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Cowboys DC Dan Quinn will try to turn Osa Odighizuwa into the next Grady Jarrett

The sky is the limit for the Cowboys’ newest defensive tackle.

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Stanford Cardinal defeated the UCLA Bruins 48-47 in overtime during a NCAA Football game at the Rose Bow. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Take a trip with me down memory lane for a moment. Back in 2015 around this time, Dan Quinn was getting ready for the start of OTA’s in his first offseason as a head coach with the Atlanta Falcons. He inherited a team whose defense, coincidentally coordinated by Mike Nolan, had finished second to last in the NFL in defensive DVOA and 28th in both run and pass defense DVOA.

Not surprisingly, the first draft class under Quinn’s regime targeted defense early on. They took edge rusher Vic Beasley in the first round and cornerback Jalen Collins in the second round. They dipped into the defensive well again with their fifth-round pick, which netted them a defensive tackle by the name of Grady Jarrett out of Clemson.

The book on Jarrett at the time was pretty straightforward. He had just 5.5 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss through three years at Clemson. Jarrett was considered to be a very strong and athletic player who fell in the draft due to a mix of production issues, being undersized for the position, and a perceived inability to hold up over a full course of a game.

Jarrett started off modestly in his rookie season, mostly playing a rotational role but earning more and more opportunities as the year progressed. He finished with 24 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack. Jarrett became a full-time starter the next year and emerged as one of the better all-around interior defensive linemen in the NFL, routinely stuffing runs and creating pressure up the middle.

Flash forward to present day, and Jarrett is one of the very best at his position, locked in heated competition for the title of best interior defensive lineman not named Aaron Donald. Prior to the 2020 season, Pro Football Focus ranked him fourth in the NFL among his peers. He responded by putting up a career high in pressures (57), but Pro Football Focus still ranked him fourth among all interior defensive linemen heading into 2021.

Either way, Jarrett has become a dominant force in the league and has certainly provided an immense return on investment for a fifth-round pick many considered to have too many flaws to draft earlier.

Now that Dan Quinn is once again taking over a porous defense from Mike Nolan, he may have just found a dead ringer for Jarrett in the form of UCLA’s own Osa Odighizuwa. Selected in the third round at 75th overall, Odighizuwa enters the league with slightly higher expectations than Jarrett did. Yet the similarities between their bodies of work are striking.

Like Jarrett, Odighizuwa wasn’t much of a stat-sheet-stuffer for the Bruins, with the four sacks in his senior season marking a career high. Yet those who watched UCLA closely knew who he was, and even took the time to learn how to pronounce his last name (Oh-DIGGY-zoo-wah).

Listed at 6’2” and 280 pounds, Odighizuwa was considered undersized for a spot along the interior of the defensive line, and some wondered early in the draft process if he might be a better prospect on the edge. But Odighizuwa’s head-turning performance at the Senior Bowl put those concerns to bed, as he showed what made him so impactful at UCLA. He’s got long arms and good strength, and understands how to maintain leverage both as a rusher and run stopper.

Bob Sturm of The Athletic recently did a great film breakdown on Odighizuwa’s time playing for the Bruins, and at the end he chalked up these main takeaways:

• He can play anywhere up and down the line and most resembles a young Tyrone Crawford in his utility.

• He stands his ground very well. You won’t push him back with one guy and even with two, he will fight.

• He has very few pass-rush moves for now but rather uses straight get-off leverage and power. Will that translate up a level?

• Jacks players back with his long arms and frequently causes disruption.

• Plays hard but tires. I think 65 snaps a game at UCLA was too much. Play him less for more energy throughout a game at his size.

• Intelligent player who seems like the type to invest in with his excellent durability.

Much like Jarrett, Odighizuwa’s ability to play for a full game with starter-level snaps is in question. But Quinn has already said he envisions Odighizuwa playing at the 3-technique role on nickel downs, a similar rotational approach he took with Jarrett in his rookie year.

If Odighizuwa can use that experience in his rookie season to improve his stamina and grow as a pass rusher, his stout traits that he comes into the league with could set this third-round pick on a similar trajectory to Jarrett. Even if he doesn’t reach that lofty goal, Odighizuwa seems to be well on his way to filling a crucial need in this defense.