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Watching David Njoku: the University of Miami vs. Notre Dame (2016)

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I take a look through all 77 offensive snaps from The University of Miami vs. Notre Dame on October 29, 2016, to review David Njoku’s contributions.

NCAA Football: Miami at Notre Dame
Miami Hurricanes defenders close in on Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer as he runs the ball on October 29, 2016
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

While Draftbreakdown.com is generally a great resource for getting to know college football players, it doesn’t have all the film we’d want to take a complete look at a player like David Njoku, one of the Cleveland Browns’ three first-round draft picks. There are only three games available on Njoku’s page, and those contain only passing plays which go in his direction. This limits what we can learn about how he was used and give us no exposure to his role as a blocker for the Hurricanes.

To help remedy that, I have taken a look through all 77 offensive snaps from The University of Miami vs. Notre Dame game on October 29, 2016, to review Njoku’s contributions. It’s just one game so I’m not looking to draw any sweeping conclusions about what he will or won’t achieve in the NFL, but merely wish to share what I saw and provide a few game clips (especially of Njoku blocking) that you wouldn’t otherwise see just by watching highlight reels.

NCAA Football: Duke at Miami
David Njoku exploits the seam against Duke on Nov 26, 2016
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Against Notre Dame, Njoku played in 52 of 77 offensive snaps (68%). Of the 52 snaps that Njoku played, he was used as a blocker 17 times and ran a route 35 times. When Njoku’s assignment was to block, the play was a run 14 times, and he blocked for a pass play just 3 times. In reverse, there were a couple of snaps that were run plays where Njoku ran a route. It is probable that some of the plays were RPO’s - I did not make a deeper attempt to assess what decisions the quarterback (Brad Kaaya) was making in this regard as I only wanted to look at what actually happened on the play (run or pass).

While his routes were generally what you would expect from a tight end (almost all were hitch/curl routes, seam routes, sail, or drag/dig routes), Njoku did put moves on a couple of times and deceive defenders by starting with what seemed like a curl route, hesitating there, and quickly pivoting out to move deeper. Not quite a conventional ‘double move’ but a hesitation, pivot and go. We will see on the film cut-ups below that both instances of this approach netted Njoku catches which were key plays for the Hurricanes.

With that summary out of the way, let’s have a look at some clips from the actual game!

Offensive Snap #10

Njoku (#86) seals the edge by double teaming an OLB/EDGE defender along with the left tackle. This play helps spring Hurricanes’ running back Mark Watson for a first down.

Offensive Snap #13

Njoku is assigned to push the defensive end inwards, in concert with the Hurricanes’ center. He appears to execute his assignment, but the play is blown up regardless.

Offensive Snap #20

Njoku is blocking on the weak side in an obvious running situation. He handles a DB but may have grabbed a little bit of jersey at the end of the play. He was not penalized.

Offensive Snap #21

Njoku is on the strong side this time and blocks a linebacker (#20). He engages initially but the linebacker came off the block and Njoku grabbed his jersey toward the end of the play. This didn’t result in a penalty but I wouldn’t want to see him grabbing like this in the NFL too often.

Offensive Snap #22

Njoku lines up in the slot on the weak side. He runs what initially looks like a hitch route, but he quickly pivots out of that and proceeds to head to the end zone to catch a fade from Kaaya. Touchdown for the Hurricanes here and a nice play by Njoku to beat his man (who knows he is beat and actually got called for a holding penalty there).

Offensive Snap #27

Njoku is blocking on the strong side for a running play in ISO formation. Njoku appears to hesitate on his assignment and does not pick up defensive back (#35), who gets past him as he lunges. Fortunately, his fellow tight end, Christopher Herndon IV, is lined up as a fullback and picks up the defensive back.

Offensive Snap #29

Njoku lines up again in the slot and hesitates momentarily as if he is running a curl route, before going up the seam. Kaaya delivers the ball right to him in between the zone defense for a 22 yard gain. Watch to the end for the slow motion replay by the broadcast crew.

Offensive Snap #45

Njoku is on the strong side and takes on a defensive lineman (#55) one on one. He holds his own on this block and the Hurricanes take the ball straight in for a touchdown.

Offensive Snap #68

Njoku is again on the strong side. He is beaten immediately off the edge by a Notre Dame defensive lineman (#90). This would have been trouble if it were a pass play.

Njoku ended up playing the last 18 snaps in a row as Miami tried to win this game until time expired. The ‘Canes ultimately succumbed to DeShone Kizer and company, 30-27. While it's not appropriate to draw definitive conclusions based on a single game, I feel that generally what I saw from him as a blocker is promising in terms of functional strength and willingness to engage, but that he clearly needs to improve in this area going forward.

I hope it was enjoyable to have a look into some plays by Njoku not otherwise readily available. If you got to the end of this without your device crashing, that’s good news. Let me know in the comments if you think I missed anything notable within these clips, or if you have any thoughts or requests for future film reviews.