Long before the Von Miller trade edge rusher looked like it would be a priority for George Paton in his second offseason as the Denver Broncos general manager. Paton show interest in Leonard Floyd during free agency in 2021 before the edge rusher elected to re-sign with the Los Angeles Rams, and the Broncos were involved in talks to move back into the first round of the ‘21 draft to acquire the Miami Hurricanes Jaelen Phillips. Neither move materialized, which meant the trade deadline deal that sent Miller to the Rams caused the Broncos’ pass rush to crater.
Michigan’s David Ojabo had one of the more exciting breakout campaigns of this college football season. After playing in six games his first two years in Ann Arbor, he burst onto the scene this year with 11 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, and three passes defensed. Along the way he displayed a tantalizing combination of length, athleticism, and effort that should leave evaluators drooling over his potential.
David Ojabo is the closest thing to Von Miller in the 2022 draft. pic.twitter.com/XFIePCdDU9— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) February 10, 2022
At a glance:
A freakishly athletic speed rusher who is still putting all the pieces together.
Measurables (Not verified)
Weight: 250 pounds
No Official Athletic Testing at this time
High school track and field athlete with a personal-best 100-meter dash time of 10.93 (https://mgoblue.com/sports/football/roster/david-ojabo/22032)
Western Michigan (2021)
Michigan State (2021)
Penn State (2021)
Ohio State (2021)
Ideal build for an edge rusher with a long, lithe frame, with notable mass in bubble and quads. Very good athlete with a combination of very good quickness and explosiveness to go with good lateral agility and solid balance. Motor runs hot. Combines good competitive toughness and mental processing, both better than expected for such an inexperienced player.
Very good burst and get off, consistently keys the ball, and is typically the first or second defender moving at the snap. Very good pass rusher who has the requisite ankle flexion and body lean to corner around the arc and close on the quarterback. Solid run defender overall who is good at diagnosing, does a solid job leveraging ball to help, and reliably meets pullers of all shapes and sizes with inside arm to box run without giving ground. Solid use of hands overall with better placement than expected given inexperience, has the length and savvy to control blockers. Has length to jam and reroute tight ends off line of scrimmage.
Pass rush toolbox contains a reliable dip and rip, speed rush, and speed to power. Also utilizes inside spin and a stutter to influence opponent’s set point in order to rush inside, which suggests the pass rush repertoire should expand and improve down the road. Comfortable impeding receivers’ routes during limited coverage reps by using body as an obstacle.
Best out of two point stance, which raises concerns about pad level consistency and how it impacts ability to withstand double teams and downblocks. Play strength is adequate and impacts ability to separate from blockers who get hands into frame vs. run. Lack of strength shows up vs. passing game with issues separating from opponent’s grasp during rush around the arc. Issues separating from blocks will crop up more often against longer tackles who can withstand burst and quickness in the NFL. Michigan limited exposure to power running teams: played 17 of 35 first half snaps against Michigan State, and played zero snaps against 12 or 21 personnel in Wisconsin game. Inexperience shows up most in pass rush plan, too often relies on rip to beat opponent and needs to add a go-to counter. Better penetrator than looper on games because of lateral quickness and timing. Adequate in limited reps of zone coverage due to route recognition and ball skills. Marginal in very limited reps of man coverage due to route recognition and flipping hips.
Since learning under Dan Hatman of the Scouting Academy I’ve followed the 7 point grading scale where a 1 (poor) is a trait that fails to meet NFL standards and a 7 (elite) means the player will be among the best in the NFL at that specific trait. Every prospect is graded on five critical factors that influence all football players, while every prospect is also evaluated for traits that will determine success at their likeliest position in the NFL.
Critical factors (universal traits for all prospects)
Athletic Ability: 6/7
Competitive Toughness: 5/7
Play Strength: 3/7
Mental Processing: 5/7
Play Speed: 6/7
Position-specific traits (ED)
Upfield burst: 6/7
Pass rush: 6/7
Vs. Run: 4/7
Use of Hands: 4/7
A four star recruit in the 2019 recruiting cycle who started playing football at 17-years-old, Ojabo’s combination of very good length, top tier athleticism, and relative inexperience suggests he’s only just begun to tap into his potential. Ojabo played football for the first time in 2017 and entered the 2021 season having played in just six games for the Wolverines. When he hit the field against Western Michigan, he looked like a player still learning how to play the position. By season’s end he became a consistent threat with the savvy to continue adding to his game.
Ojabo has the tools and motor to thrive on coverage units early in his career. He should be able to contribute to his new team’s pass rush as a designated pass rusher out of his first training camp. His burst off the snap combined with his length, bend, and rip move will make him a threat around the arc on passing downs. His twitch, size, and reactive athleticism provide him the foundational building blocks to develop into an elite speed rusher who can play in all situations.
Fit with the Broncos
With where the Broncos will draft in the first round of the draft, there will be an internal debate between players who can step into starting roles in year one and developmental prospects who have untapped potential that could open the door for a better return on investment over the long-term. Ojabo’s current strengths open a door to early playing time in an impact role while his rare athletic gifts provide a limitless ceiling.
Ojabo’s at his best rushing wide of the last man on the line of scrimmage as a seven or nine technique because opponents will need to respect his burst and speed. He’s better served rushing the quarterback’s blindside as this will limit his exposure to downblocks from tight ends and cracks from a slot or boundary receiver. He’s a solid run defender overall with the long speed and motor to make plays in pursuit.
With time to expand upon and refine his pass rush repertoire as well as improve his ability to meet and defeat down blocks under NFL coaching, Ojabo could become a true down to down mismatch weapon. He has perhaps the highest upside of any edge prospect in this class.