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2021 NFL draft film breakdown: Texas EDGE Joseph Ossai

Joseph Ossai
(Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

Sam Crnic takes a glance at Texas EDGE Joseph Ossai‘s blend of athleticism, technique, and natural strength that allowed him to be so effective against TCU.

A standout edge for Texas, Joseph Ossai’s passion for the game didn’t begin until he moved to America at 10 years old. Ossai was born in Ketu Ijaniki, Lagos, Nigeria, which is a long way away from his current home in Texas. After placing their names in a Diversity Lottery Program in 2007, the family was awarded eight green cards. This prompted them to move to Houston in 2008 to stay with a cousin of Joseph’s father, Vitus.

Ossai was quickly introduced to American sports such as football and basketball. He continued to play both sports as he became older, taking advantage of his unique athleticism and strength.

Attending Oak Ridge High School (Conroe, Texas), Ossai burst on the scene as a multi-talented defensive player after initially wanting to play wide receiver. He recorded 58 tackles, eight sacks, 15 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles as a senior. This earned him first-team All-District and first-team All-Greater Houston while being named a four-star recruit as well.

The college decision for Ossai came down to two names: Texas and Texas A&M. Joseph eventually chose the University of Texas behind the support of his family and faith. As a true freshman, Ossai played all 14 games with two starts, totaling 20 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He exploded in his sophomore season, recording 90 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and also a blocked kick.

As a junior, Ossai played nine games before choosing to opt-out and prepare for the 2021 NFL draft. In those nine games, he totaled 55 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He was also a team captain—a trait that the Jets valued highly in the 2020 draft.

On the path to becoming a star defensive end for the Longhorns, being the victim of bullying played an early role in Ossai’s decision to play football:

“With kids, if there’s something they don’t understand, they question and sometimes bully, so I got bullied a lot,” Ossai once said. “I had to go through that, but I overcame it and I would say I really started to overcome it and find my voice when I started playing football in the seventh grade.”

Today, we will be looking at Ossai’s exceptional 2020 performance against TCU (Oct. 3) using All-22 film angles. The amount of athleticism and natural talent that he flashes on tape has many scouts excited about his NFL future.

Texas vs. TCU Game Recap

Starting the season 2-0, the Longhorns looked to increase their College Football Playoff chances. They failed to accomplish that, losing to a tough in-state opponent, TCU, 33-31.

Texas was positioned for a comeback towards the end of the fourth quarter, but a fumble at the TCU 1-yard line by running back Keaontay Ingram essentially ended any chance of victory.

In a game where the Texas defense could not stop quarterback Max Duggan and the TCU offense, Ossai had himself a game in the box score. Joseph recorded 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a strip-sack.

Perhaps the most impressive examples of Ossai’s talent in this game were some of the plays that didn’t show up in the stat-sheet. Joseph’s speed off the ball combined with his natural brute strength consistently put TCU’s offense in undesirable spots as the game progressed.

New York Jets, Jets X-Factor

Speed Pass Rush

Showcasing his best trait, Ossai’s usage of speed off the edge quickly became a sight to see on a play-by-play basis. He was consistently able to win with speed off the snap and turn the corner by countering the offensive tackle’s hand placement.

Off the strong side edge, Ossai quickly wins the corner with speed to create pressure and get a hit on the quarterback:

Ossai is positioned at the 5-tech in a two-point stance where he looks to attack the quarterback through the C-gap. The offense is seemingly in a favorable position as they face a six-man pass rush with six blockers, but Joseph easily beats his single blocker to deliver immediate pressure on the QB following his dropback.

Off the snap, Ossai explodes out of his stance as he attempts to round the corner against his blocker. At the point of contact, the right tackle punches his hands into Ossai’s shoulder pads, yet it isn’t enough to stop him. Ossai stabs the OT’s chest with a long arm to push him on the balls of his feet. Pointing his hips towards the quarterback, Ossai then swims over the offensive tackle’s outside arm to break free of any hand-contact. The quarterback gets the ball out just in time as Ossai delivers a crushing hit to force a very difficult throw (which the quarterback impressively completes).

On this play, Ossai’s quickness pressures the quarterback into making an earlier-than-desired decision to scramble with the ball.

This play looks like a pass play from the quarterback’s dropback, but it turns out to be a de facto draw thanks to the scramble. To make this work, the right tackle has to seal off any interior pressure before making a play on the edge (Ossai). He does this by stepping forward with his inside foot to help seal off the B-gap defender. By stepping inward off the snap—as opposed to outward in a regular pass set—Ossai has the advantage around the corner.

Clearing his hips towards the quarterback, Ossai chops the right tackle’s outside arm down to drop the tackle’s weight forward and angle his hands low. If not sensing the immediate pressure from Ossai and scrambling down the B-gap, this is a sack. Instead, the quarterback showcases exceptional pocket poise and escape for a short gain. Great win around the edge by Ossai, nonetheless.

Stunting in the Pass Rush

Using his impressive speed as previously displayed, Ossai is adept at quickly looping around defenders to create an advantageous angle towards the QB.

Looping three gaps over to the left A-gap, Ossai pressures the quarterback and forces a throwaway.

From a schematic perspective, this stunt is very well designed. The 0-tech defender penetrates towards the right A-gap, pushing the center’s momentum with him. The looper (Ossai) attacks the opposite side of where the center’s momentum is going, generating easy pressure with enough speed and execution. Joseph is the perfect player to execute this stunt.

Hesitating off the snap, Ossai loops around the 4i-tech and 0-tech who attack the right B-gap and right A-gap, respectively. Showcasing fluid hips and the ability to turn the corner, Ossai bursts by the center, ripping through with his inside arm to avoid contact. Ossai forces the quarterback to scramble out of the pocket, and with nowhere to go, the quarterback is forced to throw the ball away.

Running the same stunt we saw above on the other side of the offensive line, the right guard cannot reach Ossai in time to prevent another quarterback pressure.

With the penetrating 0-tech and 4i-tech defenders hitting the same gaps as before, the center fails to disengage from the 0-tech this time, leaving Ossai an open window to the quarterback. Ossai does an exceptional job of waiting for the penetrators to engage their gaps before looping around, forcing the center to push his momentum leftwards and contain the 0-tech.

Once turning the corner and hips towards the quarterback, Ossai is a heat-seeking missile. The quarterback attempts to get the ball out before getting sacked but is hit midway through his throwing motion, causing the ball to wobble fairly short of the intended target. Ossai is credited with the QB hit and nearly creates an interception.

Power Pass Rush

In addition to his speed, Ossai packs a punch in his power rush as well. I really liked his ability to shove blockers backward into the pocket as a result of a bull rush or just brute strength.

Having to widen his attack due to the releasing tight end, Ossai gets a running-start attempt at a bull rush, creating pocket condensation and putting the offensive tackle on his back following the pass.

Face-to-face with the tight end at the 6-tech, Ossai avoids contact off the snap to continue his pass rush attempt. Although rounding out the attack takes more time, he collides with the right tackle with a running start, giving him more power at the point-of-impact. Ossai gets his hands under the offensive tackle’s shoulder pads, forking him upwards and onto the balls of his feet.

This forceful power pushes the offensive tackle off-balance as he’s carried backward and into the quarterback. Although Ossai fails to get to the quarterback before the throw, he displays his nastiness and throws the offensive tackle to the ground after the pass is already out.

A display of sheer brute strength, Ossai pushes his man out of the way at the point of impact, forcing the quarterback to bail the pocket.

While the left tackle does a nice job of regaining balance after the initial contact, this play shows a glimpse of Ossai’s potential as an effective power rusher. From the 5-tech, Ossai powers into the left tackle instead of trying to win the corner, attempting to force him back into the pocket. At the point of impact, Ossai pushes the offensive tackle on the balls of his feet, sending him staggering into the pocket.

Taking advantage of this, Ossai works inside as the quarterback steps up in the pocket, looking to get the sack or create pressure. He raises his arm to deflect the pass, but the quarterback instead steps to his left, away from both Longhorn defenders. Ossai does his job of creating pressure from the edge, but the combination of his blocker regaining balance and the quarterback side-stepping out of pressure prevents a sack.

Hand Usage in Pass Rush

While still a raw talent at the edge position, Ossai has shown the ability to successfully use his hands to get by blockers. I liked some of his placement and how he countered the blocker’s attempts at leverage.

This was by far my favorite play of the game from Ossai. He combines two well-executed moves into one as he gets the sack and the forced fumble.

From a familiar position at the 5-tech in a two-point stance, Ossai shoots out like a rocket off the snap. Getting low to win the pad level advantage, Ossai strikes the chest of the RT with a long-arm, countering the blocker’s hand usage. He then clubs the RT’s outside shoulder to force his weight inside, followed by an arm-over move to clear the right tackle’s head using his other arm, swatting down the right tackle’s outside arm in the process.

Aligning his hips towards the quarterback with impressive flexion, Ossai jumps off his left foot as he advances his hips past his blocker. Keeping his pads low to turn the corner, he strikes the quarterback with the help of another teammate, causing a fumble in the process. A big play from a big-time player.

Using a different technique, Ossai looks to turn the corner on the offensive tackle but is dragged down to the ground, a blatant missed holding call.

Aligned in the same spot, as usual, Ossai again looks to combine two different moves from the edge, only to be dragged to the ground when the right tackle loses balance. Off the snap, you see Ossai striking the blocker in the chest again, only to pull this time, pulling the right tackle’s weight and momentum forward. Maintaining ideal pad level and low hips, he attempts to rip around the corner but is held by the blocker.

While pulling his momentum forward, the right tackle loses balance and knows he can’t stop Ossai once squaring his hips towards the quarterback. As a result, he drags the star defensive end with him to the ground. I was very impressed with how fluidly Ossai could pair two moves together and win the rep. Not only did he successfully execute a pull and rip here, but also displayed really impressive flexion and shoulder dip to turn the corner in a hurry.

Quickness off Edge in Run Game

Regarding the run game, Ossai was adept at locating the ball carrier and bringing him down before he could go much farther than the line of scrimmage.

Left unblocked as a result of the quarterback power call, Ossai bursts out of his stance with speed and brings down the ball carrier rather quickly.

This looks like the same exact play as the second clip of the film review, only with far less help from the blockers. Instead of having to win against the right tackle with a chop, Ossai is left untouched in the backfield and has a clear lane to the quarterback. Because of this, the quarterback has nowhere to go but up the middle, unlike the previous time.

I chose to include this clip because of how it showcases Ossai’s hip fluidity and athleticism. Instead of rounding out his attack of the ball carrier, he dips his hips and inside shoulder pretty low to turn the corner with sharpness and ferocity. It is also worth to mention how quick Ossai truly is in open space as he tracks down the quarterback.

In this play, the quarterback makes the incorrect decision of handing it off to the running back on the zone read, leaving an unblocked Ossai ready to track him down.

After handing the ball off to the running back, the quarterback visibly shows regret in his decision. Ossai doesn’t hesitate in his pursuit of the running back off the snap, sticking to his clear assignment of playing the running back. We see the same intriguing hip fluidity and quick change-of-direction as the previous clip.

As seen time and time again during this game, Ossai is very decisive in the run game. He stays true to his assignment without much urge to do otherwise. There’s a couple of run plays that could be blamed on him, but he’s just playing to his assignment based on the scheme. Some fans may have preferred Ossai to wait-and-see on the zone read at the mesh point, but he wouldn’t have been staying true to his assignment.

On a zone read, the edge defender’s job is to handle his assigned player and let his teammate handle the other one.

High Motor

Along with that speed and agility I keep raving about, Ossai has an internal motor that runs nonstop. You never see him take a play off or show a lack of effort, which just plays perfectly into his deep passion for the game.

Located on the back-side of this screen pass, Ossai out-sprints his other teammates to the ball and is rewarded with the assisted tackle as a result.

Aligned at the strong side 6-tech, Ossai is nowhere near the area where the ball goes, which is a weak side screen. Off the snap, you see Ossai naturally filling his gap as a result of his alignment, but quickly notices a screen pass. Ossai plays football at a very rapid pace physically, but the mental processing speed of his game is developing as well.

Once the camera turns to the wide receiver catching the ball, Ossai outpaces all of his teammates in pursuit of the ball carrier. As the wide receiver runs out of room to run, Ossai and another teammate bring him down for a minimal gain. Joseph could have easily given up on this play once he knew how far he was from it, but instead outruns all of his teammates to get in on the tackle. This isn’t the flashiest play on tape, but this extra effort will help make him a first-rounder.

Working through a combination block in the run game, Ossai sheds his way to the middle of the field, where he annihilates the ball carrier at the point-of-impact.

Situated at the 5-tech in a two-point stance, Ossai sees a tight end in front of him, which could warrant a double-team if it’s a run play. This is exactly what happens, but he manages to disengage with both blockers in pursuit of the running back. Off the snap, the right tackle and tight end seal off Ossai’s entry to the running lane, but the tight end disengages to attack the second level. The right tackle, for some reason, decides not to fully commit to his block and lets Ossai run freely into the middle of the field, as Ossai pulls him forward to shed him.

While this looks like an outside zone run that shouldn’t be anywhere near Joseph, the running back jump-cuts back inside, meeting up with Ossai just as he breaks free from his blocker. The talented Longhorn lowers his shoulders and finishes through the ball carrier with a bone-crushing tackle, once again showcasing the value of his nonstop motor as he makes the play from the back-side after being doubled initially.


Still relatively new to the game as an immigrant from Nigeria, Ossai had to learn the rules of American football as he went:

“It was all new to me and I learned the rules of football as I played … Over the years of playing, whenever someone would do something and the ref would throw a flag and I’d say, ‘You can’t do that? I didn’t know you couldn’t do that’ … and that’s how I’ve learned.”

That’s perhaps my biggest takeaway from watching Ossai’s tape vs. TCU. He already appears so talented and refined at the game, and yet, he’s still learning. That’s the exciting part if you’re in a position to draft him. Already productive despite having played much less football than his peers, there’s so much potential for him to become even better based on his natural athleticism and length.

Originally a linebacker who was moved to the edge, Ossai is a very raw prospect heading into the next level. The potential to turn him into a multi-use linebacker/edge will be a great asset in a league where versatility is king, allowing Ossai to be a great fit for any team once in the NFL.

At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Ossai’s freakish athleticism is perhaps his greatest attribute. Not only can he burst off the line of scrimmage to win with speed, but can easily dip his hips/shoulders and rely on ankle flexion to turn the corner with sharpness and intensity. This athleticism also transfers to his foot quickness. Scouts will be raving about this kid’s ability to chase down defenders from any side of the field and in an efficient matter.

Ossai’s long frame and length also give him impressive strength at the point of impact. There were many times where Joseph overpowered offensive linemen with brute strength or a simple bull rush, all by attaining ideal pad level and hand placement.

While I would like to see Ossai pair together multiple moves or counters more consistently in future scouting sessions, he shows flashes of being able to do just that. I was impressed by some of the moves Ossai could combine in his speed rush reps. Combining both a long-arm/arm-over and a pull/rip tells me that even though he’s a raw talent at the edge position, he’s a quick learner.

Regardless of where the Jets land in the late-first round with the Seattle Seahawks’ first-round pick, Joe Douglas should be thrilled with any opportunity to land Ossai. From being a team captain in his final year at Texas to possessing some of the most tantalizing athletic tools among all edge rushers in this year’s class, Joseph checks many of the boxes that the Jets will be looking for as they search for foundational pieces to turn things around.

With the Jets likely to address premium positions early in the 2021 NFL draft, Douglas will certainly be keeping his eyes on Ossai as we get closer and closer to April. The talented Longhorn projects to be one of the most likely first round-quality edges to drop to the Jets’ second pick of Day 1.

With proper development and coaching, Ossai could become the versatile and twitchy edge threat that has become such a premium in today’s NFL – and something the New York Jets have not enjoyed for a long, long time.

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