Why Michigan’s David Ojabo still might go in Round 1 of NFL draft despite Achilles tear

Detroit Free Press

It didn’t seem possible a month ago. But the closer we get to NFL draft day, the more likely it appears Michigan football edge rusher David Ojabo will go in the first round Thursday night.

Ojabo is no lock, not after tearing his Achilles tendon at his pro day workout in March. But long-time NFL reporter Peter King gave Ojabo to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his one and only mock draft Monday, and there is growing speculation a team picking late in the first round will take the projectable pass rusher to make sure it has Ojabo’s services for five years.

Rookies sign pre-slotted four-year contracts, but teams have a fifth-year option on players taken in Round 1.

“I think it’s more likely he goes in the second (round), just so you know, but it wouldn’t shock me if a team took him late in the first simply because you get that fifth-year option and you’re trying to get four years of value out of him knowing that you’re probably not going to get a lot, if anything, out of him as a rookie,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said last week. “But once he gets on the field and assuming he’s back to full strength, you’ve got a serious pass rusher. A guy who can come in and, even as he continues to develop his hands and become more in synch with all of his moves and put together the pass rush plan, he’s just going to keep getting better as a pass rusher.”

Ojabo was projected as a top-20 pick before tearing his Achilles on March 18 in a pass drop drill at pro day.

He caught a pass and turned upfield to simulate an interception return, then crumbled to the ground clutching his left leg.

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Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh predicted at the NFL’s annual meeting Ojabo will return to play sometime in the 2022 season, and recent history suggests that could be the case.

Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers tore his Achilles last July and returned to play in the team’s regular season finale six months later. And Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo played 10 games last year after tearing his Achilles tendon in January.

The Colts drafted Odeyingbo in the second round last year, No. 54 overall. He was considered a borderline first-round pick before the injury, and finished with six tackles and a half sack as a rookie.

“I think (Odeyingbo has) a chance to be a really good player for them, and I thought he had a chance to be a late first-rounder before that injury,” SiriusXM analyst and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik said. “David, I thought, was going to go probably top 10 or right on the bubble there, so if you have a chance to pull that player in the second round, you’re getting a first-round talent, you do that all day. And so that’s where … if you can have him on the football field come December and hopefully in January with (a good team), that is worth it.”

In his mock draft, King wrote “four teams are intently interested” in Ojabo, and one is having “some significant medical tests done on him in the next two days, to see how his recovery is progressing and to judge whether he can play maybe very late this season.”

The Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers are playoff contenders with multiple picks late in the first round, and both have needs at pass rush. The Detroit Lions, if they don’t take an edge rusher at No. 2 overall, have the last pick of the first round and the second pick of Round 2.

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McShay cautioned there is risk taking Ojabo early.

Ojabo had 11 sacks last season while playing opposite potential No. 1 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, but was a one-year contributor in college and is considered a liability as a run defender. As a rookie, especially given the time he will miss, he likely will be relegated to playing in a designated pass rush role.

Still, the ESPN analyst said it would not surprise him to see Ojabo come off the board early.

“He is so naturally talented with his explosive get-off, the spin move, how quick he is and sudden, the change of direction,” McShay said. “The closing burst is outrageous. So there’s so much to work with. He’s not falling out of the second round. I think it’s more likely he goes in the second, but there’s just so many factors in terms of losing that first year and then knowing when you do get him back on the field you still have developing that you have to do before you feel great about him being an every-down starter. Even at Michigan, he was the starter, but he came off the field a lot more than Hutchinson did and usually it was short-yardage situations, early downs, more run-heavy type situations. And I think that’ll be the case during his first year, which may be 2023.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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