Giants hoping for breakout season from third-year pass rusher

new york giants, azeez ojulari
Aug 21, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants linebacker Azeez Ojulari (51) warms up prior to the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have set high expectations for their defensive line heading into the 2023 season. The team’s defense will rely heavily on the prowess of its recently extended Dexter Lawrence, seasoned Leonard Williams, sophomore pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeau, and third-year defender Azeez Ojulari. The potential of this group seems unlimited.

Azeez Ojulari’s Unpredictable Journey With the Giants

The journey of Azeez Ojulari over the last two years has been a mixed bag. Last season saw him involved in just 252 plays after gaining 10 pounds of muscle to bolster his edge sealing in run defense and to diversify his pass-rushing techniques. Despite only six starting games, Ojulari managed to record 20 pressures, six sacks, and five tackles. The 23-year-old made nine appearances, but a recurring calf problem marred his campaign.

However, Ojulari’s pure pass-rushing abilities make him a vital asset on the roster. With him entering the training camp in optimal health, the Giants hope he can sustain his fitness level, allowing him to maximize his inherent skills.

It’s worth mentioning that Ojulari was involved in all 16 games of his 2021 season, clocking up 781 total snaps, double-digit sacks, and 42 pressures. Even his teammate Thibodeaux acknowledges Ojulari’s standout attributes and lauds his potential during a practice session on Tuesday.

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Thibodeaux’s Enthusiasm about Ojulari’s Prospects

Thibodeaux’s excitement about Ojulari’s potential is palpable.

“It’s going to be exciting,” said Thibodeaux this week at camp. “For him (Ojulari) on paper, you know how many sacks he had to how many plays he had, so just knowing that, I mean, if you can get him 17 games, who knows how many sacks you’ll get. Yeah, he’s definitely one of the most talented pass rushers I’ve ever played with. So yeah, I’m excited to really get it going.”

The front office likely envisioned such a youthful duo like Azeez and Kayvon when Joe Schoen stepped into the team’s general manager role. The combination of low cost and high potential is crucial for emerging teams, particularly given the recent hefty contract extensions for Daniel Jones, Dexter Lawrence, and Andrew Thomas.

Leonard Williams’ Endorsement of Ojulari

Leonard Williams, a veteran on the team, echoes Thibodeaux’s endorsement, suggesting that Ojulari possesses a natural flair for the game.

“I think he has a natural feel for the game and natural feel for pass rushing,” Leonard Williams added. “I think it’s smooth the way he pass rushes. It doesn’t seem like he has to try too hard. I think it’s great to have all four of us, and even the more additions that we added to the team, just healthy on the field when we’re called upon. We’re trying to create more bond between us all this year and work together.”

The Prospect of a Healthy Ojulari in 2023 for the Giants

There’s little doubt that a fully fit Ojulari could be a valuable contributor to the Giants’ upcoming season. Provided he has properly cared for his physique during the offseason and targeted his previously troublesome muscles, Ojulari could put his past injuries behind him. These injuries have appeared sporadic and random, indicating that they’re not chronic but perhaps just bad luck. The Giants will certainly hope for better fortunes for Ojulari in the 2023 season.