When the Pittsburgh Steelers go on the clock come pick 22, many draft analysts love to peg them taking a cornerback or a pass rusher to help restore some pride on a defense that the team used to hang it’s hat on. With the team choosing not go corner in round 1 since 1997, a pass rusher is the more likely of the two, and a key name to keep an eye on is UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who’s tongue twisting name make’s former Green Bay Packers’ sack artist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila look like child’s play.
When former Steelers’ pass rushers come to mind, one thinks of intimidation and trash talk, the Joey Porters, the Greg Lloyds, the James Harrisons. They were wrecking balls, and judging by fellow UCLA defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes’ description of “Owa” it seems like he’d be a perfect fit in the Steel City.
“There are people, and then there’s Owa. You’ve got humans, and then there’s Owa.” said Vanderdoes. “You look at him and he’s like a physical specimen. He’s built. He’s 275 pounds of solid muscle. He runs like a DB. He’s just — I don’t know. I can’t explain it. He’s just a monster.”
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 267 pounds, he is without a doubt a physical marvel, as UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure said Owa is right around 6 percent body fat.
He did just that at the combine, posting a 4.62 in the 40, the second-fastest for a defensive lineman, and also posted 25 reps and an explosive 39 inch vertical. Owa played the “Buck” end position for the Bruins’ defense, a spot McClure says where they play the most athletic defensive ends. It’s the same spot that former Bruin and first round pick of the Packers, Datone Jones ,played.
Owa’s strong point is his play against the run, where he uses his exceptional lower body strength to anchor at the point of attack. He finished 2014 with 61 tackles, including 11 and-a-half for loss, but his sack numbers were low, finishing with only 5. McClure admitted that his defensive end’s pass rush needs some fine-tuning and is raw at this point, but says he’s more than able to add some moves to his skillset.
“I think he will continue to evolve as a football player when he gets to the NFL,” McClure said. “He’s certainly a student of the game.”
This is the type of versatile and chaotic defender the Steelers could utilize, with the promise of more hybrid looks from the defense than in year’s past. Think Pernell McPhee, Courtney Upshaw or Anthony Barr. McClure also credits the passion and preparation that Owa, a philosophy major, puts into the game as well, which should be music to defensive coordinator’s ears league-wide.
“The thing with Owa is he wants to know the entire scheme,” McClure said. “Not only what everybody’s doing on the defense. But he likes to know the entire scheme, offensively, what they’re doing. He wants to know everything. He’s going to take the time to learn it.”
At Tuesday’s Pro Day, Owa stood on most of his numbers at the combine, but he did participate in both linebacker and defensive line drills, showing off his versatile skillset. He reportedly looked very fluid in linebacker drills, dropping into coverage, and showing his eye-popping numbers from the combine will translate onto the field come Sundays.
“Today I wanted to show my versatility and that you can throw me into a drill and I’m going to execute it exactly how they want it done,” he said. “I could play like an Anthony Barr-position outside rusher as a linebacker and play as a defensive end as an outside rusher.”
Despite only 11 sacks in his four seasons, and multiple surgeries on a hip that caused him to miss all of the 2013 season, he flashes the immense talent that a coach like Keith Butler would love to have for their defense. He’s an explosive chess piece capable of putting his hand in the dirt but also comfortable enough to drop into coverage.
“At 270, I’d use him inside at times knowing he’d hold up against any offensive lineman we see,” said McClure. “Owa can play anywhere on the line of scrimmage and he has. He can line up anywhere from the 9-technique to head up on the tight end to outside an offensive tackle on a 5-technique.”
He is a true jack-of-all-trades player, and one that could find himself holding a black and gold jersey come draft night.
“I bring a lot to the table and I can be a valuable asset to any organization that drafts me. The way I carry myself, I want to make sure teams know they are drafting a first class athlete.”