The Cincinnati Bengals may have gotten a massive steal in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, as Texas Longhorns defensive end Joseph Ossai fell right into their laps. This is huge because it is a position with great value and was also a big need for the Bengals.
Cincinnati struggled to get pressure on the quarterback last season. Playing only one season at the position, Ossai demonstrated some raw ability to get after the quarterback, and that is where we’ll start our film review.
The Bengals got a steal in Round 3 pic.twitter.com/ipro4iT8Oc— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) May 8, 2021
Ossai is lined up at the bottom of the screen in this clip. He has an excellent burst off the line of scrimmage and quickly gets to the offensive tackle’s hip. This is important because it puts the lineman in conflict. Will he turn his hips, committing to blocking the outside rush but opening up the inside move, or will he stay square creating the potential for the rusher to take the edge?
Here, he turns, but it is too late; Ossai has already got him. When I first watched this play, I thought Ossai used a push/pull move, but now I believe that the tackle is lunging out in a desperate attempt to slow Ossai’s rush. It is all for naught, and the quarterback is quickly in peril.
Foot speed is important for a pass rusher, as we saw above, but we don’t talk enough about hand speed. This is extremely important for pass rushers.
Ossai is at the top of the screen in this clip. The first thing he does with his hands is strike the right tackle with two hands. Notice how that jolt throws the lineman off balance briefly and allows him to get a step past the tackle. It also sets up what he wants to do next.
Ossai uses his left arm to push the tackle’s right arm inside in an attempt to turn his shoulders. He immediately follows this with a swim move from his right arm.
He is a bit past the quarterback at this point, but Ossai dives forward for the sack.
What’s crazy about Ossai, is that he only played defensive end for one year. He was a linebacker for the Longhorns in 2019. We see the tools he has, but if new defensive line coach Marion Hobby can help him develop a few pass rush moves, he could be a nightmare for offensive tackles.
The Bengals put a strong value on stopping the run, and Ossai has demonstrated success in this area as well. In fact, I’m not convinced that he is the pass-rush-specialist he’s made out to be.
On this play, he strikes the offensive tackle and is responsible for the outside gap, but when the running back cuts inside, Ossai gets off of his block, folds inside, and attacks the hip.
He follows this up with what can only be described as a ferocious tackle. Ossai is a heavy hitter who puts ball carriers down forcefully time and time again. This could make him a real tone-setter for the Bengals defense.
Of course, the team to beat in the AFC North is still the Baltimore Ravens (for now), and the Ravens employ a lot of option concepts in their offensive scheme.
In this clip, he is on the backside of the zone read play. He stays square and shuffles down the line of scrimmage. When the quarterback makes his read and keeps the ball, Ossai explodes at an angle to cut off the quarterback’s path. He adjusts as the quarterback tries to cut inside and makes the tackle for a loss.
Obviously this will be much more difficult when it’s Lamar Jackson running the ball, but the skill set and processing are there.
When asked about his motor during his draft day interview Ossai told a story about being pulled out of the game by his coach as a freshman in high school for not chasing the ball carrier after a pass was thrown away from him.
Ossai’s coach told him. “You gotta chase that ball ‘cause there’s that slim chance that it might happen.” Ossai goes on to tell about what happened later in the game, “Same play happened, I ran, I punched the ball out, and ever since then it was like euphoria for me when that happened. Ever since then I gotta get to that ball.”
Ossai’s film is littered with evidence of this, but as his high school coach told him, there is a “slim chance.” So nine out of nine times, he chases and nothing comes from it. This play is the one time.
The ball breaks to the inside, but unlike the play we looked at earlier, Ossai is not able to get off of his block and fold in immediately. Instead, he turns and chases.
Ossai relentlessly pursues the ball carrier, pushing by offensive players and his own teammates alike in the process and eventually makes the tackle.
This play will never appear on a highlight film. Scratch that. It might be on the offense’s highlight film, but this is the type of defensive play that wins games. When a player gives that type of effort, knowing how unlikely it is that he will be the one to make the play, and when he does it over and over again, that is a special player.
Ossai’s tenacity will turn plays that should be 50-yard touchdowns into 30-yard gains, and that gives the defense another chance. That will win you football games.
Ossai’s motor makes him an excellent fit for the type of team that the Bengals’ coaching staff is trying to build. This coupled with his hand and foot quickness, could be a lethal combination.
Having only played defensive end for one season, he still has a lot of room to grow. He’ll need to become more consistent with his get-off, bend, and gap discipline. In order to reach his fullest potential, he will need to develop some quality pass rush moves that amplify his strengths.
All of these things are very much possible for a player who has demonstrated that he is willing to put in the work.