Roger Goodell should be practicing that pronunciation for UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa now, because there is a good chance the NFL commissioner will be announcing his name as one of the 32 picks in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft.
The spelling of Odighizuwa’s name can be tough to remember, and he was not often the player who stood out most on UCLA’s defense. But the player often simply identified as “Owa” has a case—even alongside quarterback Brett Hundley and inside linebacker Eric Kendricks—for being the Bruins’ best NFL prospect this year.
Ball-watchers and box-score scouts probably did not take much notice of Odighizuwa, who only recorded 12.5 sacks in four playing seasons at UCLA. Those who paid close attention to the play on the defensive line, however, should have noticed that Odighizuwa regularly wreaked havoc in the trenches.
After missing the entire 2013 season with a hip injury, Odighizuwa bounced back to have the best season of his career in 2014. He recorded 59 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and four pass breakups—all career highs—and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection.
Since then, Odighizuwa’s draft stock has only continued to rise, as he has impressed observers at the Senior Bowl, NFL Scouting Combine and UCLA’s pro day.
There are many qualities about Odighizuwa that make him one of this year’s most intriguing draft prospects, as well as a few reasons for teams to be concerned. But before one digs into Odighizuwa’s tape and his strengths and weaknesses, one should understand how much the 22-year-old has already overcome to get to where he is today.
A Journey Full of Adversity
Born April 1, 1992 in Columbus, Ohio, according to UCLA’s official website, Odighizuwa had a nomadic childhood. As reported in a 2009 ESPN.com article by JC Shurburtt, Odighizuwa lived in Nigeria for five years before moving back to the United States, first to Virginia and then to Portland, Oregon, where he played prep football at David Douglas High School.
While some NFL draft prospects had football-playing dads who taught them the game, Odighizuwa did not have that benefit. "His father, Peter, is serving three life sentences for a triple homicide at the Appalachian School of Law (Virginia) in 2002," as noted in Bob McGinn’s NFL draft outlook for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Odighizuwa, in an interview with Mark Whicker of the Los Angeles Daily News last August, credited his mother, Abieyuwa, for keeping him and his three younger brothers on the right path.
“She held us together, she was the rock,” Odighizuwa told Whicker.
Odighizuwa has also credited other role models in his life for helping him along the way.
In spite of all he has had to overcome, Odighizuwa performed well both on the field and in the classroom at UCLA. He was the Maggie Gilbert Academic Achievement Award winner in 2012, according to his bio on the school’s website, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, according to Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News.
From adverse circumstances growing up to his 2013 hip injury, Odighizuwa has yet to allow anything to stop him from succeeding. This history should be encouraging to NFL teams, who must now determine how likely Odighizuwa is to overcome his next great challenge and become a productive player at the sport’s highest level.
Physical Tools and a Well-Rounded Skill Set
As he proved at the NFL Scouting Combine last month, Odighizuwa’s physical attributes stack up right alongside those of the other top edge defenders in the 2015 draft class. At 6’3”, 267 pounds, with 33 3/4” arms and 11” hands, Odighizuwa ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash and posted terrific numbers across the board.
|Owamagbe Odighizuwa's 2015 NFL Scouting Combine Results|
|40-Yd Dash||Bench||Vertical||Broad||3-Cone||20-Yd Shuttle||60-Yd Shuttle|
|4.62 sec||25 reps||39"||10'7"||7.36 sec||4.19 sec||11.75 sec|
Odighizuwa is not likely to be among the top five edge players selected this year; those players are expected to be (in no specific order) Florida’s Dante Fowler, Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Kentucky’s Alvin “Bud” Dupree, Missouri’s Shane Ray and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory.
That said, Odighizuwa arguably has the best combination of size, speed, length and strength of any edge defender in the 2015 draft class.
Odighizuwa has a great burst off the line of scrimmage, and can bring pressure in a hurry if he has a lane to the opposing quarterback.
He also exhibits the ability to convert speed to power and drive a blocker back with a bull rush, like he did in the following clip from UCLA’s win over Virginia this past season (see No. 94, top of screen).
When an opposing offensive line leaves a gap to Odighizuwa’s inside, he is often able to exploit it. In addition to his ability to accelerate, Odighizuwa plays with violent hands and has a moderately effective spin move.
Even when Odighizuwa cannot get to the quarterback, he can be a threat to make a play. His long arms, big hands and 39” vertical leap make it possible for him to get in the lane of passing attempts and swat them down, like he did twice—including the example below—in the Alamo Bowl against Kansas State.
Odighizuwa has the physical traits of a top pass-rusher, but where he really shines is defending the run. In fact, Odighizuwa might end up being the best run-stopping edge defender in this year’s class.
Strong at the point of attack, Odighizuwa consistently holds his ground against offensive linemen and makes plays along the line of scrimmage. While many of the aforementioned top prospects have trouble with getting driven away from rushing attempts, Odighizuwa should be able to make an immediate impact versus the run in the NFL.
In addition to setting the edge effectively, Odighizuwa can crash in to make plays up the middle and also use his speed to pursue runs outside. He is a typically sound tackler.
While Odighizuwa did not make as many spectacular, flashy plays as the edge players who are vying to be potential top-15 picks, he is as well-equipped as any prospect at his position to be a quality three-down starter in the NFL. That said, there are still some areas of concern that could hurt Odighizuwa’s draft stock.
Limited Pass-Rushing Ability, Questionable Versatility and Durability
The most evident problem with Odighizuwa’s game is that he lacks the bend and flexibility to turn the corner effectively as an outside pass-rusher. For as many impressive qualities as he put on tape this past season, one thing he rarely ever showed was the ability to win around the outside of an offensive tackle.
While Odighizuwa has very good burst and speed, he is too linear in his movements to win consistently on the edge. Even Kansas State center B.J. Finney, playing right tackle in the Alamo Bowl only due to an injury to the Wildcats’ starter, was able to shield Odighizuwa outside the pocket with ease, like he did to No. 94 in the clip below (bottom of screen).
Odighizuwa’s inability to turn the corner is unlikely to improve significantly, and that weakness limits his potential as an NFL edge-rusher.
To compensate, Odighizuwa must work upon developing his pass-rushing moves. While he is active and strong with his hands, he does not show a great ability to disengage from blocks. He is overly reliant upon his spin move and needs to be more skillful with his upper body, as physical tools alone won’t be enough for him to make a consistent presence in opposing backfields.
In spite of his pass-rushing limitations, Odighizuwa still projects well as a left defensive end for a defense that runs a 4-3 scheme. Given his size and ability to win inside, Odighizuwa can also line up as a 3-technique defensive tackle in pass-rushing situations, which could maximize his value.
Teams that run 3-4 defenses, on the other hand, have more reason to be wary of investing an early-round pick on Odighizuwa, who might not have a natural fit in those schemes.
He played as a 3-4 defensive end at UCLA, and his skill set as a whole is actually tailor-made for that position. At 6’3”, 267 pounds, however, he is undersized to play that position in the NFL.
His length could enable him to play as a 5-technique, but he would likely be asked to add 15-20 pounds, which could be tough for him to do without compromising his athleticism.
From a measurable standpoint, Odighizuwa looks as though he could be a great fit to play outside linebacker in a 3-4. Playing from a stand-up position could actually help him as a pass-rusher, as utilizing his speed from wider angles could lessen the need to turn the corner tightly around blockers on the edge.
Making the move to outside linebacker from defensive end, however, is a tough transition that many players fail to make successfully. It would not play into Odighizuwa’s strengths, especially as a run defender, and it is uncertain whether he has the instincts and change-of-direction skills to be effective in space and dropping back into coverage.
Behind the scenes, it’s likely that Odighizuwa is impressing NFL teams with his character and intelligence in the interview rooms. One area that could cause concern for all NFL teams, however, are his medicals.
Having had surgeries on each of his hips, Odighizuwa was one of the players that NFL teams had “a close eye on” at the combine in regards to his medical evaluation, according to CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler. That might not end up having any significant effect on his draft stock, however, as Odighizuwa said doctors “were real impressed with everything” in Indianapolis, per Brugler.
Where Will Odighizuwa Be Drafted?
Accounting for his deficiencies as a pass-rusher, Odighizuwa’s profile fits that of a second-round pick more than that of a first-round selection. That said, Odighizuwa ranks among the top 32 prospects in a draft class that is lacking in top-end talent.
At UCLA’s pro day earlier this week, Odighizuwa only participated in position drills—having no need to improve upon his numbers from the combine—but continued to raise his draft stock with “another strong outing,” according to Jordan Lee of the Daily Bruin.
“Odighizuwa is built like a statue, but showed off his athleticism by moving very well in space when asked to drop back,” Lee wrote.
NFL.com’s Bryan Fischer, who was also at the pro day in Westwood, likewise came away with the impression that Odighizuwa’s draft stock is moving up.
The ideal spot for Odighizuwa in Round 1, given scheme and need, might be the Dallas Cowboys, who could draft him with the No. 27 overall pick. He could be an upgrade at left defensive end, but could also help replace 3-technique defensive tackle Henry Melton—who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, according to Melton's agent, Jordan Woy—in pass-rushing situations.
Among teams who run 4-3 defenses, other potential fits in Round 1 could include the Cincinnati Bengals, who hold the No. 21 overall pick, and the Detroit Lions, who pick 23rd.
Should he fall into Round 2, teams who could target him then include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 34 overall), Oakland Raiders (No. 35), Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 36) and Atlanta Falcons (No. 42).
Regardless of where he ends up, there are many reasons to believe Odighizuwa will have a productive NFL career. He has great physical gifts, an impressive all-around skill set and a proven ability to overcome the obstacles life throws his way.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.