Steelers Draft: Breaking Down Owamagbe Odighizuwa

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (also known as Diggy) is one of the more curious evaluations in this year’s draft class.  Opinions on Odighizuwa vary widely among evaluators.  There are those who think his on field talent is worthy of a selection in the top half of the first round and also those who think Odighizuwa is nothing but a situational run defender at defensive end.

The truth is, while Odighizuwa may not be a traditional edge rusher who wins with speed, he is plenty effective as a pass rusher winning with power.  With offensive tackles in the NFL becoming more athletic to combat more athletic edge rushers, power rushers should be in higher demand due their ability to take advantage of less powerful offensive tackles.

Due to the priority placed on finding quality pass rushers today in the NFL, we should see a high number selected in the first round come April 30th, especially since this is an oddly talented Edge class, and Odighizuwa should be one of them.

Looking into Odighizuwa’s athletic makeup gives a little insight into how he isn’t a traditional power rusher, in a sense.  Despite being built at a solid 6’3″ and 267 pounds, he boasts athleticism reminiscent of a speed rusher on the edge.  Odighizuwa had a fantastic speed score in my athleticism metric of 84.73 thanks to his 40-yard dash time of 4.62.  He also came in with an exceptional explosion score.  He scored out at 82.67 with solid 10-yard split (1.62), vertical jump (39 inches), and broad jump (10.58) performances.  His worst score was in the agility metric, even though he still finished with an average score.  All of these combined gave him a qABP (Quotient of Athletic Based Production) score of 78.05, which is an above average score.

Using just his testing numbers you can come up with a reasonable picture of how Odighizuwa wins on the football field.  He wins with explosion off of the snap and into the body of the offensive tackle, with the explosion to generate leg drive to push him back into the pocket.  He demonstrates excellent closing speed and open field quickness in pursuit.  His merely average agility scores show that he struggles turning the edge as a speed rusher, which is one of the most common qualities of productive edge rushers in the NFL.

As is shown in the GIF below, Odighizuwa’s explosion demonstrated in combine testing transfers onto the field well.  In this play he uses his explosion off the snap to jolt the offensive tackle backwards.  He also demonstrates an ability to use his length well to separate and disengage from the offensive tackle.

Once he has successfully jolted the offensive tackle backwards off the snap and separates himself from the offensive tackle with his length, Odighizuwa easily sheds the block and finds the ball carrier.  Even though he didn’t make a large impact on the play, this demonstrates the impact he could have as a run defender on the edge of a defensive line.

The below GIF is another example, in the same game, against the same offensive tackle, of Odighizuwa’s ability to defend the run on the edge.

In this play, Odighizuwa is once again able to jolt the offensive tackle back a full yard off of the snap.  By driving the offensive tackle into the backfield, Odighizuwa is able to re-route the running back to the outside the outside of the offensive line.  Once he has created the initial push into the backfield he finds the running back, extends his left arm to separate himself from the offensive tackle, and easily disengages to make the tackle.

These two plays are very good examples of how Odighizuwa routinely wins as a run defender.  He doesn’t win by holding blockers at the point of attack to free up linebackers or by shooting gaps into the backfield, so he may seem somewhat one dimensional as a run defender, but he is exceptional at winning in the way he does.  While some may want to peg him as a traditional left defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, he may actually fit better as a left defensive end, where he will be able to take advantage of of more pass blocking oriented and less powerful left tackles.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Odighizuwa from a talent evaluation standpoint is that he lacks the skills as a pass rusher to be a high pick.  This misconception is primarily due to evaluators focusing on Odighizuwa’s below average ability as a speed rusher instead of recognizing the ability as a power rusher that he brings to the table.

This play is the best example of how Odighizuwa routinely wins as a pass rusher (the yellow square is focused on the wrong player, Odighizuwa is on the far end of the defensive line).  The left tackle quickly gains depth off the line of scrimmage, which is quickly eaten up by Odighizuwa’s short area explosion off the line of scrimmage.  Odighizuwa initiates contact by getting his hands into the offensive tackle’s body with a strong punch.  Once he makes contact with the offensive tackle, he stays low and starts driving his legs to generate movement.  This leg drive is what makes him such a devastating pass rusher.

Odighizuwa’s combination of ability to initially force an offensive tackle off balance and follow it up by driving the OT backwards with good leverage, makes him hard to stop.  Even the offensive tackles who have very good anchor’s could struggle against Odighizuwa’s bull rush.

Although Odighizuwa is far more proficient as a power rusher than a speed rusher, he can play with more finesse to his game than many accredit him with.  The two plays below demonstrate how Odighizuwa can win when not rushing with power.

In the first play, Odighizuwa seems to be going for an outside rush until the offensive tackle is able to quickly adjust with help from the running back.  Once he realizes he is outmatched on the edge Odighizuwa is able to stop on a dime, shift his body weight to the inside, and break towards the quarterback.  Odighizuwa also demonstrates his very good hand use by clubbing the left side of the offensive tackle in order to shift his body to the outside.

In the second play Odighizuwa demonstrates a move which few edge rushers can use effectively and that I’ve only ever seen him use once in the games that I’ve watched him.  Off the snap, Odighizuwa takes an outside angle to the quarterback.  Once he reaches the left tackle, he shoots his left arm out, to which the offensive tackle responds to by lunging towards him in order to knock him off balance.  Odighizuwa then uses his tremendous athleticism for his size to spin to the interior.  Since the offensive tackle has his weight shifted to the outside he is unable to recover and keep Odighizuwa from collapsing the pocket.

Odighizuwa rarely looks to use finesse when pass rushing, but that doesn’t mean he is completely inept when attempting to win with that skill-set.  His ability as a finesse rusher becomes even more elevated due the fact that offensive tackles are and will be constantly preparing to combat his power rush.

The last positive aspect of Odighizuwa’s game that I want to focus on is the ability he demonstrates after winning initially off of the snap, his fantastic closing speed.  In the above play Odighizuwa is given a free run at the quarterback, so you can’t attribute this to any of his pass rushing skills.  Once Odighizuwa commits to rushing the quarterback, however, he explodes forward towards Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly.

This short area burst comes from the same reason that he is so deadly once he gets into your body.  He is able to cover so much ground with his long strides and explosive legs, that Kelly is barely able to release the pass before Odighizuwa drives into him.

Odighizuwa is a phenomenal player in very many aspects of his game, but he does not come without his flaws.  While he is fantastic when rushing head on or to the inside of the offensive tackle, Odighizuwa severely struggles when rushing to the outside of the offensive tackle.  The two plays below are terrific examples of that.

In both of these plays, Virginia’s offensive tackle gives Odighizuwa the edge but Odighizuwa can’t take advantage.  Despite being a very good athlete for his size, he is very limited when it comes to his waist bend ability and lower body/ankle flexion.  As you can see in the two plays above, Odighizuwa is unable to sink his hips and make his upper body a lower angle to the ground.

Probably the biggest reason that Odighizuwa lacks the ability to bend the edge are the two hip surgeries he has had, one on each hip.  I wasn’t able to find the tweet, but Ethan Hammerman (@Ethanhamm) tweeted out from the senior bowl that Odighizuwa looked like he was staggering when he walked across the stage at the Senior Bowl weigh-ins due to his hip surgeries.

In the below play, another one of Odighizuwa’s weaknesses, he inconsistent use of leverage, is highlighted.  Odighizuwa rarely lets this happen, but there are noticeable times when watching his tape when he fires straight up off the ball.  When he does this, he is immediately giving up his ability to drive the offensive tackle backwards.  He also enables the offensive tackle to initiate contact and knock Odighizuwa off balance before he even begins his rush.

In this specific play Odighizuwa is going up against Texas’ right tackle and gets stoned.  The right tackle keeps a wide base, does a great job of initiating contact, and bending at the waist so Odighizuwa is unable to push him off balance.  The point still stands, though, that Odighizuwa’s inconsistent use of leverage as well as letting Texas’ right tackle to get into his body contributes strongly to this failed pass rush attempt.

The last negative part of Odighizuwa’s game that I want to highlight is his inconsistency at jumping off the snap.  It’s clear from his testing numbers and other areas of his game that Odighizuwa has plenty of lower body explosion to be great at getting off of the snap.  This inability seems to be much more a problem of snap anticipation than explosion.

The good news is that snap anticipation could be corrected by NFL coaches.  Since he has such good lower body explosion, as well, his anticipation should be masked better than other players’.

Odighizuwa is being overlooked by many in the NFL drat community because of what I like to call “tunnel vision scouting”.  Evaluators see a player who is proficient at winning with power, but who struggles at winning with speed and immediately label him as nothing but a run defender.  In reality, Odighizuwa offers a pass rushing style contrasting that of many edge rushers in the NFL today, which could prove to be an advantage once on an NFL team.

Odighizuwa is far from a perfect play, and he may lack upside to become much better than he already is, but he should immediately be able to contribute to an NFL team.  When combining Odighizuwa’s combination of elite talent in certain areas of his game and relatively safe profile, I think it would be unwise for a defensive end needy team to not at least consider Odighizuwa in the mid-late first round.

In terms of how he fits the Steelers, he would likely be and outside linebacker.  If the top pass rushers (Dante Fowler, Alvin Dupree, and Randy Gregory) are off the board, the Steelers should certainly be considereing Odighizuwa.  He compares favorably to Pernell McPhee in many aspects of his game.

The Steelers defense is struggling in many aspects. Odighizuwa would be able to immediately contribute as an strong run defending presence for an outside linebacker and a contrasting power pass rush to what many edge rushers are employing in today’s NFL.