The Indianapolis Colts are in dire need of edge pass rushing help this offseason as DeForest Buckner was the lone consistent force up front for the team in 2020. With veteran players Justin Houston, Denico Autry, and Al-Quadin Muhammad all free agents, the Colts defensive end depth chart could and should look vastly different next season.
One player who I expect to be very high on Chris Ballard’s board is Detroit Lions pass rusher Romeo Okwara. Okwara, 26, is a former undrafted defensive end who was signed after the 2016 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. He exploded for a monster season in 2020 with the Lions as he totaled 10 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, and 42 (!!) hurries on the season according to Pro Football Focus.
So today we are going to look at why Okwara is the perfect fit for Ballard and this Colts’ defense if he hits free agency this offseason.
Okwara went undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft. He measured as a below-average athlete at the combine with good size, strength, and explosiveness while having a below-average change of direction and overall speed.
Romeo Okwara saw his sack numbers far outpace his actual impact in the passing game, but with as thin as they're going on the DL he likely has a game day role still. Hopefully he owns up to it and improves. pic.twitter.com/qmskw5tc1b— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) September 5, 2020
Lengthy and Nuanced Pass Rusher
There are two key traits that make up a Chris Ballard defensive end; length and straight line explosiveness. Bend and the ability to corner are an added plus— like with Kemoko Turay for instance— but his pass rushers need to have length and explosiveness. These are two of the biggest aspects of Okwara’s game as they are essentially how he wins. He beats All-Pro offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk with a speed rush to the outside to showcase both traits on this first clip.
Romeo Okwara with a two hand swipe speed rush against All-Pro RT Ryan Ramczyk. pic.twitter.com/YPgw0vM1Iu— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 9, 2021
The biggest appeal to Justin Houston when he hit free agency after 2018 was how strong and nuanced he was in his hand usage. That is yet another appeal in Okwara’s game as he brings a balanced plan of attack on every pass rush attempt. He is varied in how he attacks and utilizes a wide array of moves from a bull rush, cross chop, dip/rip, long arm, and others. This allows him to keep offensive tackles on their heels and always be on the attack. It all starts though with breaking the hands of the tackle which he does with quick sets and a powerful strike. He wins this rep against Cam Robinson very early by breaking those hands and dipping around the edge.
Romeo Okwara breaking the hands of Cam Robinson before bending to the outside for the QB Hit pic.twitter.com/5Tjl87fiH5— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 9, 2021
It is clear that Okwara has spent a good amount of his training to work on his hand speed. It has to be among the quickest hands in the league of players I have studied. This would mesh well in Indy as I know from conversations with Turay and Ben Banogu that Robert Mathis specifically trains the young pass rushers of the Colts to win with their hands early and often in their rushes. Look at how quickly he is able to break the hands of Jake Matthews on the edge and bend the corner for the forced fumble sack on the play.
Romeo Okwara with the quick hands to beat Jake Matthews around the edge for the forced fumble pic.twitter.com/8VlPJWngTr— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 9, 2021
Another thing that I haven’t mentioned yet that Ballard will also like is his size. Shockingly— because it is hard to see it on these clips— Okwara is 6’5” 265 pounds. That size and the strength that comes with it allows him to have inside-out versatility which is something the Colts have loved about Denico Autry over the years. Okwara has the size to rush from the inside in certain packages and has the strength to drive offensive tackles like Morgan Moses yards into the backfield for sacks like this one below.
Romeo Okwara bull rushing Morgan Moses before making an athletic sack in the backfield pic.twitter.com/vvifWm5GhG— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 9, 2021
Overall Okwara is just a freaky player who hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential yet. I was briefly talking with Brandon Thorne, Analyst for Establish the Run and resident OL/DL expert, and he said that he had talked with Okwara multiple times this past year and sees a lot of Chandler Jones in his game with how he wins. Personally, I think he has the feel of a Shaq Barrett type player who was just breaking out, left in free agency to a great situation in Tampa Bay, and then became a superstar. Regardless, I truly think that Okwara is a top name in a loaded defensive end free agent class.
The Colts need a pass rusher this offseason and with the cap space available, it is easy to look at guys like Shaq Barrett or Yannick Ngakoue on the open market. While either of those guys would be great, I think aiming a bit lower and going after an ascending young talent at the position would be an outstanding acquisition.
Spotrac currently projects Okwara to get a contract of roughly three years 30 million dollars on the open market. Personally, I’d be perfectly fine with Ballard spending a decent bit more than that to acquire this young talent. If he explodes playing alongside Buckner then a deal of, say, three years for 42 million dollars would end up being a major bargain.
I’m not saying that the Colts will absolutely sign Okwara this offseason but knowing about the traits that Ballard values in pass rushers and knowing the need at the position, I’d bet the Colts are in on this young pass rusher. Hopefully, Detroit makes the unwise decision to not extend him this offseason and he hits the open market.