Steelers Draft: Edge defender Azeez Ojulari is very much in play at pick 24
By Tommy Jaggi
The Steelers sent their brass to Georgia’s Pro Day. Here’s why edge defender Azeez Ojulari is clearly on their first-round radar.
After losing several household names in free agency, the Steelers clearly have their work cut out for them this offseason with an abundance of needs that must be filled. Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Tyson Alualu, and Matt Feiler are among the players who recently departed, while JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Alejandro Villanueva could be joining them soon.
While everyone has been mocking offense to Pittsburgh early in the process, is it possible that the Steelers end up going with a defensive player with the 24th overall pick?
Despite having the chance to stay local for Pittsburgh’s Pro Day, the Steelers sent their brass to Georgia as Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert were both on hand. There are many players they could have been for. Center Trey Hill reportedly talked “a lot” to the Steelers following his Pro Day, while offensive guard Ben Cleveland and linebacker Monty Rice could also be on their radar in the mid rounds.
However, typically when Pittsburgh sends the house to one school, it’s because they have taken a high level of interest in a player who will be drafted early. For Georgia, that happens to be edge defender, Azeez Ojulari.
By most accounts, Ojulari is the best over edge prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft – especially considering the scary concussion concerns for Miami’s Jaelan Phillips. Ojulari is coming off a terrific junior season that saw him record 12.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks in just 10 games. In addition to his solid tape and production, Ojulari tested off the charts at his Pro Day. He reportedly ran a 4.60 40-yard dash while recording 28 bench press reps of 225 pounds. In addition, he tested very well with his jumps.
Why Ojulari must be on Steelers radar at pick 24
While there are other players the Steelers were no doubt interested in, Azeez Ojulari has to be considered a plausible selection with the 24th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Though Pittsburgh clearly has more pressing needs on the offensive side of the ball, we know their fetish for quality, athletic edge defenders.
In fact, Pittsburgh has taken an edge defender three times in the first round since 2013 and has spent their first-round pick on a defensive player in 8 consecutive seasons (if you include the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick). Now that two of those edge defenders are no longer with the team (Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree), the Steelers could choose to beef up the position with a player like Ojulari.
The standout Georgia pass rusher has a terrific skillset for Pittsburgh’s blitz-heavy 3-4 defense, and he would fit like a glove. At 6’2” and 249 pounds, he’s a bit smaller than most 4-3 teams prefer, but he has incredible length with 34 3/8” arms and a whopping 82 1/2” wingspan. Ojulari can also play off the ball or in a three-point stance, and like Dupree, his run defense is one of his best traits.
While Alex Highsmith is a quality football player, the Steelers have a concerning lack of depth on the edge and one injury to Highsmith or Watt could really hurt their defense in 2021. If Ojulari were drafted, he could split time with Highsmith at right edge and give Watt a rest for a few drives per game.
In reality, it’s becoming increasingly more likely that Ojulari may not make it past the teens. However, if he does, this is a rare athlete with exceptional traits for the position, and because both Tomlin and Colbert were on hand at Georgia’s Pro Day, he could be in serious discussion for the pick at 24 overall.