CLEVELAND, Ohio — Georgia edge-rusher Azeez Ojulari, one of the players the Browns are considering at No. 26 overall in the NFL Draft, believes he can bend it like Myles Garrett, and would love to have the chance to race him to the quarterback.
“When I’m on YouTube, sometimes I just pull up his gameclips, his highlights — his crazy highlights,’’ Ojulari told cleveland.com on a Zoom interview last month. “I see the bending ability. The ability to bend the edge and turn the corner like he does is freaky. The way he bends like that, to be that tall it’s just so sick. It’s different. I feel like my bend is different too, how low I can get when I’m turning the corner. I see some similarities in our game like that for sure.’’
Garrett, a 2020 first-team All-Pro, is one of several NFL players that Ojulari studies and modeled his game after. The others are Bud Dupree, Von Miller and Shaq Barrett, who like Garrett all just parlayed their pass-rush ability into blockbuster double-digit million new contracts.
“Myles is a freak of nature,’’ Ojulari said. “He’s a beast. It would be great to have someone like that on your team just to learn from him, a vet who’s been there, done everything at the highest of the league. Just learning from a guy like that, that would be phenomenal. He’s a freaky athlete.’’
Ojulari, who led the Bulldogs in sacks and forced fumbles each of the past two seasons, has imagined bookending with Garrett and wreaking havoc.
“Yeah, I have,’’ Ojulari said. “That would be sick. It would be ridiculous man, trying to race him to the quarterback, see who gets there first. It’s going to be a competition in everything we do, no matter what it is. It would be great to add things that he knows to my game and try to get there with him.’’
Can he imagine Bengals’ quarter Joe Burrow — Ojulari’s former SEC foe — seeing Garrett and Ojulari across the line?
“That would be a bad, scary sight,’’ Ojulari said.
An All-SEC second-teamer in 2020, Ojulari has met with the Browns multiple times via Zoom, and has enjoyed the encounters.
“They’re trying to get to know me and we watched some film and they showed me what they do,’’ he said. “Everything is smooth and nice so far in the meetings, and it’s going well.’’
Ojulari (6-2, 249) just missed Nick Chubb at Georgia, joining the Bulldogs as a redshirt freshman in 2018 after Chubb had been drafted by the Browns in the second round that year.
“But I know he’s a great player and I’d love to play with him,’’ he said.
Projected by some to go as high as the middle of the first round, Ojulari plans to come to Cleveland for the draft April 29-May 1.
“It’s exciting,’’ he said. “It’s everybody’s dream to walk across that stage have your name called.’’
Following a stellar Pro Day on March 17th in which he ran a 4.6 in the 40 to land in the the 88th percentile and broad-jumped 10′7′’ for the 94th, Ojulari climbed up some experts’ draft board, including that of NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah. Heading into the Pro Day, Jeremiah had him ranked No. 39 on his big board, but mocked him to the Jets at No. 23 in his 3.0 mock draft this week. That means the Browns might have to trade up a few notches if they really like him.
“The biggest thing for me is his arms are 34.3 inches, which is ridiculously long,” Jeremiah said Path to the Draft on his Pro Day. “So I don’t mind the fact that he’s 6-foot-2 and a quarter because you’ve got a chance to leverage people with that length.
“I love pass rushers that know how to finish and that’s what this guy does. He’s a phenomenal finisher and you see it in consistent fashion as you continue to study him. I have him No. 39 on my list right now and the more I watch the more I like. He’s gonna end up moving up that list.”
NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks, who ranks defensive ends and linebackers separately regardless of edge-rush ability, has Ojulari ranked as his second-best outside ‘backer behind Tulsa’s Zaven Collins, another prospect the Browns have spent extra time with.
“When you put together times, 4.62, 4.66, combined with a broad jump of 10-7 you’re talking about a very explosive player off the edge,’’ NFL Network’s Bucky Brook said on Ojulari’s Pro Day. “And it matches what you see on tape. He’s a speed rusher, he does a great job with the dip-and-rip move, gets home consistently. He’s a very intriguing prospect at this point.”
Pro Football Focus ranks Ojulari as their third-best edge rusher in the draft behind Michigan’s Kwity Paye and Penn State’s Jayson Oweh.
“Ojulari is quite easily the most polished pure pass-rushing prospect among the top of the class,’’ writes PFF’s Mike Renner. “If you beat the hands, you beat the man” is the mantra he lives by, and it shows repeatedly on his tape. It’s why he earned a 91.7 pass-rushing grade this past season.
“Unfortunately, he’s also the one with the biggest physical question marks. At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Ojulari is so dang skinny for the position. You don’t see too many reps of him playing through opposing offensive linemen.
“While having more ways to win becomes more important against athletic tackles in the NFL who can match his speed, it’s not necessarily the end-all, be-all. Rushers such as Yannick Ngakoue and Brian Burns have been productive with similar skill sets. With Ojulari’s bend and explosiveness, I’d bet on him figuring it out.’’
While PFF has him third among edge defenders, Ojulari begs to differ.
“I feel like I’m at the top of the list really, just the way I play the game,’’ Ojulari said. “I’m an all-around player. I can do it all. I can drop into coverage, I can rush the passer, I can stop the run. I also play special teams, so I’m an all-around player who’s relentless and ready to go.’’
Ojulari, who added about nine pounds this offseason, believes he can easily put on another 10 pounds for teams that want to play him at end.
“I feel like I’m at a good size but I can bulk up a little more,’’ he said. “Probably the most is in the 255-260 range, so it’s not an issue to me. At Georgia I did both (end and linebacker). I did a lot of everything to be honest, so I can play d-end, play outside ‘backer, stand up, drop in coverage, rush the passer.’’
Ojulari is the older brother of B.J. Olujari, the LSU defensive end who will likely follow him to the NFL after next season. And if it’s on the same team, that would be even better.
“We played together for a season [in high school],’’ Ojulari said. “It would be very fun.’’
Ojulari also fits the profile of the tough, smart and accountable player that GM Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski are adding to the team. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Ojulari learned the value of hard work from his parents, Monsuru and Bolalne. Bolalne’s father was a true Nigerian prince, Prince Seven-Seven, who became a famous artist who toured the world.
When Ojulari was a young boy, his grandfather lived with the family in Atlanta for a brief period.
“It’s very big coming from Nigeria, my parents moving here,’’ he said. “Everything they’ve done, they’ve worked for it. Nothing was given, so that’s been ingrained in me growing up. Even when my grandfather came to visit us for a year, it was great having him around, all the joy, even though we might have annoyed him a couple of times around the house, but it was part of the love.
“He told me to just continue chasing my goals and my dreams,’’ Ojulari said. “He just saw it in me. I was an energetic kid back then, always running around the house, so he just saw that I definitely had the potential to be where I am right now and I love him for that and I know he’s looking down on me for sure.’’
Ojulari also owes his parents a debt of gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for him, B.J., and their two sisters.
“I just want to pay them back for everything they’d done, all the countless hours, the early mornings they’d wake up and go to work, and we’re still in bed,’’ he said. “Just seeing that just motivates me to work harder every single day.’’
Ojulari knows of Browns’ new edge-rusher Takk McKinley, the Falcons 2017 first-round pick, from growing up in Georgia. He also knows they hosted Jadeveon Clowney on a free agent visit two weeks ago. If the Browns sign Clowney and draft Olujari, they’d have four first round picks in their edge rotation.
“Yeah, right dang, that would be different,’’ he said with a laugh. “That’s a lot of dogs on one team right there.’’
And if comes to Cleveland for the draft, he might as well just make himself at home, right?
“It would be great,’’ he said. “I’m in the city already. It would be nice to play with Myles Garrett and a team that definitely has a chance to win and make it to the Super Bowl every year. It would be great, a phenomenal opportunity. It would be a blessing, to be honest.’’
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