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Should Seahawks draft DE David Ojabo in 2nd round if he's there?
Ojabo tore his Achilles on Friday, potentially setting him back at least one year
While doing my best to keep up with the rapid pace of Seahawks, NFL news over the last two weeks, including Seattle’s recent acquisition of four premium draft picks, I have never stopped thinking about how the team will use those selections. Saturday morning’s post on how much money the Seahawks would save by employing a rookie starting quarterback instead of Russell Wilson highlighted that the team is essentially getting 18 seasons for four players instead of four seasons for one player.
Yes, that’s a fairly inaccurate statement—Seattle’s getting more seasons if you include Drew Lock, Shelby Harris, and Noah Fant, but potentially fewer seasons if the draft picks are bad—but sometimes focusing solely on financials misleads fans away from thinking about how teams view “cost controlled seasons” in the NFL.
In baseball, where a player could easily have 10-15 seasons left after reaching his mid-20s, cost-controlled seasons are all the rage. In football, “mid-20s” is when franchises start to sweat a little bit and get anxious about “what’s left in the tank?”
When the NFL and the players association negotiated a new CBA in 2011, the end result was that Cam Newton became the first draft pick in league history to know what his contract details would be from the moment he was selected; it also meant that the Carolina Panthers could guarantee that there wouldn’t be a holdout or a long drawn out process to secure their franchise player after years of frustrating team-agent negotiations that range from John Elway’s refusal to play for the Colts to players like JaMarcus Russell and Sam Bradford being the highest-paid players in the league before they even had a practice.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars decide to draft Aidan Hutchinson next month, they will pay him $41.4 million over four years with a $7.5 million cap hit in 2022. If they decide to draft Charles Cross, they will pay him that exact same amount. This wasn’t the case 12 years ago and the 2011 CBA assured that football too would have “cost-controlled players” and it didn’t matter if you went first or undrafted: the next three to five years of every rookie’s financial future is virtually non-negotiable*.
*We do see “contract language” negotiations like with Joey Bosa in 2016, but it is rare and doesn’t change the cost of the player
By trading out Wilson for the ninth pick in this year’s draft, Seattle will agree to a four-year, $23.5 million contract (with a fifth-year team option) and a $4.27 million 2022 cap hit, if they don’t trade that pick. They will pay out a four-year, $9.1 million contract with a $1.66 million cap hit to the 40th overall pick that they received from the Broncos, and a four-year, $8.999 million deal with a $1.63 million cap hit to their own draft selection at pick 41 in the second round.
Those are cost-controlled players and the risk/reward is easy:
If the players are bad (and we’ve seen that from L.J. Collier to Malik McDowell, the Seahawks are as capable as any team of getting little-to-no value from an early draft pick) then the entire cost is sunk. Rookies care so many more unknowns than veterans like Wilson.
If the players are even money, they’re even money.
If the players are great, the teams have so much more money to spend because it’s one less premium player who they have to pay like a premium player; if you have Joe Burrow right now, you don’t have to worry “Should we trade for Russell Wilson?” That’s a major benefit to the Bengals.
Quarterback is the highest-paid position in the NFL, but pass rusher is another area where teams can spend upwards of $20-$30 million per season for a great one. The Vikings are paying Danielle Hunter an $18 million bonus this weekend even though they have almost no money to spend and Hunter has missed most of the last two years. Part of the reason they can do that is that Minnesota has 2020 fourth round pick D.J. Wonnum, already a really good starter opposite of Hunter, meaning the Vikings didn’t have to worry about “How do we get more pass rush help?”
The Seahawks need pass rush help. Could they end up getting a premium edge rusher with one of those second round picks? An unfortunate non-contact injury at Michigan’s pro day on Friday may lead to a defensive end falling from a borderline top-10 projection to day two of the NFL Draft next month.
Should Seattle consider drafting David Ojabo with the 40th or 41st overall pick if he is still available in the second round, despite tearing his Achilles this week?
I routinely read 2022 NFL Mock drafts in 2021 and rarely did Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo reach an early first round projection. As you can see at NFL Mock Draft Database, Ojabo was usually a late-first, second round prospect and it wasn’t until mid-January of this year that his average mock draft position hit mid-first round:
At some point during my routine mock draft readings, I saw “David Ojabo, Michigan” in the top-10 for the first time. Could it be that all of the focus on Aidan Hutchinson’s emergence as the number one pick in the draft was overshadowing an even more surprising breakout on Michigan’s other side of the defensive line?
Born in Nigeria, Ojabo’s family moved to Scotland when he was seven, then to New Jersey when he was 17. He didn’t play football for the first time until he was a junior in high school, at which point he was paired with future first round pass rusher Odafe Oweh at Blair Academy prep.
“I had seen his success,” Ojabo, now a junior edge rusher for the Michigan football team, said Tuesday. “In just one year of football he played, he got like 25 offers. I said, ‘Why not me?’
“So I played my one year and got 35.”
As we’ve seen countless times before, from high school to college to the NFL, genetics far outweighs experience playing football. Ojabo was likely even drawn to Blair Academy because of his rare size (6’4, 250 lbs, 33.5” arms, 4.55 40-yard dash, 35” vertical, 10’2 broad jump as of the NFL Scouting Combine) and then chose frickin’ Michigan over frickin’ Ohio State and frickin’ Notre Dame despite only playing one season of football in his life.
His three-star status as a recruit doesn’t really exemplify how hot teams were on Ojabo as a high schooler, only that major programs are more than willing to woo an unknown if he’s a freak athlete with a drive to become a great football player. I don’t think anyone was questioning Ojabo’s athleticism or desire when he introduced himself to Blair’s high school football coach Jim Saylor for the first time:
“My name’s David Ojabo,” Saylor recalled him saying. “I’m tougher, stronger, more athletic than Jayson Oweh. Do you mind if I try playing football?”
Oweh’s presence on the team meant that scouts were also getting a long look at Ojabo, and Saylor was doing his best to sell him as a secret superstar on the other side. Keep in mind, it was barely four years ago that Ojabo even knew what a three-point stance is:
“We took things really slow with David,” Saylor said. “We didn’t overwhelm him. We laugh and joke about the fact that after three days of camp, he could barely even walk. We had to give him a couple days off during camp because his legs were so sore, getting down in three-point stances.”
Even his position coach said it was a “struggle” to teach him football in such a short amount of time (Ojabo reclassified as a junior to extend his opportunity to learn the game before college) but that Ojabo’s athleticism made it a lot easier. Then he really started to get it.
“There’s games where linemen would down block on him and they’d completely miss him,” Coyle said. “You’d have linemen running in circles. We’d have to run the tape back several times and be like, can you believe what we’re seeing here? They just couldn’t catch him. So his relentlessness, he’s got a motor.
“He just does not stop until the play is over. That’s tough for some guys. If the ball is going the other way, they’ll trot behind or they’ll fit into their pursuit level. He just goes. He goes full bore until the play is over.”
But knowing that he didn’t know anything about football in 2017, it makes it easy to understand why Ojabo redshirted his freshman year at Michigan. Then in 2020, set to be his second year with the Wolverines, Ojabo ended up stuck in Scotland for an extended period of time because of the pandemic and he was only practicing over Zoom. Ojabo played in one game for the shortened 2020 season, recording one tackle.
When you look at Ojabo’s college stats, see that he only played one season and is supposed to be considered an early first round pick, you might ask if he’s overrated. Now it makes all the sense in the world. And he dominated for the one season.
Ojabo’s total numbers: 35 tackles, 11 sacks, 5 forced fumbles
That included two sacks and a forced fumble in games against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State.
Ojabo declared for the draft on January 4th and then his stock blew up as all the Hutchinson-watchers realized that Michigan would be sending not one, but two players with 11+ sacks to the NFL in one year. Hutchinson helped Ojabo. How much did Ojabo help Hutchinson though?
I think as more people saw that Ojabo was this raw prospect who managed to raise stock so quickly after only one season of playing at Michigan, it made visions of this unique athlete being a “steal” dance in their heads all the more often. At the combine, Ojabo ran a 4.55 40-yard dash at 250 lbs… Kayvon Thibodeaux ran a 4.58 at 254. Jermaine Johnson, a player often mocked to Seattle, ran a 4.58 at 254 also.
Joe Tryon, a first round pick in 2021, ran a 4.69 at 259 last year.
Added up, David Ojabo is a superior athlete with one superior college season under his belt as a pass rusher, a superior position of need.
Then he suffered one of the worst injuries that a football player can suffer. Despite words of caution from the “NFL Insiders”, that’s still a true statement.
Having covered Cam Akers’ Achilles tear with the LA Rams last year—from the day it happened to the day he returned and so on—I have recent history of pouring through the comebacks and realities of an Achilles tear. The news is better for Ojabo for most players, but it is still not “good” news.
At least to the point where we have to question if the team that drafts Ojabo will be giving up hope for the first year, if not two years, of that “cost-controlled contract.”
Two years of a four-year contract is 50-percent. That much math I know.
If David Ojabo’s Achilles tear drops him out of the first round of the draft, which is plausible if we compare it to other “injury drops” like Myles Jack, Sidney Jones, or Jaylon Smith, then a team like the Seahawks could take the chance that others did not.
Unfortunately, even an exceptional six-month comeback like Akers or Terrell Suggs would mean that Ojabo is going to miss the first month of the 2022 NFL season. “Only one month?! Kenneth Arthur—you a nut!”
I am a nut who has seen countless good prospects get buried for months, if not more than a year, based on missing even some training camp during their rookie campaigns. The development between now and September for 2022 draft picks is hugely important and Ojabo will miss basically all of that. And remember, Ojabo didn’t even know how to play football four years ago. If Ojabo didn’t tear his Achilles, his rookie year most likely would’ve already been drowned in “development time” that keeps him from getting a lot of first-year snaps. Now he’s out entirely.
I don’t doubt Ojabo’s will, intensity, drive, commitment, effort, or even his future.
What I would caution you against is believing that a team will draft Ojabo and be getting the same as what they would’ve gotten without the tear.
Ojabo playing in 2022 seems unlikely, he needs too much development.
That puts Ojabo’s rookie season on pace for 2023, and that means that Ojabo might not really be starting to put it together until 2024.
Would you be okay with Seattle passing on a healthy near-ready prospect at picks 40 or 41 in favor of two cost-controlled seasons for a player with an extraordinary ceiling at a premium position, but a delayed start to cash in on that value until 2024?
I could be proven wrong by Ojabo, I hope that I am. I think it’s fair for fans to have a realistic expectation though, instead of what I normally see, which is “This prospect will turn into the (BEST CASE SCENARIO) because athleticism.”
Should the Seahawks be the team that takes a chance on Ojabo? Maybe. Could he drop to the third round? Maybe. Do I want David Ojabo to walk into Pete Carroll’s office this year and say, “I’m David Ojabo, my Achilles is reformed, play me now”?