Devine Ozigbo joins a New Orleans Saints team as an undrafted free agent with a whole lot to prove. He picked a stellar team, in my humble opinion, at the perfect timing. I believe that Ozigbo is going to see a lot of usage in the Saints offense this season, and it’s a crying shame that Ozigbo didn’t get drafted.
The Saints are forced to replace former Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram after he signed with the Baltimore Ravens this past offseason. (Writers note – Man, y’all have no idea how good my fingers feel to type out past offseason.) The Saints took him with their first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and he produced well over his eight seasons and 106 games in New Orleans.
The Saints signed two free agents this past spring at the running back position; Former Oakland Raider and Minnesota Vikings back Latavius Murray and ex-Baltimore Ravens stud Javorius “Buck” Allen. Both running backs stand around 6’2″ and weigh 225 pounds. I think this poses a problem for these veterans trying to fill in Ingram’s old role.
The Issue with taller power backs
For the most part, taller running backs are a bad thing in the NFL. Very rarely do we see taller running back succeed in the NFL without the correct proportions. Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry might be the first large power back that comes to mind. While he is taller than every running back in the NFL at a hulking 6’3″, he also weighs close to 250 pounds and has a very large body proportional set.
6’2″ and 225 pounds isn’t the ideal body proportions for a power running back in the NFL. It’s too tall to be able to square up with a defender to lower the shoulder and use strength to bust through a defender, and it’s a little too big to be effective as a shifty, elusive back. It’s a bad body proportion for the position.
The data backs me up. Buck Allen last season averaged just 2.7 yards per attempt and 4 yards per touch. He was used primarily as a short-yardage running back and a receiver from the backfield. His pad level is simply too high to be a serious threat as a power-runner.
Latavius Murray has seen success in the NFL. With the Oakland Raiders in 2015, Murray ran for over 1,000 yards while averaging 4 yards per attempt and 66.6 yards per game. He left Oakland to back up Dalvin Cook in Minnesota prior to the 2017 season and hasn’t received the carries to eclipse that mark again. He isn’t considered anywhere near a top tier running back, instead, being viewed more as a capable back-up in the correct system.
The Mark Ingram mold
Mark Ingram was a former Heisman trophy winner at Alabama for a reason. He not only was blessed with one of (if not the) best offensive lines in college football. Ingram stands at 5’9″ and 215 pounds. At that size, it allows Ingram to run with a much lower pad level and a lot of power. When Ingram would find himself in sticky situations at Alabama, he would rely on that power and quickness to get out of the tackle and create a play based on the lower center of gravity.
Ingram was also asked to be a receiver. He caught 228 passes in his time in New Orleans, slightly over two receptions per game. He was effective with his targets, catching just shy of 80%.
While Murray and Allen are both good receivers, they can’t replicate Ingram’s role based on their size. It’s not that their size wouldn’t work in other systems, it’s that both players are a little too big to fit what the Saints want in the ex-Mark Ingram role.
This is where Devine Ozigbo comes in
Ozigbo was a star at Nebraska last season. While he was late into the NFL Draft picture by mainstream scouts, the ones that spoke of him were very impressed with the abilities he had shown and his overall skill set. Ozigbo is closer to the Mark Ingram mold than both Murray and Allen.
Ozigbo stands at 6’0″ and 235 pounds. He averaged 7 yards per attempt last season, rushing for 1082 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was an effective receiver as well, catching 23 passes for 202 yards. Nebraska also had a dual-threat quarterback in Adrian Martinez, and used Ozigbo out wide as a receiver often.
Let’s dig a little bit deeper into what Devine Ozigbo brings to the former role of Mark Ingram.
Devine talent: Ability to run comfortably from the Shotgun/Pistol
Ozigbo is effective from the shotgun.
This is important to note because power backs generally struggle from the shotgun. Most are at their best while the QB is under center, but Ozigbo is effective at running between the tackles from any set. pic.twitter.com/3HwBBSt4S1
— John D. A. Vogel (@johndavogel) July 19, 2019
This is ultra-important in the Saints offense. Much of what the Saints do is out if the shotgun and pistol sets. Bigger built running backs generally struggle out of these sets because it requires the running back to have good acceleration as they take advantage of the space and prevents them from gaining the running start before the handoff. This isn’t an issue with Devine Ozigbo.
Much of what Nebraska ran last season was out of shotgun and pistol sets as well, and Ozigbo thrived in the system. Despite being a bigger man, Ozigbo’s acceleration and burst isn’t an issue at all, as he still showed the ability to be consistently good in those areas.
Like Ingram, Ozigbo churns for extra yardage too, never stopping his leg drive until he is flat on the ground. His yardage after contact last season was truly impressive, as it never seemed that Ozigbo would go down.
Devine talent: Effective receiver
As I mentioned earlier, Devine Ozigbo can be an effective receiver. Nebraska, in fact, lined him up wide as a receiver often last season, and he contributed good numbers too.
Last but not least, Ozigbo contributes as a receiver.
— John D. A. Vogel (@johndavogel) July 19, 2019
He has a good pair of hands and ran an extensive route tree at Nebraska in Scott Frost‘s offense. He brings the receiving ability that Mark Ingram had back to the role as well.
Devine Ozigbo seems to be the real deal
Nice thread on a big sleeper of mine, if he ever gets an opportunity, Ozigbo is a more athletic Lagarette Blount with hands. https://t.co/Bf8vo1wxNC
— Paulie’s Sleepers (@PauliesSleepers) July 19, 2019
It’s shocking that a running back like Ozigbo can go overlooked and undrafted in this modern era of football. Ozigbo checks all of the boxes, an has a wide skill set that would allow him to be effective in multiple roles across multiple systems. The fact that Ozigbo is an undrafted free agent clawing for a roster spot is criminal.
That being said, I think his lack of attention will bring the best out of him this camp. Ozigbo seems to be the real deal, and I think he will end up with the role of complimenting Alvin Kamara. I project that Ozigbo will have a very fine season and by week five, he will be seeing significant snaps.
Only time will tell.