NFL Teams Must Temper Expectations for Emmanuel Ogbah After Combine Breakout

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2016

Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (38) is pictured before the start of an NCAA college football game against Baylor in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

To understand the possible rise of Emmanuel Ogbah, a pass-rusher from Oklahoma State, you must first understand the climate of this draft class. After yearly floods of underclassmen declaring early, it's almost unreasonable to assume that the strength of drafts will come from the graduating seniors.

What that means is that underclassmen, who are typically less developed than their elder counterparts, have to hold down classes. At the top, there are a handful of young names that get most of the publicity.

Laremy Tunsil of Mississippi is one of the best bookends college football has ever seen, but his link to Robert Nkemdiche, his former teammate who is pegged as the wild child of this draft class, might have some teams second-guessing on draft day.

The other "elite" prospect is Jalen Ramsey of Florida State, a defensive back. The problem is, Ramsey is great at safety, but the cornerback position, where he played in his final season with the Seminoles, has more impact on a down-to-down basis. 

The next tier of players are talked about as elite prospects, as they'll likely come off the board in the top five in April, but they all have their issues, too. Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State is a talented rusher, but there are questions as to how high you can take a running back in 2016, a similar puzzle for those looking at Ramsey as a safety prospect.

Elliott's teammate, Joey Bosa, is a great base defensive end who doesn't fit a 3-4 scheme and is a slightly limited, run-first technician at a pass-first position. Myles Jack of UCLA has all of the potential in the world, but the linebacker missed combine testing due to a meniscus injury he suffered in September.

There's isn't an absolute "slam dunk" in this class. That's a common theme as you move down media big boards, not just in the top five. I don't think it would surprise anyone if this draft class in three years looks like the 2013 draft class does currently, where only one player, Ziggy Ansah, in the top 12 has made a Pro Bowl.

Because of the weak talent at the top of this draft, teams are going to reach on certain players. Specifically looking at pass-rushers, there's an opportunity for a major riser to develop. There are only three players tabbed as edge defenders who people generally agree are top-20 talents. They are Bosa, Shaq Lawson of Clemson and Noah Spence of Eastern Kentucky.

Lawson, at 6'3" and 269 pounds, is a solid pass-rusher, but he's not one who figures to record 10 sacks a season year in, year out. Spence was Bosa's teammate at Ohio State until two suspensions for ecstasy led to the banning of him in Big Ten play. Spence is an Elvis Dumervil type, a short and stocky pass-rusher who is a liability as a three-down player due to his run defense. Spence's off-field concerns may keep him out of the first round.

After them, the door is wide open for a mid- to late-first-round pick to emerge.

People are excited about Emmanuel Ogbah's combine, and some of his numbers are good. He had a 4.63-second 40-yard dash at 273 pounds and has 35 ½-inch arms. What does that really mean, though?

I would argue that the 40-yard dash is the least important drill in terms of edge-defender evaluation at the combine. The short shuttle measures ankle flexion, the three-cone measures hip flexibility and the combination of the 10-yard split from the 40-yard dash and the vertical and broad jumps combine to give us a look at a prospect's lower-body explosion.

The 40-yard dash itself measures long speed, something a pass-rusher will rarely ever need to use, as it's hard for a defensive end to even go 10 yards in space without seeing some type of contact.

Second, why does arm length matter for a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker? When going up against an offensive tackle in pass protection, an edge defender should be aligned with his inside number on the bookend's outside number. Attacking with an inside arm in a "one arm is longer than two" approach, a pass-rusher should never have to use his outside arm, rendering arm length useless.

Even against the run, the outside arm shouldn't be used frequently, unless it's actively trying to punch up an offensive lineman's arm, as an edge defender's assignment is to keep containment responsibilities. A 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker should keep his outside shoulder clean in both run and pass situations. 

Like your second (outside) arm is used to slap the dude while you rip and put the guy behind you. pic.twitter.com/WzbJbBdbQh

— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) March 4, 2016

On top of that, players who have been labeled as "short-armed" have done well lately. Before Clay Matthews moved to inside linebacker, he had four double-digit sack seasons in a six-year span for the Green Bay Packers. Totaling 61 sacks in that period, he had 32 ¼-inch arms, ranking in the fifth percentile for defensive ends, according to Mock Draftable.

Last year, Melvin Ingram, who has 31 ½-inch arms, was able to bring down double-digit sacks. Not bad for someone in the third percentile for defensive ends. It's not arm length or speed that links the top pass-rushers in the NFL together; it's their agility and ability to bend the edge while running "the arch."

For the most part, you can tell who is going to "bust" early in the draft at pass-rushing positions by their agility numbers, which are measured with the short shuttle and the three-cone drill. Unfortunately for Ogbah, he finishes in the 30th percentile with his 4.50-second short shuttle and in the 45th percentile with his 7.26-second three-cone, per Mock Draftable.

Since 2005, these are the first-round edge defenders who have had a three-cone time of 7.25 seconds or slower:

  • Dante Fowler, the third overall pick in last year's draft class who missed the entire season with a torn ACL.
  • Bud Dupree, one of the biggest height-weight-speed specimens the NFL has ever seen. He was drafted 22nd and started five games in his rookie year, which featured four sacks.
  • Shane Ray, the 23rd overall pick in 2015's draft class. He managed to get four sacks as a backup to Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, alongside Shaquil Barrett, who got 5.5 sacks in 2015.
  • Jadeveon Clowney, the former 2014 first overall pick who has 4.5 sacks to his career. Clowney has been limited by a knee injury in his career.
  • Marcus Smith, another 2014 first-round pick. He has 1.5 sacks to his name and no starts under his belt. Philadelphia has invested big money into both Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham, who are base ends in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's 4-3 defense. This likely means Smith finishes out his rookie contract as a reserve player.
  • Jarvis Jones, a 2013 pass-rusher who has five sacks in his three-year career. He could be the reason why the Steelers targeted a first-round pass-rusher in Dupree during the last draft class.
  • Bjoern Werner, a 2013 selection who was cut by the Indianapolis Colts this week. After three years with 6.5 sacks, including no sacks or starts in 2015, his run seems to have ended, despite going 24th overall in 2013.
  • Datone Jones, a hybrid interior defensive lineman-edge defender from the 2013 class. He's played as a 3-4 defensive end for the most of his career but just recently moved to 3-4 outside linebacker to the Green Bay Packers. He has eight sacks in three seasons.
  • Quinton Coples, the 16th overall pick from the 2012 draft. Like Ogbah, Coples is long and explosive, but his resume ends there. Since late November, the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets have both cut him, and he currently isn't on an NFL roster.
  • Nick Perry, like Datone Jones, is a backup 3-4 outside linebacker for the Packers. He started early in his career, but lack of production, injuries and the future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers coming to town all led to his move to the bench. He has 12.5 sacks in four years.
  • Adrian Clayborn, the 20th pick in the 2011 draft. He's an inside-outside player in the mold of Michael Bennett, but he only has 16 sacks in five years, mostly due to two lost seasons in 2014 and 2012. He hit free agency for the second time in two years.
  • Aaron Maybin, who lasted two years in Buffalo before bouncing around the league. He had six sacks to his NFL career.
  • Brian Orakpo, one of two players on this list who consistently produced in his career and can be considered a "hit." A three-time Pro Bowler, he has 47 sacks to his name.
  • Larry English, who lasted five years with the San Diego Chargers before falling into a backup role in Tampa Bay. Currently, he has 12 sacks in six NFL seasons.
  • Robert Ayers, the 18th selection in 2009 who is on a current hot streak. He has 7.5 sacks since the start of December, but is his inside-outside style of play sustainable? Prior to that, his previous five-and-a-half seasons add up to 19 sacks.
  • Derrick Harvey, the eighth overall pick in 2008 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, only spent three seasons with the team. He ended his career with eight sacks, never surpassing a single-season mark of 3.5 sacks, which he set as a rookie.
  • Tamba Hali, like Orakpo, is a "hit" from this group. He's a six-time Pro Bowler and just signed an extension with the Kansas City Chiefs to stay for three more years. He learned under Larry Johnson at Penn State, one of the best defensive line coaches college football has ever dealt with. Hali's calling has been as a technician at the NFL level.
  • Mathias Kiwanuka, the 32nd overall pick in 2006. Kiwanuka was a rotational player to start his career with the Giants, who already had the likes of Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck on their roster. He played in the NFL for nine seasons and totaled 38.5 sacks. You can't call him a bust, but those aren't the numbers you're looking for out of a first-round pick.
  • Erasmus James, the 18th overall pick in 2005 who only played three years for the Minnesota Vikings. James played five years in the NFL and had five sacks to his name when he retired.

Those are 16 examples of players with a similar agility score as Ogbah displayed in Indianapolis. Only two of them, Orakpo and Hali, can be considered good picks in retrospect, at least currently. A 12.5 percent "hit rate" isn't ideal for someone with Ogbah's athletic background, especially not in the first round.

At the next level, he's going to have to be that Hali or Chandler Jones technician if he wants to see a big second contract. Right now, watching him on film, that looks like an impossibility. Sure, technique is something which can be taught, but if we're assuming every player can go from a failing grade to elite technician at the next level, then there's no point in even evaluating the trait.

Ogbah at times steps with the wrong foot coming out of his stance, something middle schoolers are taught a week into their football careers. He also tends to attack with his outside arm instead of his inside arm, exposing his chest and limiting his edge potential.

Some will compare him to an effort-length pass-rusher, Kony Ealy, with the Super Bowl all fresh in our minds. Ealy had three sacks against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl L, but none of them were created off of the initial pressure of Ealy. Instead, they were generated off the interior pressure of his great defensive tackles in Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei.

What is overlooked is that Ealy has only started nine games in his two-year NFL career and that the Carolina Panthers only played him for 16 snaps in a top-two game in franchise history, according to Pro Football Focus (via the Denver Post's Cameron Wolfe). Is that what you're expecting from your first-round pick? If so, Ogbah's going to fit in nicely with James, Harvey and Maybin.

NFL.com's Lance Zierline is one of the top evaluators in this profession and posted a fair scouting report on Ogbah:

Upon first glance, Ogbah appears unimpressive because he doesn't play with the quickness or athleticism expected of productive pass rushers, but eventually, his translatable qualities avail themselves. Ogbah's power will serve him well against the run, but he will have to become more skilled as a pass rusher. He can play 3­-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end, and he might have value inside in sub­packages.

On top of that, Zierline added a quote from an anonymous NFC scout, stating, "He's stiff and upright so he has no counters as a rusher, and then he doesn't even play hard all the time. If you are going to be the hulk, then play hard all the time."

Ogbah is big and explosive, but so was Coples. Power can only get you so far, and if you can't rush the passer, you won't be around long. Those attributes only go so far in the NFL, where offensive linemen are so much more consistent that it's hard to sneak into sacks, like our pass-rusher has done in the Big 12 for two years.

Kareem Martin is another example of a height-weight-speed rusher who hasn't panned out at the NFL level. A common trait between he, Ogbah and Coples? A lackluster three-cone score and poor ability to bend the edge.


— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) March 6, 2016

Sometimes an offense will blow an assignment, and I bet Ogbah will be there to clean the play up. Players like Perry have gotten their sacks in the NFL that way. What's misunderstood is how often those plays really come across a pass-rusher's desk in the scope of a season.


— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) March 7, 2016

As an offensive tackle in pass protection, a bookend's butt should act as a camera filming the quarterback at all times. A tackle has to make himself an obstacle aligned with the quarterback to force a pass-rusher to waste extra time. In pass protection, offensive linemen are like human speed bumps. At Oklahoma State, Ogbah's speed allowed him to throw offensive tackles out of that syncing movement in three steps.

In many ways, Ogbah plays the edge position like a 4-3 under tackle, like Geno Atkins or Aaron Donald. He's all about backfield penetration. The thing about defensive tackles, though, is a straight line will take you to the relative area of a quarterback. On the edge, defenders need to bend around linemen to loop back into a quarterback, and time and time again, Ogbah hasn't been able to display that trait, at least consistently.

Ogbah may be the new shiny toy in a relatively hopeless class, but that's no reason to overlook his potential to be fool's gold. Unless he completely redefines his game with hand usage, we're going to look back at him in three to five years and wonder how we considered him a potential first-round pick to begin with. The world already has enough Quinton Coples and Kareem Martins.


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