By Chris Schisler
When the Baltimore Ravens drafted Rashod Bateman with the 27th pick, it felt for many Ravens fans like a monumental moment. When the Ravens drafted Odafe Oweh, it was more of a moment of cautious optimism. Oweh is a pick that grew on fans and pundits over the offseason and was always a boom or bust kind of a pick.
One preseason game in and Oweh’s athleticism and competence against the run stands out as one of the top two or three things to be excited about at Baltimore Ravens training camp. Officially, Oweh walked away with just one tackle, though he showed a ton of positives against the New Orleans Saints.
Oweh’s athleticism makes him a very versatile player. This versatility was even used on special teams. Oweh was used as a gunner on the punt team, a role typically reserved for wide receivers and defensive backs. Does this seem like something Oweh will do a lot? No. The idea though that a 6-5 outside linebacker would even be asked to do that is an eye-opener.
It almost reminds me of Adalius Thomas, a legendary outside linebacker from the Ravens’ past. Thomas had a different build, but he was the kind of outside linebacker who the Ravens would be able to put just about anywhere on their defensive front. For first impressions of a Baltimore first-round pick, being compared to Thomas is about as good as it gets. Other pundits have drawn the comparison as well including WNST’s Luke Jones.
Realistic expectations with obvious excitement:
Oweh almost had a sack in the game against the Saints. Brandon Stephens (another rookie to be excited about) ended up with the sack, Oweh made it happen with his pressure. Oweh is fast. He’s almost got defensive back speed. Oweh’s upside was always built on his traits. If nothing else, those traits have been showing early in his Baltimore Ravens career.
It’s important to temper Oweh’s expectations for the time being. He still has to learn how to rush the passer in the NFL. His pass-rushing repertoire will improve. The good news is that he’ll be able to stay on the field for a high snap count because he’s not a liability against the run. Unlike Yannick Ngakoue, who didn’t do much for run defense, Oweh’s fundamentally sound and effective at that part of the job.
There will be tackles that Oweh can’t get past. He has to learn to convert that speed into power. Oweh has to learn to play against tackles who are used to getting in front of edge rushers every bit as athletic as he is.
That’s why Oweh’s production as a pass rusher is likely to come in spurts rather than be a consistent push upward. There will be games where he outmatches the offensive tackle trying to block him. There will also be games where he runs into a pro’s pro and speed and reach aren’t enough on their own. With the understanding that Oweh isn’t a fully developed player, the buzz about his future is completely merited.
Baltimore Ravens bottom line:
The long-term plan at outside linebacker is at the very least set in motion. Oweh hopefully grows into the Terrell Suggs role, while Daelin Hayes becomes the next Jarett Johnson. Tyus Bowser becomes the versatile Matt Judon-like player. For several years the outside linebacker position could be incredibly fruitful for the Baltimore Ravens while being relatively inexpensive because of drafted and then homegrown talent.
At the moment, Justin Houston brings legitimacy to the position group. He’s the leader and he should generate the most pass rush in the 2021 season. We’ll see impressive bursts from Oweh as a rookie, and the signs that a magical career could be possible.
Oweh could be an incredible player for the Ravens. His performance in training camp and in the first preseason game has me thinking he’s on the right track. When the Ravens take on the Carolina Panthers in the second preseason game, it will be interesting to see what Oweh does.