Divine intervention would have been welcome at the NFC Conference Championship Game last season, but the Saints will settle for Devine Ozigbo, RB, Nebraska.
The Saints rookie minicamp got underway on Friday, May 10. Fans are finally getting the chance to see some of the draftees and undrafted free agents that scouts and analysts have been reporting on since the draft concluded. One name that seems to be garnering more interest at the camp is former Nebraska running back Devine Ozigbo.
Being a student in the Big Ten and an avid follower of Big Ten football, I’ve seen Ozigbo in action plenty of times this season. His year started mundanely. But that all changed when he was finally given the chance to become the heart and soul of
Nebraska’s rushing attack in the fourth game of the season against the Purdue Boilermakers.
After that game, Ozigbo began the best year of his college career. He would rush for 1,082 yards and average 7.0 yards per carry. Ozigbo only seemed to progress more as he got more chances. He would catch the attention of the New Orleans Saints, along with other organizations.
Obviously, Sean Payton has a habit of making feature backs out of undrafted free agents such as Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, but what about Ozigbo made him stand out? His Pro Day at Nebraska was solid, coming in at 5-foot-11, 222-pounds, with a 4.65 40 and 37-inch vertical. But the eye test is the more important measuring stick with Ozigbo. Here’s what I saw while watching him play throughout his senior campaign.
Ozigbo is a low to the ground running back who is unafraid of contact. He rarely ever slows down prior to contact and it is rare to see him go backward after a collision. He is a downhill runner with enough lower body strength to push the pile. In Nebraska’s matchup against powerhouse Ohio State last season, Ozigbo’s only score came from a goal line burst where he powered through the defensive lineman and completely put the man on his back.
This is a trait that some see as a risk because of the possibility of being stopped behind the line. Ozigbo has definitely been guilty of this at times, but it has also led to some of his best runs. It’s rare that you find a back that can see a defensive scheme and wait for a play to develop. This can lead him to deviate from the set play, but can also lead to meaningful yards on broken plays.
In his breakout game against the Boilermakers, there were numerous instances where Ozigbo would hesitate behind his blockers until he recognized the hole, got skinny, and shifted gears to get to the next level. This trait is what makes Le’Veon Bell one of the best backs in the league, maybe it’s the secret for a fellow Big Ten back to be successful too.
It would be hard to find a back out of this class with better side steps and jump cuts than Ozigbo. He has demonstrated incredible lateral quickness and the ability to make defenders miss in open space. This is especially evident when he has reached the second level and is weaving his way in and out of secondary defenders.
He may not be the fastest back, but he knows how to manipulate his opponent’s momentum. It would be a challenge to find a play in his tape where he overextends himself. Not only is it entertaining to watch this array of moves, but it also makes Ozigbo extremely appealing on outside run plays.
Ozigbo’s hands are arguably his worst feature as an overall player. He alternates between extending and grabbing balls in contact and dropping routine catches. His route tree is also fairly limited but he has proven himself to be a reliable option within those restricted routes, especially the screen pass. One of the reasons that Pierre Thomas was such a success in New Orleans was the team’s ability to use him as a screen option. Ozigbo seems to be able to fit that bill almost perfectly.
While catching is something that can be worked on, his natural instinct to break into open space and create a passing option when the play dissolves is something that can’t be taught.
Playing on a losing squad can make it difficult to usher yourself into the national spotlight but that never deterred Ozigbo from giving his all in every game during his senior season. He doesn’t possess the breakaway or long distance speed to separate himself from the fastest corners and safeties in the game. However, he will never slow down until he is a few yards deep into the endzone. In his game against Minnesota, both of his touchdowns came from huge gains down the sideline where he outworked a speedy corner to get to the endzone. He was barely able to beat the defense to the spot but he was able to because of his non-stop motor.
When breaking down Ozigbo as a player, he has plenty of upside and demonstrates a willingness to listen to his coaches. He genuinely seems like a player that will do whatever it takes to get better. Combining that desire to learn and his unrelenting effort is a coach’s dream.
It will be an interesting battle to highlight throughout minicamps as he attempts to usurp Dwayne Washington from the third running back position on the roster. He shows all the signs of being a promising NFL backup in his rookie season.