NAME: Julian Okwara
POSITION: Defensive End
SCHOOL: University of Notre Dame
Julian Okwara is a disruptive player with NFL size, NFL traits, and a NFL pedigree. His older brother, Romeo, is a member of the Detroit Lions and has 10 career sacks through four seasons. The younger Okwara has the potential to surpass his brother within a matter of one or two seasons. With excellent length, a nose for the ball, and additional time in the weight room, Okwara could become a valuable addition to the Indianapolis Colts’ defense.
Sacks are always the headline-grabber when it comes to defensive line stats, but there is more than meets the eye. Okwara accrued 15.5 sacks in his career, yet he also applied consistent pressure off the edge. Many defensive coaches value hurried throws almost as highly as sacks, as they can often result in incompletions or interceptions. Even when he didn’t bring quarterbacks to the ground, Okwara always made things difficult for opposing passers. His long arms are an invaluable trait. Consider this: at 34 3/8″, his arms are longer than Quenton Nelson‘s or Braden Smith‘s. Sacks, deflections, hurries, and adjusted throwing angles are all a result of Okwara’s presence.
Highest pressure rate since 2018 (@PFF)
1. Julian Okwara, Notre Dame – 19.1%
2. Curtis Weaver, Boise St – 18.2%
3. Chase Young, Ohio St – 17.6%
Some team is going to steal Okwara in the 2020 draft. pic.twitter.com/ItXiowkDGu
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) January 30, 2020
Beyond just his arms, Okwara has long legs and a long torso. When projecting NFL success, scouts often look for “lean frames” than can add muscle when put through a professional strength training program. Okwara fits that bill. He suffered a broken leg late in the 2019 season, which precluded him from running or jumping at the combine in February. He did, however, put up 27 repetitions of 225 pounds on bench press while weighing in at 252 pounds. That was the same number as 309-pound McTelvin Agim and 313-pound Carlos Davis. He is already strong and can only get stronger.
💪 start to the #NFLCombine?
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) February 29, 2020
Room for Improvement
Despite his natural athleticism and weight room strength, Okwara often finds himself being bullied in the run game. He can add weight to his frame and refine his technique, but the biggest determinant to his success at the next level will be playing lower. To put it another way, Okwara needs to bend his knees and engage offensive linemen under their shoulder pads. When he takes them on at his full 6’4″ height, he loses. Coaching can fix that, but it is a valid concern.
Matt Eberflus’ defense relies on four rushers to pressure opposing quarterbacks, with seven coverage players occupying passing zones. Chris Ballard realized that Justin Houston needed help in that regard, so he traded for DeForest Buckner. Kemoko Turay returning from injury and Ben Banogu improving upon his rookie production will only help. Adding a relentless terror like Okwara brings this defensive line to the upper echelon. He may not provide double-digit sack totals, but if he can make a quarterback uncomfortable–and he has shown for four years that he can–Buckner and Houston can finish the job.