Odafe Oweh of the Baltimore Ravens was productive as a rookie, but what are his chances of taking the leap towards the top of the totem pole?
Odafe Oweh, formerly known as Jayson Oweh, was born and raised in New Jersey. He went by his middle name, Jayson, mainly because people had a difficult time saying Odafe. After being drafted, he decided to go back to his Nigerian roots, reclaiming his first name. In Nigerian heritage, your name is sacred and said to predict the future in a sense. For example, Odafe means “a wealthy individual”. For many, wealth is merely a dream.
Both of his parents were born in Nigeria, and they made sure to keep that culture at the forefront of their family, even after moving to the United States before Oweh’s birth. Oweh grew up, as stated, in New Jersey, with very little diversity in his hometown. Oweh had trouble fitting in during his younger years due to this, even switching to his middle name to keep from the jokes about his Nigerian name.
It may surprise you to hear that he never touched a football field until his junior year in high school. After transferring to Blair Academy, Oweh had ambitions to join the basketball team, in hopes of earning a free ride to college. While he was enrolling, he caught the eye of Blair Academy head football coach, Jim Saylor. This chance encounter would change the trajectory of Oweh’s entire life.
At first, Oweh was unsure. But upon hearing that vote of confidence from the football coach, he decided to give it a chance. By all accounts, Oweh struggled in many of the technical aspects of playing defensive end, which shouldn’t be surprising considering his lack of any experience in the sport. Even then, he still earned his varsity letter.
Entering his senior season of high school, Oweh worked his butt off and transformed himself into one of the best defensive recruits in the nation. He recorded 13 sacks, flashing an otherworldly ability to fly around the edge like a madman. The four-star defensive end received offers from all the college football heavyweights including: Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Michigan and Penn State. Quite the impressive list for a guy who had only played the sport for 24 months.
Ultimately, Oweh landed on the Penn State Nittany Lions as his choice for college ball. He committed to head coach James Franklin, and arrived on campus with a hunger to continue improving. Oweh appeared in four games as a freshman in 2018, recording two sacks and showing the fan base and coaching staff what he’s truly capable of. He more than doubled that total in 2019, tallying five sacks and adding a ton of wrinkles to his catalog of pass rushing moves.
The COVID-shortened 2020 season was a weird one for everyone involved, but perhaps the oddest thing that happened for Penn State is the fact that Oweh failed to record a single sack in seven games played. Was this a major step back for Oweh or just an outlier? A deep dive into his tape proved the latter to be true. Oweh regularly got into the backfield, even if he didn’t finish off a sack. He also was subject to a number of double teams, as opponents began turning their attention towards Oweh with teammate Micah Parsons opting out of the season entirely.
The lack of production was partially why Oweh fell to the bottom of the first round. Questions about his ability to be a three-down player was another red flag that followed him. This did not scare off the Baltimore Ravens. They happily took a flier on a player with unlimited potential as a pass rusher, betting on their ability to smooth out the rough edges of his game. His first season in the NFL was a success.
As a rookie, Oweh successfully tracked down the quarterback for five sacks, while also adding a rookie leading double-digit QB hits (10) and QB pressures (49) to his resume. He played sparingly, mostly on obvious passing downs. His 65% of snaps played is in line with most other rookies in his class, so do not be too alarmed by this. Oweh improved each week and began to show some promise as a run stuffer on occasion. In order to be as effective as he’d like to be, he will have to be on the field a little more.
He enters this season as the unquestioned top pass rusher on the defense. To quote Uncle Ben, with that power comes great responsibility. There’s only so much a person can do if he’s doubled, but ideally the interior defensive line will create consistent pressure and the grisly veteran, Justin Houston, will turn back the clock for one more season of productive play. The team’s secondary is much improved and could honestly rank among the best in the league with the additions of Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams.
New defensive coordinator Mike McDonald takes over after Don “Wink” Martindale’s exit from Baltimore. McDonald is notorious for his proficiency in developing linebackers. He previously held the position of linebacker coach with the Ravens, ranking towards the top in every important metric for the position during his tenure. Oweh should benefit from McDonald’s coaching style, the same way that former Ravens’ pass rusher Matthew Judon did. According to reports, Oweh and McDonald already have a strong rapport.
Oweh has said himself this offseason that he still is in the learning phase of development. He knows how much potential he possesses in his six-foot-five, 251 pound frame. Oweh had surgery back in January, but that isn’t expected to hamper him at all for training camp. Oweh predicts a massive jump in his second year, and he has proven that he’s the last person you should doubt.