MOBILE, Ala. — “I’m the best pass rusher in the draft.”
It’s understandable why Oklahoma edge defender Ogbonnia Okoronkwo doesn’t lack confidence. The 2017 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and All-American has accumulated 164 tackles, 34.5 for loss and 21 sacks in his storied Sooners career.
Yet, despite all the accolades and production, many questioned Okoronkwo’s ability to hold up on the edge against the mammoth offensive tackles in the NFL because of his small stature. After arriving in Mobile, Alabama at the beginning of Senior Bowl week, Okoronkwo measured in at 6-foot-1 and 243 pounds with 34.5-inch arms.
When asked about the concerns about his size, Okoronkwo eloquently described why he thinks it’s actually an advantage, rather than a detriment, to his game:
“I think my size is an advantage for sure… I got the length of the 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 guys, you know, as far as my arm length, but I don’t have to bend as low as them. I’m already low to the Earth. I feel like I got a great center of gravity. I got great bend. My speed off the edge is as good as it gets, you know. I just bring a lot to the table. Not only in pass rushing but I can drop from the line and I feel like I play the run just as well.”
Under the guidance of the Denver Broncos coaching staff at the Senior Bowl, Okoronkwo actually struggled a bit during the pass rush portion of practice on Tuesday, as he appeared hell-bent on using an inside spin move without much of a setup. Despite playing in the College Football Playoff a few weeks earlier, Okoronkwo appeared a bit rusty on Day 1.
Day 2 and 3 were much better for the Oklahoma product, as he looked like the terror off the edge that everyone had become accustomed to seeing. Even in non-pass rush drills and situations, Okoronkwo was impressive. In coverage, Okoronkwo held up well, showing the ability to turn and run with running backs on a variety of routes. In run defense drills, he used his leverage advantage to set a hard edge against offensive tackles who outweigh him by more than 60 pounds, quieting some concerns that he can’t hold up against the 300-plus-pounders on the edge in the NFL.
While his versatility is definitely a plus, Okoronkwo knows that he will make his money as a dynamic pass rusher. Hoping to run in low 4.5s or high 4.4s in the 40-yard dash, Okoronkwo is a dynamic athlete whose speed rush puts fear into opposing offensive tackles on a weekly basis. This play provides a nice glimpse into Okoronkwo’s high-octane speed rush off the edge:
— Jim Jeff (@CowboysGifs) January 25, 2018
On this play, Okoronkwo employs a simple two-hand swipe to defeat the left tackle’s hands and his athletic ability does the rest. He turns a tight corner through contact while reaching and stripping the quarterback with his upfield arm.
Facing the likes of Connor Williams and Jamarco Jones in games and Orlando Brown in practice (all likely top-50 picks) Okoronkwo could just rely on his speed to win:
“You can’t be one-dimensional. You got to have a bunch of tools in your belt. A lot of guys are going to try and show you different looks and especially when they know you’re a premier pass rusher, so you got to have a plan for them. I watch them all week. I know if they shoot their hands low. I know if they shoot their hands high. That’s how I determine what move I’m going to use.”
One of Okoronkwo’s best tools is his inside move, where he uses a variety of hand technique to win across the face of offensive tackles when an offensive tackle tries to sell out to stop Okoronkwo from winning with speed to the outside:
“Everybody was afraid of me flying off the edge so they would try to jump set me and stuff, so I would anticipate that, and I’m just watching the tip of the shoulder. Once the tip of the shoulder crosses my face I go inside.”
Here’s a great example of how Okoronkwo uses his inside move to generate pressure:
— Jim Jeff (@CowboysGifs) January 25, 2018
On this play, Okoronkwo takes four steps upfield along with a head and arm fake to sell the speed rush to the outside. The right tackle doesn’t totally bite on the fake, but his slight flinch is all Okoronkwo needs to cross the right tackle’s face and into the backfield.
In a league that is becoming more and more pass-heavy by the year, Okoronkwo’s skill set should be coveted by NFL teams, especially those that run a 3-4 defense.
Doubters be damned, Okoronkwo can win on the edge in the NFL. The Senior Bowl practices were just his latest opportunity to demonstrate why.