Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Defensive End Julian Okwara Pegged As First-Round NFL Draft Pick In PFF Mock
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Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara Pegged As First-Round Pick In PFF Mock Draft

This time last year, Julian Okwara was viewed as Notre Dame’s best prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft, even as the 2019 draft festivities had not yet wrapped up. He was a consistent disruptor on a College Football Playoff team, leading Notre Dame 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks.

That was before the emergence of Cole Kmet and Chase Claypool in 2019. And more importantly, before a broken left fibula suffered in a win over Duke Nov. 9 that prevented him from working out at the NFL Combine in February. A first-round possibility now appears to be more of a day two option, most mock drafts agree.

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Notre Dam defensive end Julian Okwara during a game
Okwara was pegged as a first-rounder in one mock draft. (Bill Panzica)

The round one idea is not squashed, though. Not according to Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palozzolo, who released an updated mock Tuesday that has Okwara as the No. 28 overall pick, going to the Baltimore Ravens.

“Even with the Ravens franchising Matt Judon, Okwara is a fantastic fit for their defense,” Palozzolo wrote. “They have the most versatile defense in the league, and Okwara is an edge rusher with coverage-dropping athleticism.

“The Ravens can continue their ‘positionless football’ approach on defense with Okwara, who had an excellent 90.4 pass-rush grade a year ago to go with the movement skills to play off-ball linebacker if needed. The Ravens will use that skill set to keep opposing offenses off balance.”

Okwara is seen as a second-round or early third-round pick by most draft analysts. But PFF’s big board supports Palozzo’s projection, ranking Okwara as the No. 23 overall player in the draft and the only Notre Dame player in the top 25. Okwara had seven tackles for loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles before his injury.

Okwara only did interviews, measurements and the bench press at the combine. He planned to work out in full at Notre Dame’s April 1 Pro Day, but that was canceled due to coronavirus concerns. He did 27 reps on the bench and measured at 6-foot-4 and 252 pounds.

Last spring, Okwara ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and was confident he could top it if given the chance.

“I know I’m faster than that,” he said at the combine. “I definitely want to show that. That’s a time that a lot of guys are expecting out of me.”

Kmet and Claypool have been mocked in the first round, the former by NFL.com’s Chad Reuter and the latter by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. The overall thought is that they are likely second-rounders like Okwara.

The draft will go as scheduled on April 23-25, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told teams last week.

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