The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman has been releasing his yearly “Freak” list again this summer and Notre Dame has landed another defensive player in Feldman’s top 50 with Julian Okwara being ranked 10th overall in all of college football. He joins cornerback Troy Pride who was featured earlier on the countdown at #37.
For those unfamiliar with Feldman’s Freak List, he’s been doing this since the early 2000’s with his goal being to highlight players generating a buzz by displaying rare athletic ability for their respective positions. In previous years, Notre Dame hasn’t exactly been well represented. That’s been changing recently though.
Defensive end was a house of horrors for Notre Dame for years. The Irish couldn’t recruit elite players at the position and the production Notre Dame received from the position matched their recruiting futility. Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, and Daelin Hayes are changing that for Notre Dame. Even it’s second string defensive ends right now would have easily been starters in other years.
Back to Okwara though since he is the one Feldman highlighted. In his write up he offered up an interesting nugget that Okwara has been clocked at 21 mph by the Notre Dame staff. That’s fast. One might even say that it’s freskishly fast for a defensive end thus Okwara’s inclusion on Feldman’s list. (Side note: if you haven’t signed up for The Athletic yet, do so. It’s worth it for Pete Sampson’s Notre Dame coverage alone).
Julian Okwara is rightfully generating a lot buzz right now. On top of being listed as a Freak by Feldman, he has been getting named to numerous preseason All-American teams. Khalid Kareem meanwhile is getting overlooked by the national media, but that was literally another story we posted yesterday.
Okwara’s near misses last year have been well documented all off-season long. If Okwara would have gotten home on half of the hurries he generated last fall, he would have been one of the leaders in the nation in sacks. That is the kind of potential that he has this year. If he does, Okwara could hear his name called in the first round of the NFL Draft next spring just like Jerry Tillery did last year.
Image Notre Dame producing back to back first round draft picks from its defensive line after the 22 year drought Tillery ended a few months ago?
Even with a lot of near misses, Okwara still tied Tillery for the team lead in sacks last year with 8.0. If Okwara just converts a few more of those hurries this year, Justin Tuck’s single season record of 13.5 sacks will be well within reach for him. A few years ago it looked like his brother Romeo had a shot at Tuck’s record too with a hot start to his senior season. Maybe the younger Okwara will be able to finish what his older brother started.
Okwara’s pass rush skills alone aren’t what makes him a freak athlete though. His ability to drop into coverage and run with tight ends and receivers is almost unheard of for a defensive end. Running at 21 mph will allow for that. That skill was highlighted by his interception of Shea Patterson in Notre Dame’s season opening victory over Michigan last Labor Day weekend.
— Julian Okwara (@julian_okwara) September 6, 2018
Earlier in Feldman’s countdown he also listed Notre Dame senior cornerback Troy Pride as his #37 “freak” primarily because of his speed and a reported 4.32 40 time that Pride ran in the spring. Where Pride lines up this fall is still a little up in the air with some reports that he might move permanently to the boundary corner position vacated by Julian Love’s departure for the NFL, but wherever he does lineup, he will be bringing some world class speed with him.
Pride proved last year that he is capable of being a lockdown corner by surrendering just a single touchdown all season (on the last drive of the regular season). When things broke down in the Cotton Bowl, it wasn’t Pride that Clemson targeted either. They tried early actually, but Pride’s speed helped him keep up with Clemson’s own freskish wide receivers.
Pride and Okwara’s presence on Feldman’s list represent a change in times in Notre Dame’s overall talent level. Ten or fifteen years ago it would have been almost unimaginable for Notre Dame to have a cornerback and a defensive end considered a “freak” because of their speed. Back then Notre Dame was too slow and didn’t have speed. Hell, even today some lazy pundits will say that Notre Dame lacks speed whenever they lose a big game. Clearly Notre Dame has some speed now.