Every draft season, we see players who receive significant media attention, whether due to a particularly fast 40-yard dash time, or impressive measurables. On the other hand, every year, the NFL overlooks some players for one reason or another. NFL fans and prognosticators alike to look back and wonder why we all didn’t see the obvious talent in front of us.
One of the players we identified who could end up having a successful NFL career despite the lack of buzz around him is defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu from the University of Maryland. Okuayinonu is originally from Liberia. He grew up in Africa until age 12 before coming to the United States. He started his college career in JUCO before transferring to Maryland and playing three seasons for the Terrapins. Okuayinonu is most likely being overlooked from the media due to being undersized (6010, 269), and putting up underwhelming sack production in college.
Big Things in Small Packages
Despite his undersized stature, Okuayinonu has several NFL-caliber strengths. One thing that scouts should be paying attention to is the type of athlete Okuayinonu is. He is an excellent athlete for his position with a combination of impressive explosiveness, play strength, and speed.
Maryland Head Coach Mike Locksley called Okuayinonu “one of the most explosive players in the country.” He also revealed that Okuayinonu is a freak in the weight room who can squat 600 pounds.
Okuayinonu tested extremely well at Maryland’s Pro Day this year. That workout helped display his athleticism and opened the eyes of scouts around the league. He ran a 4.77 40-yard dash, put up 31 reps on the bench press, jumped 35 ½ inches, and had a broad jump of 10-foot-3. Those numbers all would have ranked first among all defensive tackles at this year’s NFL Combine. He also ran a respectable 7.48 3 cone drill, and measured in with 33 ½ arms. His pro day performance was one of the best in the country. That should be no surprise to anyone who watched him at Maryland.
40: 4.75 (1st 🚨🚨)
Bench: 31 reps (1st 🔥)
VJ: 35.5” (1st 🤯)
Broad: 10-3 (Tied 1st🔥)
*compared to DT’s at Combine
✅ 55 tackles/ 8.5 TFL’s/ 6 Sacks
— Mike Rittelmann (@MRittCGS) April 1, 2022
Okuayinonu, or “Sam O”—as many call him around Maryland football—was also one of the leaders on this year’s team. He is a high character guy who works extremely hard. That work ethic and leadership led to him being named captain for their week one game against West Virginia this past season.
The Sky is the Limit
One reason for optimism is that Okuayinonu is still very new to the game of football. The former soccer player is still maturing as a football player. He played football for the first time as a junior in high school and he has gotten better every year. University of Maryland defensive line coach, and now defensive coordinator, Brian Williams deserves a lot of credit for Okuayinonu’s improvement.
Tonight is @seniorbowl staff’s third live look at @TerpsFootball and DL #97 Sam Okuayinonu has played his way onto the radar with ability to disrupt behind LOS. @okuayinonu is an active & sudden player that uses hands & length well. Already has 4 sacks. #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/nNQf1hlcAc
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 2, 2021
Though his size is a bit of a concern and he is a little bit of a tweener, he spoke in a recent interview at his pro day about how he believes he offers versatility and has the ability to play DT, DE, and even OLB.
Okuayinonu fits best as a 4-3 DT, who fits primarily as a situational pass rusher from the 3-technique position. His athletic ability, high motor, and ability to play with leverage offers upside. He may need some time to develop better instincts since he is still new to football. His character and work ethic suggests he is up for the challenge.
It should surprise no one to see Sam Okuayinonu selected on day three of the draft. From there, he has the tools to contribute at the next level.