Draft Weekend is perhaps the most important three days of the NFL calendar and the Baltimore Ravens have made a living off of hitting on their first-round picks. Four of the Ravens last eight first rounds picks have been named first or second-team All-Pro at least once and general manager Eric DeCosta is trying to keep that trend going for a long time.
Falling in love with certain NFL prospects has become a formality at this time of year. Players at the college football level ball out in their final years before turning pro and it’s easy to imagine them wearing a certain uniform at the next level. However, rarely do team and player match perfectly. If one team is highly interested in a certain player, there is a good chance another team is as well.
For the Ravens, this year’s perfect pick is Azeez Ojulari. The former Georgia Bulldog EDGE is not the biggest pass rusher at 6’3″ 249 lbs but plays with enough length and athleticism to be a stud in defensive coordinator Don Martindale‘s defense. Martindale asks a lot of his outside linebackers and Ojulari could be the presence on the edge the Ravens have so desperately needed the past few seasons.
While there is no guarantee Ojulari will be available with the 27th-overall pick, the Ravens should not pass on him if they have the opportunity to take him with their first selection.
Azeez Ojulari is the Baltimore Ravens Perfect 2021 Pick
What Makes Azeez Ojulari Great?
Ojulari has been a steady presence on the Bulldogs defense since he gained regular starting time in 2019. As a redshirt freshman, Ojulari started 13 of Georgia’s 14 games and led the team in sacks with 5.5 and QB pressures with 34. He was also named a captain prior to Georgia’s matchup against Tennessee, becoming the first freshman recipient of the honor during the Kirby Smart Era.
The pass rusher then took it to another level as a sophomore. He first burst onto the draft scene with his five QB pressures, 3.0 tackles for loss, and 1.0 sacks against Auburn and his three-sack (two of which forced fumbles) performance against Cincinnati put a stamp on his college career in his final game. He finished the year with 35 QB pressures, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks — all improvements on his freshman year and in fewer games.
Studying #UGA pass rusher Azeez Ojulari – first play of the first game. Look at the change in speed when he closes to the QB! Serious juice off the edge. Finished his career with 15 sacks in 13 starts. #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/vmsdG9lmQH
— Fran Duffy (@EaglesXOs) February 3, 2021
Ojulari may not be the biggest outside linebacker, but he plays bigger than his size. His 34 3/8″ arms and 82 1/2″ wingspan allow him to effectively jab at offensive tackles while his 4.6 speed makes him one of the most explosive players in the entire draft. He has experience playing out of both 2-point and 3-point stance and can drop into coverage. Couple all of these factors together with his positive development in college and you get a player with production, leadership, motor, and three-down athleticism who any team could use as part of their pass-rushing room.
Azeez Ojulari's chop is a beaut' pic.twitter.com/KWw3ReKvpx
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) February 3, 2021
While Ojulari may not be a consistent three-down starter as a rookie, he looks like the most versatile EDGE in the 2021 draft class and has shown the ability to grow as a player as he receives more reps.
Ojulari Fits Very Well in the Ravens Defense
A lot of questions have arisen about where Ojulari fits in an NFL defense. However, that could be what makes him so valuable to Baltimore. The majority of the Ravens successful pass rushers over the past 10 years have all been good at doing multiple things. Za’Darius Smith was an example of an EDGE defender who was able to rush the passer from any gap while Tyus Bowser has proved to be almost as good of an off-ball linebacker as he is a pure pass-rusher.
There are a few NFL comparables to Ojulari but the one that seems to have gained the most traction is that of Yannick Ngakoue.
Azeez Ojulari's NFL comp?
Full interview Monday 🔥 pic.twitter.com/2oOlaX619K
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 29, 2021
Ngakoue began the season with the Minnesota Vikings but was acquired by the Ravens prior to their Week 8 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. While Ngakoue was not a home-run acquisition for DeCosta, this signals the Ravens aren’t afraid of bringing smaller outside linebackers in. Ojulari is both taller and heavier than Nagkoue and would also bring a more well-rounded game.
First step-explosiveness is also very important for being an outside linebacker in Martindale’s defense. Baltimore has led the league in blitz percentage every season since Martindale took over and EDGE’s are not simply asked to rush the passer from one end or the other. Having players with the ability to come on the blitz from anywhere on the field make the Ravens defense incredibly hard to read. Ojulari has the skillset to be a perfect chess piece pass-rusher for Martindale’s defense.
The Ravens Need To Add More Pass Rushers
Perhaps the most interesting move that DeCosta made in the 2020 draft was one he didn’t actually make. The Ravens GM elected not to take a single EDGE despite finishing 21st in the NFL in sacks in 2019. Baltimore marginally improved in 2020 and finished 14th with a total of 39 — two more than their total in 2019.
The Ravens EDGE room took a big hit in free agency as well. Each of Ngakoue, Matt Judon, and Jihad Ward have found new teams for the upcoming 2021 season and DeCosta is yet to add another player at the position. As of right now, the Ravens only have three EDGE defenders that have played a snap in the NFL. Those three are Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson, and veteran Pernell McPhee. Martindale will regularly play more than two outside linebackers on the field at the same time and the Ravens lack the personnel to do that.
There is a strong chance the Ravens will add an EDGE before the 2021 season starts. It’s just a matter of if it is through the draft, free agency, or both. Ozzie Newsome and DeCosta do not like signing players that count against the compensatory pick formula either. Therefore, they likely won’t sign a free agent EDGE until after the draft if they are still unsatisfied with their depth. Adding more bodies on the EDGE will be a priority before the start of next year and that process will likely start up again during the draft.
Final Thoughts on Azeez Ojulari
There is no guarantee that Azeez Ojulari will be on the board when the Ravens pick at 27th-overall but he would be a perfect addition to the current Ravens team. Baltimore is currently shallow on the EDGE and Ojulari could be the difference-maker Baltimore has needed for so long.
Over the Ravens 25 year history, they have only selected two outside linebackers in the first round: Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs. Both players played nine-plus years for the Ravens, made at least one All-Pro team, won Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Super Bowl in Baltimore. Boulware has already been inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor and Suggs will likely be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the coming years.
Ojulari would have big shoes to fill but there is no reason he cannot live up to the precedent set by multiple Ravens EDGE legends. If DeCosta has the chance to select Ojulari, he could become a staple on an already great Ravens defense.
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