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ESPN’s Ben Baby: Joseph Ossai will add “a lot of versatility” to the Bengals defense

The promising pass rusher injured his knee in a dominant preseason game a year ago. Now he’s ready to show he can do it when it matters as well.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Hendrickson is a tremendous player. Last year, he was everything Bengals fans hoped he would be and more. The defensive end even got by future Hall of Famer Andrew Whitworth for a sack on the first drive of the Super Bowl.

But after that glorious takedown of Matthew Stafford, the Bengals had just one more sack against the Los Angeles Rams, and it came in the third quarter and was from nosetackle D.J. Reader.

Late in the game, the Rams were able to carve up the Bengals’ defense largely on account of the fact that their offensive line did a lot better job of holding up against Cincinnati’s d-line than the Bengals did against that of Los Angeles.

To be a top defense in the league for an entire season, the Bengals need another true pass rusher to step up. That is why so much is riding on the health and development of Joseph Ossai, a third round pick from 2021 who tore his meniscus during a promising preseason performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In that game, Ossai had five quarterback pressures and a sack of Tom Brady.

And while the game didn’t count, the reality is that he was still wreaking havoc on one of the better lines in the league.

And fans have not forgotten.

In a recent poll, readers of The Athletic were asked which first-year Bengals player will make the biggest impact. The results?

  • Cam Taylor-Britt: 19.3 percent
  • Dax Hill: 28.3 percent
  • Joseph Ossai: 46.8 percent

That’s right. A man who was drafted in a later round and is coming off an injury that cost him an entire season is expected to be the most impactful person playing for the first time in the NFL.

We talked to ESPN’s Ben Baby about Ossai’s development, and while the Bengals beat reporter says the 22-year-old is still a little “raw,” he added that he “brings a lot of versatility to that scheme” and will be “exciting.”

Watch the entire interview below:

You can also listen on iTunes or using the player below:

Joseph Ossai

Height: 6-4

Weight: 263 pounds

Age: 22

College: Texas

Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria

Experience: second season

Cap Status

He is in the second year of a four-year, $5.2 million rookie contract that will pay him $896,028 in base salary this year.


Ossai moved to Texas from Nigeria at the age of ten. He then became a four-star recruit and committed to Texas over offers from Texas A&M, Notre Dame, and Oregon.

By his second year in college, he lead the Longhorns in tackles (62) and recorded five sacks, two interceptions, another pass breakup, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick. He added another five sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss as a junior.

He decided to forgo both the Texas 2020 Bowl game and his senior season and enter the 2021 NFL Draft, where he was drafted by the Bengals with the 69th overall pick.

As mentioned above, Ossai shined in his NFL debut (even if it was the preseason), and he had head coach Zac Taylor saying after the game: “He’s relentless... He really brings a nice physical presence, has great burst off the edge. I really like what he brings to the table.” So the talent is there. Now it’s about health and figuring out the nuances of the league.

2022 Outlook

Expect the Bengals to rely on Ossai as their second primary edge rusher at some point in the season. This is because the team has not invested in a veteran to fill that roll. It is not out of the question to expect Ossai to amass double digit sacks, and it seems to be a foregone conclusion that he will have at least five.

Roster Odds

98%. Unless he has a terrible setback with his injury, he will be on the team. He is extremely talented, has a great attitude, and is on a rookie deal.

Okay, it’s your turn. We heard what The Athletic readers think about our young players making their debut. Now you tell us...


Which first-year Bengals player will make the biggest impact?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Joseph Ossai
    (466 votes)
  • 24%
    Dax Hill
    (205 votes)
  • 9%
    Cam Taylor-Britt
    (77 votes)
  • 6%
    Cordell Volson
    (57 votes)
  • 0%
    Drue Chrisman
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    Zach Carter
    (15 votes)
  • 0%
    Tycen Anderson
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    (5 votes)
836 votes total Vote Now