The New Orleans Saints have had one of the NFL's deepest defensive lines over the past two seasons. Much of the attention has gone to their talented defensive ends. Perennial Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan, former 1st round pick Marcus Davenport, breakout star Trey Hendrickson, and emerging star Carl Granderson have been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
It is the team’s deep and disruptive corps of defensive tackles that has been an underrated part of the Saints defensive success. They’ve created consistent interior pressure, forces opponents to commit double-team blocking, and been a major reason for a top-five ranking against the run over the last three seasons.
Sheldon Rankins, the 12th overall selection in the 2016 draft, and star run defender Malcom Brown were both lost this offseason. Those losses have depleted their formidable depth. The team still has underrated star DT David Onyemata, along with promising former undrafted tackles Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach, but may want to add another playmaker up front with a draft choice.
Outside of Alabama's Christian Barmore, there are no sure 1st round picks at defensive tackle in this year's draft class. However, the position is deep in talent into the middle rounds. Today's draft profile highlights one such player.
OSA ODIGHIZUWA, DEFENSIVE TACKLE (UCLA)
Younger brother of Owa Odighizuwa, former NFL defensive lineman. Osa was a football star and three-time state wrestling championship at David Douglas High School in Portland, OR. Like his brother, he stayed on the west coast to attend UCLA. After a redshirt year, he’d see action as a reserve defensive lineman in all 13 games of 2017, where 5.5 of his 15 tackles were for a loss.
Odighizuwa worked his way into the starting lineup by the last half of 2018. He had 3 sacks and 6 tackles for loss among his 29 total stops. His 10 tackles for loss in 2019 led the Bruins, adding 3.5 sacks along with 46 tackles while starting all 12 contests.
The PAC-12 regular season was limited to seven games in 2020 because of COVID-19. Odighizuwa was a 1st team all-conference selection for his 4 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and 30 total stops. In four years with the Bruins he had 11.5 sacks, 27.5 tackles for loss, 4 fumbles either forced or recovered, and one defensive touchdown.
A linebacker in high school, Odighizuwa converted to the defensive line at UCLA and played split time between the inside and edge position throughout his career. He is relatively inexperienced at tackle and a too light for a traditional nose tackle spot.
He’ll need to add bulk and strengthen his base to be more effective inside, especially against the run. Odighizuwa can be overwhelmed by double-teams and won't push many interior linemen around in one-on-one matchups with brute strength. He’ll need to show that he can hold his ground at the point of attack to hold up inside.
Odighizuwa has the versatility to be disruptive from nearly everywhere along the defensive line. He plays with a non-stop motor and makes tons of plays on second and third effort. His championship wrestling background is evident on the field, often giving himself a leverage advantage over opponents.
Odighizuwa has an explosive first step off the snap. He gets the jump on tackles along the edge and shoots gaps quickly inside. He’s light on his feet and his constant upper body movement gives blockers fits. Odighizuwa shows good lateral pursuit and has the speed to run plays down from sideline-to-sideline.
Considered a ‘‘tweener'', Odighizuwa has the versatility that the Saints love in their defensive players. He has the bend and athleticism to be effective along the edge, but also plays with the leverage and initial explosion to be a disruptive inside pass rusher.
Osa Odighizuwa has the frame to add bulk without sacrificing any of his athleticism. He isn't the stereotypical run-stuffing defensive tackle, but has the disruption and versatility to be a Day 2 draft steal.