Applying pressure on the quarterback is the best way to slow down today’s high-powered NFL offenses. If teams are looking for an EDGE defender who is an exciting and ascending talent in this year’s draft class, they should have their eyes on Notre Dame’s Adetokunbo Ogundeji.
Ogundeji played the best football of his collegiate career in 2020. He was voted a team captain by his peers and led the Fighting Irish defense in sacks with a career-best six QB takedowns.
Ogundeji most recently went to Mobile, Alabama, for this year’s Senior Bowl and was one of the most impressive EDGE rushers in attendance. It’s clear to see that this is a football player whose best days are still ahead of him.
Ogundeji spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his Senior Bowl experience, how he approaches his pass-rushing plan, and which NFL EDGE rushers he would love to sit down and talk shop with.
JM: You didn’t start playing football until your freshman year of high school. Tell me about that.
AO: I mean, I actually did play in the seventh or eighth grade. I played Pop Warner. I played offensive tackle and defensive tackle though. It wasn’t until high school that I started to actually play my current position. I started really getting into it during my freshman year of high school.
That’s when I fell in love with the game. Once you start playing with your high school buddies and you’re really competing against other people, that’s when I started to realize my true passion for the game. I fell in love with it.
JM: You got better every year at Notre Dame. You leave the program on a high note. You had a team-high six sacks in 2020; that was a career-high for you. How important was it for you to put it all together this past season?
AO: It felt great. Of course, you always want to do well statistically, but my true goal was to make it to the playoffs. That was my biggest accomplishment in 2020. We wanted to be one of the top teams in the nation, and we achieved that goal.
For myself personally, I believe that I showed a lot of progression. I tried to take a step forward every year and, like you said, I did that. I think it says a lot about me as a player. The plan is to continue to get better and better every year.
JM: You were voted a team captain for the first time in 2020. At Notre Dame, that honor is voted on by your peers so I know it’s really special. What did that mean to you?
AO: That was by far my biggest personal accomplishment. To be named a team captain by your peers, especially during these uncertain times with COVID-19 and everything, it sent a certain message and it meant a lot to me. The guys relied on me to be one of their leaders in difficult times. It showed how much my hard work and dedication paid off.
JM: I want to get into some X’s and O’s. What can you tell me about the scheme that Notre Dame ran on defense? What did your coaches ask of you within the structure of that defense?
AO: We ran a 4-3 defense. We kind of had these hybrid linebackers or a nickel. We were a four-down D-linemen defense. We were taught to set the edges and contain the outside. We tried to make sure that nothing got outside of us.
On third down pass-rushing situations, we mixed it up a lot. We did a lot of different things. We had so many different blitz packages. We had multiple schemes. It depended on our opponent that week. We tried to mix it up and confuse them.
JM: What’s your favorite part of playing the EDGE position?
AO: I think everybody’s favorite part is getting after the quarterback. That’s definitely my favorite part. It’s a position on defense that allows you to really make an impact on the performance of the opposing QB.
JM: What can you tell me about your pass rush arsenal?
AO: I really just started to understand what I can use based on what God gave me. I’ve been blessed with long arms and terrific length all across the board. I try to use the long-arm a lot. I might fake a long arm and use a swipe. I’ll do a long-arm push-pull a lot. Anything I can do to use my length to my advantage, I’m going to do it. That’s how I can beat up on offensive linemen.
JM: I was about to bring up your length. We saw it at the Senior Bowl during the weigh-in process. You have great measurements. I imagine you received a ton of great feedback on that.
AO: Definitely. Honestly, I was pretty surprised with my measurements (laughs). I don’t think I even realized how long my arms are. God blessed me with some long arms. I’ll take it. I’m happy with it (laughs).
JM: There’s no doubt about that. If you could pick the brain of any pass rusher in today’s NFL, who would you choose and why?
AO: I’m not the kind of guy that looks up to just one person. I don’t have one particular body type. I can take something from players with all kinds of different body types. Everybody is different in their own right. I’d have to name multiple people.
I look at Chandler Jones because he has such long arms as well. He does a great job of using his length as a pass rusher. I’ve watched a lot of Jason Pierre-Paul lately, especially during that crazy playoff run. He was really impressive in the playoffs. He has very long arms.
I look at a lot of guys that have length and use the same moves that I try to use. Those two guys definitely come to mind. I watch a lot of Cameron Jordan as well. He uses a lot of push-pulls and swim moves. I try to watch guys that have the same or similar attributes as me. I’m always looking to improve my game.
JM: I know you’ll take them where you can get them, but is there one QB in particular that you would love to sack at the next level?
AO: I’ll take anybody. I don’t think or worry about the big-name quarterbacks. Tom Brady is obviously the best player to ever do it. I wanna go against the best of the best. I’ve always looked up to Tom Brady. I grew up watching him so that’s an easy one. That would be pretty cool. That’s pretty much it though. I really don’t care. My first sack will be amazing no matter who it’s against (laughs).
JM: What was your experience like at the Senior Bowl?
AO: I had a great experience. First and foremost, it was a blessing just to get an invite. Thank you to Jim Nagy and his staff; I appreciated them so much for the opportunity. They gave me a chance to go out there and compete.
With the combine basically getting canceled, the Senior Bowl was such an important week for us. It was a great opportunity to meet the scouts in person. It was awesome to compete against the best seniors in the nation. It’s such a cool event. It was fun to get to know all of the players. I met some players that I’ve known since middle school, and I just met them out there for the first time in person. I enjoyed building those relationships.
JM: Who were some of your favorite offensive linemen to do battle against in practice?
AO: I’ll always praise the guys I went up against every single day in practice. Robert Hainsey and Aaron Banks came down to the Senior Bowl with me. They were two of the best offensive linemen in attendance.
I saw those guys every day at practice. They made me a better player. Practicing against somebody that knows your habits can be interesting because you’re also familiar with their habits and tendencies (laughs). It makes for a fun battle. They know my moves. They know what I bring to the table. That makes it very competitive. Going up against them at the Senior Bowl, it was fun for me.
I felt like every offensive lineman in attendance deserved to be there. They were all good players.
JM: What do you think is the overall impression you left on the NFL teams in Mobile?
AO: I just wanted to prove that I’m versatile. I can do a lot of different things on the football field. Even in college, I started a game at the three-technique position. I was able to do a lot of different things at Notre Dame.
I think a lot of people just see me as an EDGE player, but I rushed from the three-tech a lot. I wanted to go down to the Senior Bowl and show that I can play both inside and outside. You can move me around and play me in different spots. I think I showed that. I was proud of the versatility that I put on display at the Senior Bowl.
JM: We definitely saw that at the Senior Bowl. I know that you met with every team at the Senior Bowl in person. We’re now reaching the virtual part of the draft. Have you had any Zoom meetings so far? [Editor’s note: This interview was completed on February 18.]
AO: I haven’t had any Zoom meetings recently. I pretty much spoke with every team at the Senior Bowl like you said. I have a few more meetings coming up. The Saints recently reached out to me; we’re supposed to hop on Zoom for a meeting soon.
JM: Did any of your meetings at the Senior Bowl go particularly well?
AO: I felt like I had really good meetings with every single team. I know that sounds kinda cliche, but that’s really how I feel. I’m just being honest with you. I left every single meeting thinking that it went great. It’s tough for me to pick out a team or two. I didn’t feel that way. Everything went perfectly.
I was coached by the Dolphins’ staff. Obviously, I spent the most amount of time with them. It was cool to establish that relationship. But I thought I had great conversations with every team there.
JM: That’s great. I’ve really appreciated your time today, Adetokunbo. This has been great. I feel like this conversation has given the people some great insight into the mind of one of the best pass rushers in this year’s draft class. In closing, what kind of impact are you going to make at the next level?
AO: I feel like I can make a huge impact. I’ve always set goals for myself that go above and beyond. A lot of people say and think that I’m a developmental player, but I’ve played with a chip on my shoulder my entire life. I’ve always been called developmental or raw since my high school and college days. It won’t change now. I’m aware of that. But I’m ready to prove people wrong. I’m excited about whichever team decides to pick me up. They’re gonna get the best guy in the draft.
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