Azeez Ojulari will look to bolster the Giants pass rush in 2021 and beyond, but what exact role could he take on this season?
The Giants executed a bit of a pattern to commence what was an important 2021 draft. In each of the first two rounds, Big Blue traded back, acquired additional draft picks, and carried out a selection that will hopefully boost the talent on this roster.
There’s possible belief that choosing Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney at No. 20 overall while taking this route was a “reach.” However, the subsequent round-two selection of Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari at No. 50 was anything but a “reach.” Actually, “steal” would be a much more appropriate word.
Ojulari still being available when he was chosen was one of the more surprising occurrences of the draft — it was a fantastic value pick for New York and the former Bulldog should absolutely improve the team’s pass rush. But as far as his exact role is concerned, what responsibilities could the coaching staff provide the 21-year-old?
A significant investment = significant playing time
Despite the fact we previously stated the choosing of Ojulari was a “steal,” the No. 50 overall pick is still a valuable draft resource. The Giants owned just six total picks this offseason — the fact they were willing to utilize one of their top two on the edge rusher shows how high they are on him.
It was a significant investment, which means significant playing time is en route for the young player.
In a 3-4 scheme, expect Ojulari to start at one of the two outside linebacker/edge rusher spots. His potential starting role in a 3-4 actually seems to be more clear than the alternative outside linebacker role — there’s likely going to be more of a competition for the other starting spot opposite Ojulari. Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, and free-agent pickup Ryan Anderson should compete at that specific position.
But all in all, expect Ojulari to earn the bulk of the reps out of the team’s outside linebackers — he’s young, fresh, and as was mentioned before, the Giants are high on him. There’s no reason he shouldn’t see a noteworthy amount of time on the field.
Time in other schemes?
Ojulari is likely a better fit as an outside backer in a 3-4 than as a defensive end in a 4-3, but if coordinator Patrick Graham utilizes the latter scheme, there’s a chance he could also field the rookie on the line.
Don’t expect Azeez to receive more reps as a defensive end than as an outside linebacker though — his size (6-foot-2, 249 pounds) means he’d likely be more comfortable in the latter role.
Edge rusher rotation may still be intact
Ojulari will likely be on the field a great amount, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’ll be partaking on every single play.
Graham provided playing time to numerous edge rushers last year, such as Carter/Ximines before their season-ending injuries and then-Giants Kyler Fackrell and Markus Golden. Fackrell averaged the most number of defensive snaps per game out of the aforementioned 2020 Big Blue players with 50.6.
Ojulari may figure to earn more defensive reps than 50.6 per game, but he still might be part of an edge rusher rotation. This method definitely carries its positives — it constantly keeps bodies fresh and minds focused.