Not many defensive players have been as exciting as Joseph Ossai was during his three years with the Texas Longhorns. The outside linebacker stepped into a starting role towards the end of his freshman season and never looked back, earning first-team All-America honors from CBS, ESPN, and 247Sports to cap off his final season in Austin.
Ossai primarily switched between inside linebacker and outside linebacker under Todd Orlando in 2019 but Texas fans saw his talent maximized after being moved to a full-time role on the edge. It took until Orlando was fired, but Ossai had a coming out party in the Longhorns Alamo Bowl victory over Utah under interim defensive coordinator Craig Naivar.
Naivar moved Ossai to the outside linebacker position where he would be heavily involved in the pass rush and Ossai delivered in his new role, earning Defensive MVP honors after recording nine tackles (six TFLs) and three sacks against the 11th-ranked Utes.
While Naivar didn’t return as defensive coordinator, Ossai stayed in a similar role under Chris Ash as a Jack linebacker, a hybrid position that allowed Ossai to line up as an edge rusher. Who knew it would be the perfect role for him?
Even though Ossai played four fewer games in his junior season than his sophomore season, he still set a career-high in sacks (5.5), tackles for loss (15.5), and forced fumbles (three).
NFL teams got a taste of his play-making ability with his dominating performance against No. 6 Oklahoma State, registering career highs with 12 tackles, six tackles for loss, and three sacks including the game-sealing sack on fourth down in overtime. Ossai became the first Power Five player to record at least 12 tackles, six tackles for los,s and three sacks in a game since Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh (12 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game against Texas.
What makes Ossai such an exciting prospect is his ability to make plays, but also his potential. He can rush the passer standing up in the 3-4 or with his hands in the dirt in an even. Ossai can use his long arms to his advantage (which he did in college against tight ends) and is violent when tackling (just ask Spencer Sanders).
Ossai also tested well at the Texas Pro Day in March, running a 4.63 40-yard dash and posting a 41.5-inch vertical leap at 6’3.5 and 256 pounds.
He did show a weakness getting off blocks quickly and might struggle against bigger offensive lineman in the NFL, especially in the run game. Ossai makes up for it with strong hands which allows him to get into the backfield and the reason why he was able to record 15 TFLs this past season.
One thing you can’t teach is energy and Ossai has shown his high motor countless times at Texas. An AFC scout said that coaches will “tell you in the building that [Ossai] is just as non-stop in practice as he is in the game. There is no front there. He loves to ball and he’s getting better quickly.”
However, sometimes Ossai’s motor and his instinct for ball searching can be a negative and take him out of the play altogether. That’s something that will get better over time and Ossai has shown that he is very teachable; another positive that NFL teams will love.
The biggest knock against Ossai is his pass coverage. Scouts have criticized his ability to defend in either man or zone, but if he can find the right scheme in the pros it can be masked. Either way, he’ll need to improve when asked to drop back in coverage.
Overall, Ossai’s positives outweigh his negatives and ultimately will be the reason why he’ll be one of the first linebackers off the board. It doesn’t matter if it’s a passing situation or a run situation, Ossai will give it 100 percent either way and knows how to make plays. Whether it was his interception against LSU or his game-sealing sack against Oklahoma State, Ossai has an uncanny ability to make game-changing plays.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Ossai going in the late second round in his newest mock draft while others still have him going in the first. Either way, Ossai will end up being a steal no matter drafts him.
Texas hasn’t had a linebacker drafted as high as the second round since Sergio Kindle in 2010.