NFL Draft Profile: Notre Dame EDGE Julian Okwara

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The Los Angeles Rams are undergoing a defensive scheme and regime change. With that being said, former starting pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. has departed via free agency. That leaves the Rams set to start either Samson Ebukam or Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. We still do not even have word on whether or not Leonard Floyd will officially sign with the Rams.

Here’s an edge defender in the draft who could be an option to slide into the Fowler role, Julian Okwara.

College Bio

Okwara is a former four-star recruit that moved to the United States in third-grade from Nigeria. He played his freshman season for the Fighting Irish and appeared in 11 games. The following year he appeared in 12 games still waiting for his opportunity. Finally in 2018, Okwara became a full-time starter tying the team for first in sacks and accumulating more tackles for a loss than anyone on the roster. His senior year was cut short due to a season-ending broken fibula injury. He was named a team captain in his final season and was on numerous watch lists coming into the year which included the Nagurski Trophy and AP Preseason second-team All-American honors.

Measurables

Height: 6’4
Weight: 252

Strengths

Okwara is a very athletic pass rusher that has an impressive blend of size and speed. He was named a captain for the Notre Dame football team and was a true leader for the Fighting Irish during his time there. He displays ankle flexion to bend off the edge and win with speed but he can win in so many other ways. He’s got a great first step that he uses to launch himself off the line of scrimmage before normally everyone else on his team. His speed-to-power rush is impressive, it’s knocked back the likes of future first-round tackle Mekhi Becton. He’s got a powerful punch that he uses to stagger his blocker but with his extension and hand placement, he can bench press his man to create a clear path to the quarterback. Okwara comes in just about every snap with a pass rush plan. He’s got a toolbox of pass-rushing moves that he can pull off which include a dip, rip, chop and a marginal bull rush. One thing that can’t go unnoticed is how high of a motor Okwara plays with. He’s got the short-area burst you want to see for a pass rusher. He’s a quick player that can react in a hurry. He displayed his lateral ability on film watching him chase down fleeing quarterbacks to the sideline. A true tackler that doesn’t just want to bring you down but has the desire to tear the ball out at all times. Athletic profile leads me to believe he has a pretty big ceiling and is just scratching the surface of how good he can be. He still offers the ability to go out and cover the short and intermediate-range of the field but he can still get a lot better in that area. Led the country in pressure rate during the 2018 season per Pro Football Focus.

Weaknesses

Okwara lacks a bit of consistency for a player that offers as much as he does. This, of course, is common coming out of college and it’s why many believe Okwara is a day two talent and not a top 15 pick. The consistency factor speaks volume when you look at his lack of top-notch production. Struggles to set the edge consistently and can get blown up defending his gap. The lack of play strength isn’t noticeable when he’s rushing the passer but when trying to stop the run that’s when his deficiencies stand out. His 2019 season ended abruptly with a broken left fibula which is certainly a cause for concern and certainly a red flag. Losing last year’s season put him behind on his path to realizing his full potential.

Three Plays on Tape

 

Development

Julian Okwara projects as an NFL starting outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme. Okwara’s ability to rush the passer and what he does in between his get-off and his contact with the quarterback is impressive. He’s got a great blend of speed and overall size. While watching Okwara one can easily see his place at the next level but one can also notice some clear weaknesses in his game. There aren’t many because this is a day two selection but Okwara does struggle to play with the same consistency as a pass rusher versus as a run defender. He’s far less confident stopping the run and setting the edge which will take some work. Furthermore, his injury which derailed his 2019 season kept him from developing a whole year. His ability to go out and cover in the short and intermediate game is valuable though. Okwara is a starting-level player as of now but he will need to improve his run defense if he wants to realize his full potential. This man has serious Pro Bowl upside but he needs to be developed in other areas of his game. Furthermore, he can still use plenty of improvement as a pass rusher. Nothing about his game is perfect but there’s a lot to like about it.

Draft Grade: 2nd round

Bottom Line

Okwara is a projected second-round pick for me that needs to go to the right team. I suggest a team that wants to take him and put him as a defensive end in a 4-3 that they don’t. He needs to stay in a 3-4 scheme. He’s a stand-up pass rusher, that is what he is. As of now, he has about 15 sack potential but he needs to go to the right scheme. As for the Rams, they could easily replace Dante Fowler Jr. with Okwara tomorrow and be fine. Okwara is going to be a good pro and it’s important to keep in mind how much of his game is still needing to be developed and how good he already is. The Rams pick at 52 and I would be shocked if the name Julian Okwara hasn’t been discussed numerous times already by new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.

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