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Joseph Ossai gives Bengals the versatility they desperately needed

The rookie out of Texas, who played three different linebacker positions for the Longhorns, will allow Lou Anarumo to use more 3-4 packages.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals had an easy decision with the 69th pick when Joseph Ossai was still on the board in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Ossai was projected by most to be a second rounder and could have even sneaked into the first round. Unfortunately for him—but fortunately for the Bengals—he fell to them in the third.

While Ossai likely won’t start in his first year, he will provide some much needed depth on the defensive line, something the Bengals desperately needed last year. Further, Ossai gives defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo scheme versatility.

Joseph Ossai

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 256 lbs

Age: 21

College: Texas

Hometown: Conroe, TX

Experience: rookie

Cap Status

Ossai is in the first year of a four-year rookie deal. Since he was a third round pick, his numbers are still at the lower end of the spectrum of NFL salaries. His cap hit in 2021 will only be $944,112, while his dead cap figure is at $1,136,448.

Background

Ossai never even saw the game of football until he was ten years old. After his family moved from Nigeria, he picked up the sport quickly. By the end of his senior year of high school, he was considered a top-150 prospect nationally.

When he first arrived at Texas, he was asked to play inside linebacker for the Longhorns’ defense. His sophomore year, he moved to outside linebacker, which immediately payed dividends; in 2019, Ossai had 90 total tackles, including 13.5 for a loss, five sacks, and two interceptions in 13 games. He also won defensive MVP honors in the Alamo Bowl against Utah.

Ossai changed positions yet again his junior year. This time, he moved out to jack linebacker, and from the edge, he had 55 tackles, 15.5 for a loss, 5.5 sacks, a fumble recovery, and three forced fumbles in only nine games in 2020.

Outlook for 2021

One phrase we heard a thousand times on Draft weekend was “scheme versatility.” And that advantage is precisely what made Ossai such an interesting pick for the Bengals. For the last three years, Anarumo has been moving the Bengals towards playing a 3-4 defense. Ossai, meanwhile, spent the last three years playing in a 3-4 and even playing different positions within it.

The Bengals will probably keep their 4-3 base for the most part but will also include packages that feature Ossai on the edge. He is probably looking at getting only 10-20 snaps for the first few games of the season. As the season progresses, he might be able to carve out more opportunities for himself. But even if he’s not a starter or doesn’t get a lot of snaps, Ossai will still have a clearly defined role in specific packages.

Roster odds: 99%

Ossai will be one of the key players in Anarumo’s 3-4 packages. If he does well in those, he might even get to come off the bench every now and again to relieve defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. Thus, he will provided the sort of depth that the team lacked in 2020.