The Ravens drafted Michigan’s David Ojabo with the No. 45 overall pick Friday night, reuniting first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald with one of the NFL draft’s most talented pass rushers.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Ojabo was expected to be a mid-first-round pick before he tore his Achilles tendon at Michigan’s pro day in mid-March, an injury that’s expected to delay his NFL debut. Instead, the All-American fell to Baltimore in the middle of the second round. When his name was called Friday, he reared back at his draft party and screamed in delight.
“It means a lot,” Ojabo said in a conference call Friday night. “That’s what I was working toward before the unfortunate injury. And to have my family and friends right beside me, man, it’s all part of the story. It’s like a dream.”
In Baltimore, he will have a familiar support system. At Michigan, he played for coach Jim Harbaugh, the brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh. His coordinator last season was Macdonald, whose one-year turnaround of the Wolverines’ defense led him back to Baltimore after just a year. His “guru” was Ryan Osborn, an analyst with the Wolverines whom Harbaugh hired as a defensive assistant this offseason.
After not playing as a freshman and getting only reserve duty in 2020, Ojabo teamed last year with eventual No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson to form one of the country’s best pass-rushing tandems. He finished with 11 sacks and five forced fumbles, along with seven quarterback hits and 26 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. While Ojabo has elite pass-rushing potential, especially as a speed rusher, he has room for growth as a run defender.
“He really came on this year with tremendous pass-rushing ability: speed, quickness, all the things you want to see,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said Friday night. “We knew the type of kid he was, and for us, at this point, to get him in the second round was actually great. We were very excited to take him.”
He hasn’t played the sport for long. Born in Nigeria, Ojabo moved to Scotland with his family in 2007. A search for an American boarding school led him at age 15 to New Jersey’s Blair Academy, where he befriended Odafe Oweh, who blossomed at Penn State before becoming a first-round pick of the Ravens last season. Ojabo, a converted basketball player like Oweh, didn’t show interest in football until the summer before his junior year. Before long, he had Division I scholarship offers.
“It’s all scripted, all part of the plan,” Ojabo said. “I can’t wait, man, to work with [Oweh], Coach Mac, even Coach Osborn. He’s the one that really trained me up this last season. So I can’t really wait to get going.”
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After a deal for outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith fell through in the first wave of free agency, the Ravens made pass rush a priority entering the draft. They finished 28th in sack rate and 24th in pressure rate last season, according to Pro Football Reference. Starting outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, like Ojabo, is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Oweh is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery. There’s little proven depth behind them, and the interior pass rush remains a work in progress.
Ojabo’s timetable for a recovery is still unclear. He was injured during a pass-rushing drill at Michigan’s pro day last month, went down clutching his left leg and had to be helped off the field. He said Friday that he’s just “doing as I’m told,” and he expressed hope that he could return to the field this year. DeCosta said the Ravens were optimistic as well.
“It’s a bump in the road, man,” Ojabo said. “My first-ever injury. It’s just another obstacle I’m going to conquer, you know?”
At the Ravens’ predraft news conference earlier this month, DeCosta lamented Ojabo’s injury as he discussed the draft’s edge rusher class. But he remained optimistic that Ojabo could help someone, saying, “He should be back, and he should be ready to go. He’s a tremendous talent.”
When the Ravens’ pick approached in the second round, he walked over to Macdonald in the team’s draft war room. They exchanged looks. “What do you think?” DeCosta recalled asking Macdonald. “And he just got a big smile. He didn’t really say anything. He just got a big smile, and he gave me a fist pump.”
With that, whatever doubts DeCosta might’ve had about Ojabo were eased. “That was one thing,” he said, “that gave me confidence that this was a really, really good thing to do.”