In a 2021 NFL Draft class that lacks a true standout pass rusher, Texas edge Joseph Ossai is one of the best there is. How high can the versatile pass rusher go when the NFL Draft opens in April?
Joseph Ossai NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Outside Linebacker/Defensive End
- School: Texas
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’4″
- Weight 253 pounds
Texas edge Joseph Ossai is not your average NFL Draft prospect. He didn’t grow up surrounded by football. He didn’t dream of the day he heard his name called at the annual selection event. Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Ossai hadn’t even seen a down of football until he was 10 years old — not even on the television.
His path to the NFL Draft is not your average journey. Arriving in America with his family as the result of a visa lottery, Ossai had grown up playing soccer with his brothers. He may not have heard of football, but the competitive spirit that would help him succeed at the sport was already there.
Ossai rose to prominence playing football and basketball at Oak Ridge High School in Conroe, Texas. Although he played safety as a freshman, it was his performances as a junior defensive end that caught the eye. Named to the All-District 12-6A First Team, Ossai racked up 46 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, with 3 forced fumbles. Additionally, he recovered 3 fumbles returning one for a touchdown.
College programs began to notice the long, athletic, productive edge from Conroe, Texas
His first offer came from the Cincinnati Bearcats in the October of his junior season. Many more followed over the winter of 2017. Multiple in-state offers including from Texas A&M and the University of Texas led the way.
Ossai raised his game further in his senior season. With another 8 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and 3 forced fumbles, he once again earned All-District honors. However, he was also a finalist for the Touchdown Club of Houston’s Defensive Player of the Year. In his final season of high school football, Ossai landed on the prestigious Dave Campbell Texas Football Super Team.
Although the four-star, 20th ranked player in Texas was long associated with Texas A&M, a change in coaching staff saw a change in heart. In February 2018, Ossai signed his national letter of intent with the Texas Longhorns.
Joseph Ossai’s college football career at Texas
Although Joseph Ossai wouldn’t truly appear on the NFL Draft radar until his junior college season, the Texas edge made an immediate impact for the Longhorns. As a freshman, he appeared early playing on special teams, before getting his first career tackle for loss, sack, and forced fumble against Iowa State. Ossai gave Texas fans a taste of what was to come with a career-high eight tackles in Texas’ 2018 bowl game against Georgia.
As a sophomore, Ossai wreaked havoc in the Big 12 conference. The Texas edge tallied 90 tackles, 5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, and one forced fumble. Additionally, he showcased his ability to disrupt the game in multiple ways with a pair of interceptions. His first came in the season opener against Louisiana Tech. Ossai followed up with his second INT just one week later against eventual national champions, LSU.
However, his best was yet to come. Joseph Ossai saw his NFL Draft stock soar following a hyper-productive junior season. In just nine games, Ossai set career-high numbers for tackles for loss (15.5), sacks (5.5), pass breakups (2), and forced fumbles (3).
One game stood out amongst them all. Facing the sixth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, Ossai had a career-defining performance. In recording 12 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks, he became the first player since Ndamukong Suh in 2009 to achieve that level of single-game production.
Awards rained down on the Texas edge as he was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week, Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week, and the Chuck Bednarik Award Player of the Week.
Following a season that saw him named a consensus All-American, Texas edge Joseph Ossai declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Joseph Ossai’s NFL Draft Profile
As I alluded to at the start, this pass-rush class lacks a true standout. In previous years the likes of Chase Young, Joey Bosa, Myles Garrett, and Nick Bosa have headlined the defensive side of the ball, garnering early first-round attention. As it stands, opinion is extremely divided about the top pass rusher in the class.
So where does Texas edge Joseph Ossai factor in the 2021 NFL Draft conversation?
Ossai dramatically increased his NFL Draft stock in 2020. Although he played defensive end in high school, prior to his junior season, Ossai had predominantly played outside linebacker for Texas. Following a change in defensive coaching staff, he played most of his 2020 snaps at defensive end in a base 4-3 system. However, the nature of the system meant he would also drop back into coverage as a jack linebacker.
The change allowed Ossai to flash his pass-rush skill set on a more consistent basis
A true speed rusher, Ossai blazes past slower offensive lineman with ease. He’s explosive off the snap, and has decent bend to get around the edge. Additionally, he has powerful hands that allow him to overcome his lighter frame and knock back bigger offensive tackles.
In addition to having speed in his armory, Ossai has an extremely hot motor. When he is between the white lines, there are no half measures. This has allowed him to be effective against the run in addition to his pass-rush skill set. There are multiple examples on tape of Ossai hunting down ball carriers.
Versatile, explosive, and extremely disruptive in the backfield, Joseph Ossai has the attributes to be one of the first defensive lineman off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft.
What are the potential concerns with Joseph Ossai?
As with all NFL Draft prospects, there are potential concerns with Texas edge Joseph Ossai.
At 253 pounds, the biggest concern will be whether he has the weight to play full-time defensive end in the NFL. He will cede around 60 pounds to most NFL offensive tackles. There are examples on his college tape that show Ossai sometimes struggles when he is square to his man and can’t rely on speed to overcome him.
Sometimes Ossai’s speed and explosiveness get the better of him. He gets so caught up in getting after the quarterback that he fails to diagnose the play correctly. This can leave the defense susceptible to big running plays where Ossai has leapt into the backfield and vacated space that the running back can take advantage of.
There is no doubting Ossai’s athletic talent, but he is raw in terms of pass-rush plan. To succeed in the NFL he will need to develop a repertoire of tools and formulate a back up plan for when his initial mode of attack is stymied at the line of scrimmage.
Joseph Ossai’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
A player like Joseph Ossai who is athletic and versatile will always be a valuable commodity in the NFL Draft. A team that is creative with their defensive formations will love that he can play as a traditional defensive end or drop back into coverage as an outside linebacker. Teams likes the New England Patriots or the Carolina Panthers seem like a good fit in this respect.
Additionally, teams like the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, and Las Vegas Raiders have a pass-rush need. They also pick in and around the area that I expect Joseph Ossai to be selected.
In his latest big board for Pro Football Network, Tony Pauline lists Joseph Ossai as his 27th overall prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft, with a Round 1-2 grade.
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