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2019 NFL Draft Profile: Running Back Devine Ozigbo

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After a breakout senior year will the Husker fan favorite be selected in the draft?

Gallery: Huskers Open Season with Win over Fresno St.

Devine Ozigbo was a decent running back during his first three seasons at Nebraska. Not flashy but a dependable hammer suited for a north-south style of running. He saw his workload increase each year as a Husker. He never showed a lot of wiggle or breath-taking lateral moves and we shall burn all of the film in which Danny Langsdorf repeatedly called stretch plays with Ozigbo toting the rock.

Here are his stats for 2015-17 (from Huskers.com). As his workload increased, his yards/carry decreased which is never a good thing. But I think we all know what a tremendous mess the offensive line was during the Riley years. One thing that doesn’t show up in the stats is pass protection. Ziggy was dependable in picking up blitzes and buying his quarterback time. Under Mike Riley, that was apparently a running back’s most important job.

Devine Ozigbo 2015-2017

Year ATT Yds Avg TD LG
Year ATT Yds Avg TD LG
2015 38 209 5.5 1 31
2016 97 412 4.2 5 42
2017 129 493 3.8 3 28

Entering his senior year, Ziggy’s longest run was 42 yards. He wasn’t noted for explosiveness or speed, but he protected the quarterback and could get the job done carrying the ball. He also showed some skills as a receiver (another reason why pro teams are giving him a close look).

Fast forward to 2018. New coaches. New offense. Greg Bell and Maurice Washington are the top backs on the depth chart. Frost’s fast and exciting offense has no need for a plodding north-south hammer nor was Adrian Martinez a statue that required a polished pass protector. Ziggy looked like he was destined to go the way of Imani Cross.

Or was he?

In fall camp prior to the 2018 season, it was easy to see that he was trimmer. He had added muscle mass in winter conditioning and then focused on losing the fat over the summer. He looked and played differently.

Still, Coach Frost wasn’t sure what he had with Ozigbo or where he fit. During the first three games, Ziggy toted the rock 29 times for 90 yards - a paltry 3.1 yards/carry. Any talk of an NFL career for the senior were met with sarcastic comments.

But, in the ultimate “keep your head down and keep working” story - one that people in Nebraska not only love but live everyday - Devine Ozigbo got his shot and was named the starter against Purdue. The Huskers were coming off an embarrassing performance vs Michigan. The losses were piling up. The undersized Maurice Washington was injured. Greg Bell was sliding down the depth chart and would leave the team a week later.

Coach Frost made it clear he wanted players who would do things the right way. Show up to meetings on time. Go to class. Pay attention to details. Love the game. He was desperately trying to push the right buttons to get the team to do the things they needed to right the ship. So, he gave the ball to the senior and turned him loose against the Boilermakers.

It was a Devine revelation as Ozigbo piled up 170 yards on 17 carries (10 ypc!!). He broke tackles and ran like a man possessed. Nebraska had its “guy” in the backfield. The losses continued to pile up, but after the rock-bottom showing at Michigan, the tide started to turn. The Huskers began to look like a football team and Devine Ozigbo became the face of that turnaround. He took hold of the starting job and quite literally “ran” with it.

The rest is Husker history. Despite not becoming the starter until the fourth game, Ziggy became the first Nebraska back to rush for 1000 yards since Ameer Abdullah last suited up in scarlet and cream. He was explosive. He juked. He outran defenders to the edge. Whispers of a chance at the NFL turned into statewide indignation when Ozigbo didn’t receive a combine invitation.

His 2018 stat line was impressive to say the least. Even more impressive? He piled up that yardage without fumbling the ball. Not. Once.

Devine Ozigbo 2018

Year ATT Yds Avg TD LG
Year ATT Yds Avg TD LG
2018 155 1082 7 12 66

Oh, and he contributed another 203 yards to the Husker offense receiving the ball (23 catches).

Others took note. His honors and awards (from his Huskers.com bio.

Tom Novak Award (2018)
Football Lifter of the Year (2018)
Third-Team All-Big Ten (2018, Media) »
Honorable-Mention All-Big Ten (2018, Coaches)
Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week (Nov. 12, 2018)
Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll (Fall 2016)

Pro Day Results

As mentioned previously, Ozigbo was snubbed and not invited to the combine. He did turn heads at Nebraska’s pro day.

Height: 5’11”
Weight: 233 lbs
40 yard dash: 4.54
Bench press: 19 reps
Vertical jump: 37 in
Broad jump: 10-4

Raise your hand if you thought Ziggy could run 4.5 in the 40.

Put it down, you did not.

That time would have been the 11th best at the combine among RBs (there were 28 running backs invited to the combine). The bench press reps would have tied for 15th at the combine. The vertical would have tied for fourth and broad jump tied for 6th. I didn’t do careful comparisons, but a quick scan shows that in the dash and jumps, it was mostly smaller backs that put up better numbers in their combine workouts than Ziggy did at pro day.

Between his breakout senior season, ability to take care of the ball, proven skills as a pass protector and receiver, Ozigbo is drawing a lot of interest at the next level.

From his NFL.com draft profile. He is graded as a backup or as having NFL special teams potential.

Strengths

  • Big back with bruising frame
  • Thick from hips to knees
  • Drives upfield with powerful strides and surprising burst
  • Passionate running style
  • Speed to the corner can invalidate pursuit angles
  • Had touchdown runs of 40, 60, and 66 yards in 2018
  • Hugs interior run lanes to avoid unnecessary traffic
  • Maintains his balance through aggressive cuts
  • Absorbs contact without being knocked off his feet
  • Low pad level carries him forward when finishing
  • Legitimate pass-catcher with ability to man the slot on empty sets
  • Effort to square and stay connected to blitzers in pass protection

Weaknesses

  • One-year wonder with chunks of production coming against lesser defenses
  • Had 41 carries for 170 yards and 0 TDs vs Michigan, Ohio St., Wisconsin and Iowa combined
  • Impatient profile as a runner
  • Will outpace pulling guards rather than setting up blocks
  • Excessive gather steps to make a downhill cut on wide flowing plays
  • Revs motor and struggles to tap brakes to make cuts on second level
  • Long strides make it tough to escape early traffic
  • Tape is filled with punishing collisions

Bottom line - NFL GMs love running backs with the size and skillset that Ozigbo possesses and who haven’t already carried the ball a gazillion times. Where his draft profile says “one year wonder” the NFL thinks “lots left in the tank”. He probably won’t hear his name called before Day Three of the draft, but I won’t be surprised if some team locks him up in the late rounds rather than taking their chances wooing him from the undrafted free agent pool.

So, your team just drafted him, what are they getting?

Devine Ozigbo became a Husker fan favorite during his breakout senior season as he epitomized “do things the right way and good things will happen”. He has experience and skills in two things that NFL coaches covet in a running back - pass protection and ability to contribute in the pass game.

He also has something else NFL GMs covet - a short injury history. His only significant injury in college was a lower back strain at the end of his sophomore year that dogged him into fall camp as a junior. Otherwise, he has displayed one of the greatest abilities a football player can have - availability. He had 419 career carries at Nebraska. That isn’t “low mileage” territory but it also isn’t going to place him in a category where a team would be concerned about him breaking down soon.

Ozigbo also displayed great ball security. As mentioned above, he didn’t fumble at all during his senior year. In his first three years as a Husker he fumbled four times with two of those lost as turnovers. He doesn’t have an extra gear when it comes to speed, but he displayed improved agility in his senior year to go along with his ability to punish defenders in between the tackles.

Whether his breakout senior year is an aberration or a sign of things to come is the big question for teams considering him. I tend to think that if he sticks with the strength and conditioning that remade him into the slimmer, more muscular runner of 2018, then we are likely to see more of that version of Devine than the 2015-17 one.