Editor’s Note: Some may take this as a means of doing less work, combining both a draft preview with a draft recap. The truth is, it should be seen as a peek behind the curtain. A draft recap is written long ahead of time, leaning heavily on repurposing the draft preview, so as to publish quickly upon the announcement of the pick. The thought is, this might be a more light-hearted approach. These days, light-hearted approaches are the way to go, though perhaps the NFL’s approach to draft logistics is taking that too seriously.
Former Notre Dame defensive end Julian Okwara will always have one claim his older brother Romeo will not be able to match. Romeo went undrafted in the 2016 draft, whereas Julian heard his name late in the first round Thursday or Friday night in the second/third round. The younger Okwara will head to the insert NFL team here where his pass-rushing skills could make him a contributor from the outset, whenever a football season is able to begin.
Okwara had already racked up four sacks in 2019, including three against Virginia and dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins, when he broke his left fibula at Duke in November, ending what had been a frustrating but underrated senior season. He finished his Irish career with 14.5 sacks and 77 tackles, as well as two interceptions.
On Tuesday, the former Notre Dame captain said he is beyond recovered while appearing on Mike Tirico’s “Lunch Talk Live” on NBCSN.
“I’m 150 percent and ready to go,” Okwara said, adding he was about to go run hills with his brother near their parents’ house in North Carolina, a workout only the younger brother envisioned as a race. “Looking forward to the season and I’ve been rehabbing, no issues, nothing.”
That leg injury nonetheless played a part in Okwara falling down the draft from preseason considerations of being a top-20 pick. It may seem ambitious with hindsight, but before the 2019 season, he was nearly the unanimous pick when the annual “Counting Down the Irish” series predicted the season’s most-impactful players.
Instead of impressing at the NFL combine, he had to hold an unofficial Pro Day on his own and send those clips to the 32 front offices.
Here's Julian Okwara's "Pro Day" video he and his agents sent to NFL teams after not participating in field drills at the Combine.
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 21, 2020
Okwara’s response to this insert round here-round selection will undoubtedly echo his approach heading into the draft, only now also paying compliments to mention team nickname here.
“There are a lot of first-round picks who don’t even play football anymore, so I’m not worried about that,” Okwara told Tirico. “It’s just giving me the opportunity to play and I know what I bring to the table and what I can do for a team and help them win a Super Bowl. I’m not really worried about the numbers.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to get a shot, everybody does, and it just matters what you do with it.”
For someone who lived in Nigeria until he was eight and was thus late to whole-heartedly dive into football, not to mention young for his grade, it could be argued Okwara did not so much fall to the overall No. ___ pick, but instead rose to it, just as Romeo has risen from undrafted free agent status to more than $8 million in career earnings to date, largely thanks to a two-year, $6.8 million deal with the Detroit Lions, which he is halfway through.
Insert comments on Julian’s initial salary, with the numbers drawn from Spotrac.com’s database.
Insert standard reference to past Notre Dame draftees at the position, most notably Isaac Rochell as a seventh-round pick in 2017 as the most recent defensive end picked and possibly Stephon Tuitt’s No. 46 selection in 2014 as the most recent defensive end picked higher than Okwara.
If Okwara is snagged before No. 46, cue up boilerplate Renaldo Wynn reference, the No. 21 pick in 1997.