2021 NFL draft prospects: Texas EDGE Joseph Ossai

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Eric Edholm
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Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Texas EDGE Joseph Ossai

6-foot-4, 256 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.85 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Highly athletic rusher who camped out in opponents’ backfields in 2020, but technical refinement and handling power are concerns

Games watched: LSU (2019), Utah (2019), TCU (2020), Oklahoma State (2020), Iowa State (2020),

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit, Ossai was a highly touted prep player who signed with the Longhorns and saw action right away as a true freshman in 2018, making 20 tackles (one for a loss), one sack and one forced fumble. In 2019, he collected 90 tackles (13.5 for losses) with five sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble, three batted passes and one blocked kick. Ossai also was named honorable mention All-Big 12 and was the Defensive MVP of the Alamo Bowl win over Utah that year. Ossai took his game to a new level in 2020, making 55 tackles (16 for losses), 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two pass breakups in nine starts, earning first-team AP All-America and first-team all-conference honors. After skipping Texas’ bowl game, Ossai declared early for the 2021 NFL draft.

Upside: Terrific athlete. Long, chiseled specimen who wins the prospect beauty contest — long arms (33 7/8 inches) and great weight distribution. Turned in a killer pro day, with a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, broad jumped 10-foot-11, vertical jumped 41.5 inches and knocked out 19 reps on the bench press.

Tremendous production in 2020 — 17.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, two passes defended and three forced fumbles. Caught fire as a pass rusher as soon as the Longhorns moved him into his proper “Jack” rushing role prior to the 2019 bowl game vs. Utah after previously playing an off-the-ball LB spot.

Channeled natural pass-rush skill with frenetic energy over the past two years. Added a nice swim move to his arsenal. Plays with good burst and a hot motor. Uses his length extremely well to win the leverage battle. Uses a big initial punch to throw blockers off balance. Can turn the corner and flatten quickly to get to the QB. Never stops chasing the ball — all gas, no brakes.

Has lined up at inside linebacker and as an outside rush ‘backer. Intriguing athletic traits to forecast him into a “Joker” type of role in the NFL, where he can attack from multiple angles and alignments — fluid enough in space to expand his duties in time. Has multiple ways to defeat blocks. Experienced in coverage prior to last season. Naturally light on his feet — grew up playing soccer and various other sports. Only started football in his teens.

Plays hungry. Got his tail whipped for 3-plus quarters against Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins but found a way to get around him on the game-clinching sack on his 85th defensive snap of the game. No “off” button — brings four quarters of fire to the field, plus more if necessary. Mustang who turned in two other games of 80-plus snaps in his career.

Team captain whose practice and game intensity, work ethic and focus have roundly been praised by the staff and scouts. Doesn’t just turn it on in public — behind-closed-doors worker who is determined to make it.

Downside: Wins more now with effort than with technique. Still requires technical refinement as a rusher. Learning how to string moves together and counterattack — needs better rush plans. Doesn’t always keep his feet beneath him on his rush. Only one true year of full-time pass-rush experience.

Get-off can be quicker. Pad level can rise at times — will stand up in his rush (usually from a down stance) and give blockers too much of his chest if he doesn’t land early hands. Struggles to disengage once linemen get their hands inside.

Delivers some violent hits but also can bounce off some tackle attempts. Missed a slew of tackles in 2019 — not as effective breaking down in space on his feet. Learning how to shed blocks in the run game and can’t always hold the point. On the ground way too much.

Worked over by Jenkins and could struggle to defeat top-shelf NFL tackles. Struggles to match power and might not be ready for a three-down role immediately. Needs to add more anchor strength.

Scouts will tell you that his athleticism doesn’t always translate — doesn’t play with quite the explosion you’d expect. More of a straight-line mover and can show some stiffness.

Best-suited destination: Ossai has two things that will go a long way in the NFL: effort and athleticism. That’s a pretty good starting kit, and it will give him some level of mass appeal.

But there also likely will be an adjustment period for him as Ossai enters the league, so patience is required. He feels like the kind of player the Colts would draft and develop, but Ossai has some skill-set overlap with 2020 Jaguars first-rounder K’Lavon Chaisson — perhaps just a bit less explosive and bendy. We view Ossai fitting best as a 3-4 edge player.

Did you know: Ossai was raised in Nigeria, arriving with his family to the United States when he was 10 years old. He’d never seen American football when he got here, running track and playing soccer before giving football a shot his freshman year of high school. By his senior season, Ossai was named the Houston Touchdown Club’s Defensive Player of the Year and made himself into a top college recruit.

Player comp: Chaisson

Expected draft range: There is a wide range of opinions over where Ossai could go, anywhere from late Round 1 to Round 3. Somewhere between 25th and 75th overall feels like a safe, if not big, range to project.