New York Giants Julian Okwara
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Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs could find himself with the New York Giants in 2020. If that’s so, Big Blue should target Julian Okwara in round No. 2

Drafting for need or drafting the best player is such a crucial discussion for any NFL organization, and the New York Giants are no exception. The question that holds no true right answer has fans of a team that’s won 12 games in the three years pondering over whether offensive line or defense is the right move this April.

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons would certainly provide this defense with leadership and versatility. But on the other hand, Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs would help bolster an offensive line that’s struggled mightily for what seems like forever at this point.

And if general manager Dave Gettleman goes off script and drafts for need — aka chooses Wirfs — defense could be the route to take in round No. 2. Thus, let’s take a look at Notre Dame edge rusher Julian Okwara, a definite potential selection at No. 36 overall.

The basics

Okwara possesses great size for a speed rusher, having entered the NFL Scouting Combine at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds. He additionally possesses 34.375-inch arms and 10.25-inch hands, per his official measurements.

During his senior season at Notre Dame, Okwara recorded 19 combined tackles (seven tackles for loss), five sacks, one fumble recovery, and two forced fumbles in nine games. Throughout 35 career games at the collegiate level, he racked up 79 total tackles (24 tackles for loss), 15.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and two picks.

His efforts led to him becoming arguably one of the better speed rushers in the nation.

The Okwara family is additionally familiar with the Giants organization. Big Blue signed Julian’s brother Romeo, who also played for the Fighting Irish, as an undrafted free agent in 2016. Romeo spent time in East Rutherford until the Giants waived him in September 2018.

Film room notes

Just taking a look at his tape, it’s instantly clear to the naked eye what Okwara’s strengths are. He can use his speed, quickness, and athleticism to move around his opponent right off the snap, regardless of the opposition’s size.

With his superb vision, Okwara is able to find the path through the offensive line to the quarterback without really having to stop and start — something that would waste time in arriving at the overall destination.

This all would prove to be beneficial in a league that seems to be increasing in speed every single year.

Going away from rushing the passer for a bit, Okwara is just a great tackler, plain and simple. He can bring down the ball carrier in the open field, using his 81.75-inch wingspan to be able to set the edge, force the opponent to the inside, and still reach and bring them down to the turf.

He utilizes fantastic fundamentals, which is certainly something head coach Joe Judge has preached since receiving the Giants job back in January.

The own downside about Okwara is his strength. He’s more athletic than he is powerful, which could hinder his viability and limit what he’s able to do against NFL talent. If the Giants draft him, he’ll certainly need to work on that from the start. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham would possibly need to use him in more stunt-type situations to try and put him in open space and maximize his talent and potential.

How would he fit into the Giants roster?

The No. 1 need for the Giants right now is an offensive tackle. In fact, if you are looking to bet on the NFL Draft, Mekhi Becton (LT, Louisville) is favored to be the Giants first pick at DraftKings Sportsbook. But if we’re going to be completely honest, a pass rusher for the future is a close second. In spite of the fact that Markus Golden was the first Giant to hit double-digit sacks since Jason Pierre-Paul had 12.5 in 2014, New York recorded just 36 total sacks (22nd in the NFL) last season. The year prior, they tied for 30th in the league with 30.

So even though they could bring Golden back (contract negotiations are occurring), there still needs to be another contributor in the pass-rushing department. Golden’s team-leading 10 sacks were 5.5 more than both Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter, who tied for second on the team.

All in all, this team needs not just one dominant edge rusher, but multiple who can deliver week-in and week-out. The fewer amount of pass rushers who can consistently produce, the easier it is for opposing offensive lines to game plan.

That’s where Okwara would enter.

If Golden doesn’t return, Okwara would likely find himself in a starting role right away. But if Markus is back in East Rutherford, the Notre Dame standout would be in more of a reserve role initially but still find plenty of playing time in blitz packages.

The pass rush, just like the offensive line, is still a work-in-progress. But with potentially Golden, Okwara, Carter, Ximines, and the newly-acquired Kyler Fackrell, the Giants could possess a solid pass-rushing/outside linebacker group for 2020 and beyond.

Ryan Honey is a staff writer and host of the Wide Right Podcast.