The New York Giants used the No. 50 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari. While the Giants traded down from their original No. 42 draft spot, they were still able to bring in one of the top edge rusher prospects. Ojulari, who many experts projected to come off the board in the first round, could be a steal for the Giants. He should strengthen a solid Giants pass rush, which ranked eighth in pressures last year.
New York Giants Defense Elevated by Edge Azeez Ojulari
Azeez Ojulari fills need at Edge Rusher
The Giants lack of a proven edge rusher limited their defensive production in 2020. With a season-ending injury to Lorenzo Carter, the Giants mostly relied on defensive end Leonard Williams to create pressure. While Williams had a great season, New York’s hole on the edge made the pass rush one-dimensional. Even taking their six sacks against the injury-ridden Dallas Cowboys into account, the Giants still only averaged 2.3 sacks per game over their last three games. That’s below their season average of 2.5 sacks per game and signifies that offenses were able to successfully adjust with more film.
With Carter and linebacker Oshane Ximines both coming off injuries, the Giants didn’t have a long-term answer for their pass rush heading into the draft. But Ojulari has immense upside. In just ten games for Georgia in 2020, Ojulari faced NFL-bound tackles such as first-round pick Alex Leatherwood and led the SEC with 9.5 sacks. As a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in college football, Ojulari’s success has shown that he is capable of quickly transitioning to pro-level competition.
What Ojulari will bring to the table
Standing at 6’2″ and 249 pounds, Ojulari has the prototypical build of an edge rusher. His excellent quickness and high motor should make him a dangerous pass-rusher. Ojulari’s aggressiveness off the line of scrimmage should force quarterbacks into making hurried throws. That’s exactly what New York’s talented secondary needs to make game-changing plays. Ojulari’s pass-rushing skill set shows flashes of former Giant Osi Umenyiora, who was also a second-round pick. And his tape shows that he has the potential to live up to that comparison.
“Seeing all of those great Giants that have come through, I know that I have to come in and be ready to work,” Ojulari said. “You’ve got to give it all you’ve got for all of the great guys who have played before you.”
While Ojulari needs to work on establishing leverage in a three-point stance, he isn’t strictly an outside linebacker. At Georgia, he mostly lined up as a defensive end despite playing in a 3-4 defense. Ojulari’s schematic versatility will give defensive coordinator Patrick Graham a ton of flexibility. Graham tends to deploy multiple schemes, so he can move Ojulari across the field to keep offenses on their toes. Also, his knack for finishing plays as a run-tackler will ensure that he can develop into a three-down player. Most of Ojulari’s weaknesses come against the run, but he can easily fix them by putting on strength. He has the technique necessary to succeed at the next level.
Other concerns about Ojulari arose because of a knee injury. There were some questions about how it will affect his career going forward. Without that speculation, he probably wouldn’t have slid to the second round. But the Giants aren’t too concerned about Ojulari’s medical history.
“He played at a very high effort, high intensity,” head coach Joe Judge said. “I’m very pleased with what you saw on tape, and in terms of the medical expertise, I leave that on Ronnie Barnes and his staff. I don’t think there’s a player in this draft period or any draft for that matter that doesn’t have something show up on a medical record. I trust our medical team.”
Ojulari possesses top-level talent as an edge rusher and fits seamlessly into the Giants defense. His great character and work ethic should allow him to quickly become a great all-around player. Ojulari appears to be a draft steal for the Giants, and he has a great chance to finally fill the void at edge rusher which has plagued the Giants for years.
Main Photo: ATLANTA, GA JANUARY 01: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart with defensive player of the game linebacker Azeez Ojulari (13) and place kicker Jack Podlesny (96) following the conclusion of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Georgia Bulldogs on January 1st, 2021 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)