The Cleveland Browns had an issue on the defensive line last year. As a Browns fan, we all know this.
Going into the free agent market, GM Andrew Berry had “DL” scribbled in large bold letters on his tablet as the free agency period began. This aspect must be fixed.
DT Dalvin Tomlinson was inked to a deal. But one new guy is not going to get it done. So, Berry signed EDGE rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (6’-2”, 253 pounds) from the Houston Texans.
Houston was home for Okoronkwo plus the Texans believed they were one piece away defensively. He began slow but came on strong. Beginning in Week 7, his pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) was 88.5, good enough for sixth in their standings. He also had high marks getting pressure on the quarterback with a rating of 17.5, eighth best.
And after one season in Houston, here he is in Cleveland. The reason is a vacancy along the defensive front opposite Myles Garrett on the edge. Last year, the Browns drafted Isaiah Thomas as well as Alex Wright who gathered the most snaps of the two. Chase Winovich is gone, and so is Jadeveon Clowney. So the position is up for grabs.
DC Jim Schwartz needs options – lots of them. He knows what Garrett is capable of, and now it is his job to find the other outside dominator that is the hallmark of his defensive teams. It is very possible the Browns will select another defensive end in the April NFL draft.
The Browns were able to sign one of their new starting defensive tackles in Tomlinson, and an above-average pass rusher who should excel playing opposite of Garrett in Schwartz’s new defense.
First off, you may wonder why Cleveland would invest in an undersized defensive end. Are they expecting him to gain 30 pounds? How can a guy who resembles more of a basketball player take the punishment doled out by much bigger offensive tackles?
The answer to those questions is answered in two words: Jim Schwartz. You can bet the Browns’ new DC is all over the signings of both Tomlinson and Okoronkwo. They were targeted by Schwartz. What Cleveland had last year along the defensive front just didn’t cut it. These two dudes were the very first signed when free agency began for Cleveland.
That is not a coincidence - no sir.
First off the table, let’s get this pronunciation out of the way. His name is Nigerian by the way which is his heritage. Ogbonnia is o-BO-ny-uh, whereas Okoronkwo comes out as o-kor-RON-kwo. They call him Ogbo. We will as well. The Browns currently have a few abbreviated players: DPJ, JOK, and now add OGBO.
There are numerous Nigerian descendants dotted among NFL rosters today. In the past, several have been named to the Pro Bowl including DE Osi Umenyiora, DE Adewale Ogunleye, plus the “Nigerian Nightmare” Christian Okoye. Many own Super Bowl rings including OT Tony Ugoh, OT Prince Tega Wanogho, LB Troy Pelshak, WR Nelson Agholor, OT Mohammed Elewonibi, S James Ihedigbo, CB Chidi Iwuoma, DE Ufomba Kamalu, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, and Umenyiora. CB Kenny Okoro was an Arena Football League champion.
Ogbo was born in Florida but grew up in Houston, Texas. There he went to Alief Taylor High School. Ogbo had aspirations of being a writer. He even had his own blog. The athlete portion came about when Brian Randle, his health teacher and a football coach, suggested that he might excel at football.
Alief Taylor participated in the Texas Division 5A, Region 3. Ogbo played the weakside defensive end and was just 220 pounds. In his senior year, Rivals.com ranked him a three-star prospect and the 60th-best high school player in the state.
Ogbo (age 27) had scholarship offers from Colorado State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Purdue, San Diego State, Texas Tech, SMU, Oklahoma State, Utah, Wake Forest, Washington State, and West Virginia. Despite being able to go on five official visits, he only went to one: the University of Oklahoma. He committed to them on December 13, 2012.
OU's Ogbonnia Okoronkwo was a menace to opposing QBs last season. pic.twitter.com/I3TOy63zUw— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 25, 2017
Ogbo played in only nine games in his first two seasons and tallied just eight tackles with three sacks. In his junior year, he busted out to the tune of 71 tackles, nine sacks, three batted passes, 12 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles as he started all 12 games.
His senior year was even better as the starter in 14 games. 75 tackles, eight sacks, two batted passes, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and 17 tackles for loss. For his efforts, he was named First Team All-American, First Team All-Big 12 plus the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Ogbo made 164 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, and five forced fumbles in his five seasons at Oklahoma. His efforts garnered him a Reese’s Senior Bowl invite.
From Florida to Houston to LA to Houston
At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.77 in the 40, had a vertical jump of 38 inches, and 10’-1” in the broad jump.
He was taken in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams drafted LB Micah Kiser with their first pick in the fifth round and then moved up in the same round in a trade with the Denver Broncos in order to select Okoronkwo. He was projected much higher than in the fifth round. After all, he was an All-American and named the Defensive Player of the Year in one of the Power 5 Conferences. Well, he shared that honor.
After the draft process was completed, he was on the list of what many had labeled as one of the “steals” of the draft.
Being drafted was the good news. Beginning his first NFL season on the PUP list was not.
While a number of Rams rookies had impressed in training camp including two other defensive ends, Ogbo was sidelined all summer due to foot surgery he had back in May which placed him on the PUP list. When he would come off that list and begin to practice was still up in the air when the season was about to begin. If Ogbo wasn’t going to become active in Week 1, that would force him to miss at least six weeks on IR. That is six weeks plus all of the training camp that the athlete - the rookie - would not have in order to become fully evaluated as to what exactly his talents were.
Rams head coach Sean McVay did address the media concerning Ogbo’s situation and whether he would be ready to go for Week 1 as told to Rams Wire:
“I think right now, probably not. But nothing is finalized with that yet. He’s working hard with that rehab. The way that the foot responded hasn’t been ideal. It doesn’t have anything to do with the way that he’s worked and is not anything that he can control.”
Rams rookie linebacker Obo Okoronkwo has foot surgery, McVay said, and is expected to return sometime during training camp, but perhaps not at the start.— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) May 21, 2018
The big disappointment for the Rams was here they had a rookie who they felt needed some development but anticipated was going to bolster their pass rush going forward. Then, not only was he not going to be available for the first six games, but he had zero practice sessions. To be developed, you must suit up. Watching practices and going to meetings versus being involved in practices are certainly two different animals.
There was a place for Okoronkwo available on the starting defensive line rotation as EDGE rushers Robert Quinn and Conner Barwin had left the roster after the season before so the competition was there to replace them.
The question remained: what type of role would Ogbo have once he was completely healthy? How much of his rookie year was going to be wasted? Could some development be salvaged?
He was activated off PUP on November 5, 2018, one day after a 45-35 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 9. Before that contest, the Rams were 8-0-0.
For his rookie year, he played sparingly in 10 games and was a spectator in the 13-3 Super Bowl LIII loss to the New England Patriots. He was inactive for the whole postseason.
In 2019, Los Angeles went 9-7-0 and did not make the playoffs. Ogbo played in just 10 games and was inactive in others as he found just seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.
In a Week 5 win over Washington the following season, Ogbo suffered an elbow injury and was placed on IR. McVay stated in a post-game press conference that he expected Ogbo to miss 4-6 weeks. With four games remaining on the schedule, he was activated off IR. Another season of minimal production with 12 tackles and a single sack. 2021 was the same story with 13 games played, 15 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and six QB hits. But this time a Super Bowl win.
Ogbo played 23 snaps (10 defensive snaps/13 special teams) in the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI win and tallied one tackle.
In four seasons with LA, Ogbo had a grand total of 34 tackles, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, three batted passes, five tackles for loss, 13 QB hits, and one championship ring.
Not exactly what to write home about.
Ogbo had struggled to remain healthy for an entire season He played in just 33 games and showed flashes of being a capable starter. In the end, he was simply a situational pass rusher and was never considered an every-down player. He also became known as an athlete that couldn’t be depended upon to suit up for games.
However, when he did play, he was effective as a pass rusher who could place good pressure in the offensive backfield. Ogbo possesses an excellent spin move with power and a great first step. Plus, he is an excellent tackler having missed just three tackles all four years with Los Angeles.
But when his rookie deal was played out, the Rams allowed him to test the free agency market. Ogbo then went home to play for his hometown Texans.
When the Texans signed Ogbo away from the Rams, not only was the talented defensive end coming home, but the Houston brass really thought he was the last piece needed for their defense to become one of the league’s elite units.
Ogbo told Houston Magazine:
“Every athlete wants to come back home and win a championship. Winning a championship in your home city is literally the dream.”
While back in Houston he set up a free kid’s football camp on the campus of his former high school.
The architect of this new Houston defense was head coach Lovie Smith. His Tampa 2 defense had been a success everywhere he had coached. Coming to Houston, Ogbo would get a chance to rush the passer off the edge as an every-down lineman. The thought process was that if the young man could remain healthy, perhaps he was untapped talent just waiting to explode.
After all, he was once the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, right? Ogbo could have a breakout season and then ink that longer-term contract in his hometown.
“We added him to our mix because he has excellent speed, he plays hard every down, and we’re always looking for defensive linemen that can rush the passer,” Texans head coach Lovie Smith told defendernetwork.com. “Everything I’ve seen from him, he’s exactly who we wanted and thought he would be. Local flavor ain’t all bad.”
That elite defense never happened, but not because of Ogbo. He had 44 total tackles, two batted passes, 11 QB hits, five sacks, six hurries, six knockdowns, and zero missed tackles in 2022 playing on a one-year deal.
The Texans did not sign him to an extension. In free agency, the Cincinnati Bengals had an interest in signing him as strictly a rotational player. The Texans wanted him to stay on another one-year deal despite a new head coach moving in.
What can the Browns expect out of Ogbo?
The bigger question is can he remain healthy two seasons in a row? Cleveland is counting on him because they inked him to a three-year $19 million contract.
The talent level is not questioned. His pass-rushing abilities remain high.
But get this: Ogbo has appeared in just 50 (of 82) games over five seasons with two clubs, and he has just eight NFL starts – all of which were with Houston last year. Is that not a concern?
Ogbo was quoted on clevelandbrowns.com:
“Really excited to join the Cleveland Browns. I am looking forward to adding to an already talented roster, while playing opposite of Myles Garrett, and to be coached by coach Schwartz in his system, where I’ve seen multiple players traditionally find success in it. I can’t wait to get it going and the goal is to bring a Super Bowl to the city of Cleveland.”
What Ogbo is seeking is a bigger role instead of a situational pass rusher. Why would the Browns sign him to a three-year deal if they thought he would only come in on three-and-long plays?
Another trait Ogbo brings is pure energy. When you watch him play, you can tell that he has a love for the game. He attacks the line of scrimmage. And when he is on the field he is a guy that you can rely on to give all he has on every play.
Being with Cleveland is an opportunity for Ogbo to show that he is not just a pass rusher. The Browns need run stuffers too, you know.
But can he become a starter? Or was he signed to be quality depth? It would seem that DE Alex Wright has the inside track to become the other starter opposite Garrett.
And then there is the frame situation. Ogbo is 6’-2” tall and a very lean 256 pounds. He will be going up against 300+ guys on every down. Some of these offensive tackles are ++ which means it is only more difficult to maneuver around.
However, the Browns seem to have a theme with their EDGE rushers. Although Thomas and Wright stand 6’-5”, each only weighs 266 and 267, respectively. Garrett is the perceived heavyweight in this group at 272 pounds.
The signing of Ogbo has gotten quite a few experts stating that the move to Cleveland is a positive for both the player and the organization. Last year his PFF grade was 75.1.
One thing is certain is that Schwartz’s defensive line schemes have been effective in allowing edge rushers to be aggressive and attack the quarterback.
Which is exactly what Ogbo is. And does.
When healthy, that is.