Post-Combine: Here's My Guy

Jim Wexell profiles the player he believes should be the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round draft pick.

So the Steelers are in the process of clearing about $10 million in cap space with three simple restructurings.

Will they use it to tag Jason Worilds?

Steelers fans should hope not.

I have a better solution: Re-sign James Harrison, move him over to the strong side, re-sign Arthur Moats to be Jarvis Jones' backup, and draft Owamagbe Odighizuwa (Oh-diggy-zoo-wah) in the first round and let him learn about NFL life behind Harrison.

Owa's perfect. In fact, he looks like another Harrison with all of that strength and the low pads and the ability to convert speed to power.

The Steelers just spent plenty of time at the combine interviewing players who are better strong-side outside linebackers than blind-side. Eli Harold was one. He met with "the whole organization" and at pick 22 seems like more of a natural first-round pick over Odighizuwa, who is a couple of years older, has a medical history, and carries a resume of tape that has him showing better power than agility and looking more like a 4-3 end. At least to some.

Some of the feedback from experts, though, suggests Odighizuwa can play 3-4 the way LaMarr Woodley once did.

Lance Zierlein gets paid for his analysis and here's what he wrote about the UCLA defender:

"Gets off ball with good pad level and has potential to convert speed to power. Hands are violent and active. Relentless and competitive. Never gives up on a pass rush. Expected to be a core special-teams talent. Can play 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker."

A coaching intern with the Steelers last year texted me this about Owa:

"Shows good burst and better bend than I thought he had. ... Prototype LOLB in the Steelers' scheme. ... Sets the edge vs. the run, violent punch, heavy hands, plays hard. I really like him. ... He's my first choice. He's already strong and physical enough to play with the big boys. Joey can develop him into a better pass rusher. He could play the run at LOLB from Day 1."

And one of our favorite analysts on the South Side message board wrote this:

"There are threads about this defense needing to get back to being asskickers. Guys that jump into gaps and slip by blocks are not asskickers. Why? Because when they cannot win with speed, they are usually done. Give me a guy that will lock horns and just whip your ass. Since Kikaha decided to not workout and Odighuzuwa did, and was stellar, he is the guy I would target. I would not be afraid to take him at No. 22. I think that guy has the physical traits (size, speed, explosion, power, change of direction) and the film (holds the point, sheds blocks, gets pressure) to vault up draft boards. Not sure why he is so underrated."

I've asked that same question since watching Odighizuwa play in October, when I asked his former teammate, Jordan Zumwalt, about him.

"He's the strongest guy I've ever played with or against," Zumwalt said.

I put Odighizuwa on my first Asskickers list, but succumbed to the prevailing opinion that he's only a run-stopper and left him off of my second one. That's what you call overthinking the situation.

I still don't believe the Steelers will take him, but Odighizuwa told me at the combine that he had a formal meeting scheduled with them. And that usually means a sit-down with Mike Tomlin. Surely a sit-down would've opened the coach's eyes to the fact this is not your typical UCLA graduate with a B.A. in philosophy.

Why philosophy?

"A lot of players who major in philosophy at UCLA go on to law school," Odighizuwa told the national media from the combine podium. "I don’t know if that’s what I want to do, but that’s in consideration for me."

Law school? Well, it would seem to make sense for a young man whose father has been in prison since Owa was 10 years old.

Back in 2002, a 43-year-old Nigerian immigrant named Peter Odighizuwa, frustrated about his academic record, walked into an office at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., located about 35 miles north of Heath Miller's hometown in western Virginia, and murdered the dean, a professor, a student, and wounded three others. He's in jail with no chance for parole.

Owa's mother moved the family of four boys -- Owa being the eldest -- to Portland, Oregon, and started over.

Owa, by all accounts, was a model child, student and now young man. He graduated high school with a 3.5 GPA, snd was a star football player, a Parade All-America with offers from all of the top schools on the West Coast. On the track team he was the rare athlete who ran sprints and put the shot.

At UCLA, Odighizuwa studied philosophy and told the Los Angeles Daily News he was steered in that direction by a New York businessman who "said when he looks at resumes for potential people to hire, more likely than not, he would not hire people who major in business or econ — the cliche degrees," Odighizuwa told the paper. “People can do business with any background. You don’t have to be a business major or econ major. He said he likes people who like to study different things -- be cultured and have a good background in life outside of just business.”

Odighizuwa graduated ahead of schedule while being named to the Dean's List seven times. He was named the football team's Academic Achievement Award winner as a junior.

On the football field, Odighizuwa started six games as a true freshman and played in all 28 games in his sophomore and junior seasons. In that junior season he played through pain in his right hip and the following spring had the rotator cuff in his hip operated on. But overcompensation caused problems in Odighizuwa's left hip and he underwent a second operation and had to sit out the 2013 season. He returned last season and made 55 tackles with six sacks (12.5 for his career) and was named second team All-PAC 12.

"He really got better week-to-week and played some of his best football the last three games of the year," UCLA line coach Angus McClure told the Los Angeles Times.

At the combine, Odighizuwa measured 6-3 1/2 at a chiseled and buffed 267 pounds. His official 40 time was 4.62, with 25 bench reps, a vertical jump of 39 inches, and a broad jump of 10-7. His agility times of 7.36 (3-cone) and 4.19 (short shuttle) were average, and probably expected, but he dropped into coverage with more ease perhaps than Woodley ever showed.

"Freaky dude," analyst Mike Mayock said after a series of seamless "zone turns" by Odighizuwa.

With a sparkling resume both on and off the field, the only tests Odighizuwa needed to pass were in the medical and psychological realm.

Of the former, Odighizuwa told reporters, "Everything was good to go. Obviously, they saw the surgery in my hips. I did an MRI earlier this week to make sure they saw what they needed to see, and they did. Everything checked out, range of motion is good. They were real impressed with everything, so it was good."

Do the hips bother him while dropping into coverage?

"No, so far it hasn’t affected me," he said. "Prior to the combine I've been working out at XO's in L.A., and I've been doing the linebacker drills. Haven’t had any impingement, haven't had any restrictions. My range of motion has been good and so I'm excited to showcase that on Sunday."

He did just that. And he also showcased a stable psychological profile (at least to us amateurs) for a young man who's been through so much. Odighizuwa was friendly, but not overly so, and certainly not needy. In fact, he was rock solid as he exhibited self-confidence without coming off as cocky.

Years ago, a Portland writer named Nathan Dinsdale described Odighizuwa in a way that rang so true as Odighizuwa stood in front of the combine media:

"Owa is demure but confident. Quiet, but not catatonic. Hours before a game he'll sit alone in the locker room listening to Lil' Wayne in silent meditation. Then he'll prowl the sideline before kickoff exhorting his teammates to "Get up!" and "Let's go!" He's mature but playful. Polite, but not passive."

This is the guy I want to see the Steelers draft. But my guess is they'll rank the younger Harold with his clean medical background ahead of Odighizuwa.

But in my opinion Odighizuwa is the perfect fit. Put him next to Harrison in the locker room, give them the keys to the weightroom, and let the mentorship begin.


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