Aberdeen to Ann Arbor: David Ojabo’s NFL draft stock rises with breakout season at Michigan

They say good things come to those who wait. This certainly rings true for David Ojabo and the Michigan Wolverines coaching staff. The Nigerianborn, Scotlandraised defender has developed from a slender unknown prospect to one of the college football’s most feared pass rushers.

Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald commented on the 6‘5″, 250 pound edge defender’s rapid development.

“What you saw on tape was a guy with great ability. You could tell there was some untapped potential there. It kinda made sense a little bit once you realized his history. But his learning curve — I was telling somebody, I think he learns more football in a day than I did in like two years. He’s just a sponge, soaks it all up. He’s doing a great job. Fun to coach.”

The formerly unknown backup has taken the college football world by storm this season. Exploding on the Big Ten’s brightest stage, Ojabo has made the most of his first season in the starting lineup.

This year the quick-twitch defender has been one of the best pass rushers in the country putting up a conference-leading 10 sacks. Adding to the impressive sack total, he’s notched 27 tackles and swung the momentum of the games forcing a school-record five fumbles. Even in the midst of a breakout season, Ojabo remains humble when commenting on his success.

“My coaches put me in the best position possible. I just go out there and execute. It’s all trust. Sometimes you can be hesitant, but you just can’t do it, man. You just got to trust whatever coach put in front of you is going to work, that play. Most times it does. That’s all it is.”

Photo: Michigan Football Twitter

No longer hidden under the radar the former Scottish track-star is being touted as a potential first-round draft pick in next year’s NFL draft. Draft analyst Mel Kiper recently ranked Ojabo as his 10th most impressive prospect. Kiper on the junior’s surprise season:

“Ojabo has been one of the most impressive newcomers in the country this season,” Kiper wrote. “He has flashed advanced pass-rush moves — check out this spin on the right tackle for a strip-sack against Indiana — and his athletic traits pop on tape. While Ojabo needs to work on his all-around game, there’s a lot to like. He’s still young; he could develop into an elite edge rusher.”

Born in Nigeria, Ojabo and his family moved to Aberdeen, Scotland in 2007. While growing up on the northeastern coast, Ojabo always stood out athletically, dominating his peers in soccer, basketball, and track and field. Ojabo ran a 10.8 100- meter dash while snagging rebounds over taller players on the hardwood. It didn’t take long for friends and family to see that the slim teenager was ripe with untapped athletic potential.

“I felt like my athleticism is just a whole level above everyone else. So my coach and I discussed our options and I found a school in New Jersey, Blair academy. That’s when sports really ramped up and I found football.”

David Ojabo at Blair Academy Photo: Brian Dohn 247sports

After coming to the US, Ojabo joined the football team as a junior, strapping up the pads for the very first time. Unsurprisingly college scouts noticed his quick first step and long arms. Ojabo ended up amassing over 30 scholarship offers as college coaches were intrigued by his big upside.

When Ojabo arrived at Michigan he joined a crowded linebacker room as many top prospects and future NFL draft picks had their starting spots locked down. After spending most of 2019 and 2020 playing special teams or on the sideline, Ojabo big junior year feels earned:

“I paid my dues. There were people like Josh Uche and Kwity [Paye], look at them right now, both making an impact in the league. I’d be a fool to come in thinking I’d play over them or split time with them. They’re first and second rounders. I just knew when my time comes to just take advantage of that.”

In only his fifth season of organized American football, Ojabo is poised to be a first-team all-Big Ten selection this postseason. As his massive potential intersects with big-time production, NFL scouts are sure to be calling Ojabo’s name this spring, sooner rather than later.

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football