finally, Ojulari is a walking strip-sack. He closes on quarterbacks with violent force and does a fantastic job of targeting the football instead of just going for the sack, creating numerous big plays for Georgia's defense as a result. His playmaking instincts are top-notch.
How Azeez Ojulari Would Fit With the Jaguars
There might not be many defenses Ojulari fits better from a schematic standpoint than what we expect to see Jacksonville run under Joe Cullen. Cullen spent five years with the Baltimore Ravens and knows just how valuable twitchy, aggressive, versatile outside linebackers are to a defense.
Considering the Jaguars' need to add playmaking to their front seven, Ojulari makes a lot of sense. They need players who can get to the quarterback and create explosive plays, and Ojulari does just that. They have two young and ascending edge players in Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson, but more depth and overall talent needs to be added to Jacksonville's rotation of pass-rushers.
He has the movement skills to thrive standing up off the edge as well as the coverage ability to serve as an edge rusher who drops in coverage to mix the defensive scheme up. He has much more coverage experience than Chaisson, for example, and would give the Jaguars a versatile player they can move around their formation on defense.
Ojulari would likely face some of the same issues Chaisson faced early on due to his size and lack of counter moves, but he shows the natural pass-rush ability to make an impact coming off the bench. The Jaguars could play with all three of these edge rushers at the same time on third down as well, lining Allen and Ojulari on the edge and letting Chaisson attack an interior gap.
This is a similar argument to the one we made for Jaelan Phillips. The Jaguars have bigger immediate needs than edge rusher, but the depth at the position is too poor for the Jaguars to feel confident moving into 2021. Ultimately, Ojulari is a legitimate first-round prospect whose value would justify a selection at No. 25 overall.
The question is whether the Jaguars would want to take a player at No. 25 who may not start right away, or at least would have to share his snaps with Chaisson. The current staff shouldn't avoid picking a player just because of Chaisson's presence, but there is the question of whether the Jaguars should opt for an impact player at a position like safety or on offense.
If Ojulari is on the board at No. 25, he should be in the conversation depending on how the first 24 picks shake out. He isn't a perfect prospect, but he is athletic, talented, productive, and only 20-years-old. He is a natural pass-rushing talent who has the baseline traits to improve a team's pass-rush rotation instantly, and the Jaguars can't take this type of prospect for granted.
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