One of the many undrafted free agents that reportedly joined the Houston Texans after the 2017 NFL Draft was Wisconsin's Dare Ogunbowale. Whilst not the Badgers' lead running back, he managed 506 yards rushing last season, averaging 5.6 yards a carry.
To give us more insight into what makes Dare Ogunbowale, we're joined by Jake Kocorowski from Bucky's 5th Quarter. Jake watched every snap of Ogunbowale’s four year career and even wrote a book about Wisconsin's walk-on tradition.
1) How does Ogunbowale fit the culture that Bill O'Brien has created in his first few years in Houston? (High character, hard workers, role models, etc.)
I first glanced at this question and said out loud, "Check, check and check." Ogunbowale is one of the best stories to come out of Wisconsin football in recent memory, and one of my favorite players to cover since starting on the "beat" four years ago. A former walk-on who wasn't a part of the 105-man roster to begin 2012 fall camp, he worked his way up to contribute on special teams. A position change took him from the defensive to the offensive backfield during the 2014 season, and like most walk-ons at Wisconsin, he made the most of his opportunities when they were presented before him.
After leading the team in rushing in 2015 with Corey Clement injured and an offensive line rebuilding (think seven different o-line combinations in a matter of the year), he was named team captain last season, only one of two. He also spoke at the Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon, a high honor for a student-athlete in the conference.
2) Was Ogunbowale a contributor on special teams at all?
Ogunbowale played special teams extensively in his time at Wisconsin, maybe more so in his redshirt freshman and sophomore years, with his role on offense expanding in his final two years. He has experience as a kickoff returner with 10 returns in 2016. To be fair, I don't remember exactly what positions outside of returning he had during his time, but he prided himself on special teams, even as a senior. I threw up some stats on Twitter and linked him about his big performance against Nebraska, including that game-winning touchdown, in late October. He tweeted back, noting the tackle on punt coverage rather than scoring.
He actually said the Monday after the game that he lobbied Chris Haering, UW's special teams coach, to play on punt coverage. A contributing player who wanted to get back on certain special teams squads -- that should be a good sign for him in Houston.
If O'Brien places an emphasis on that point to make the active roster, the Milwaukee native should have no problem finding a way to contribute as a possible four-phase player with his discipline, athleticism and work ethic.
3) As Wisconsin's #2 running back last year, what role did Ogunbowale fulfill on offense?
With Clement returning, Ogunbowale worked as the prototypical third-down back, as he was the best blocking tailback and the best receiver out of the backfield for Paul Chryst's offense. He caught 24 passes last season and 36 in 2015. Watch for his agility and elusiveness in the open field, as he often made the first defender miss foolishly.
That doesn't mean he couldn't run the ball, as he rushed for 506 yards on 5.6 yards per attempt. He rushed for 100 yards in two contests, including a crucial 120 yards on 11 yards and the game-deciding touchdown against Nebraska in late October. That game, along with a few others, Wisconsin found a role with him out of 11 personnel in the run game with draws and powers out of the shotgun. Many focused on Chryst's pro-style looks with a lot of 12 or 21 formations under center with Clement or redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw running between the tackles. Ogunbowale can do that, but they utilized him extremely well stretching defenses.
Not too shabby for player who converted to running back just two seasons prior.
4) What do you think caused Ogunbowale to go undrafted?
I really think it's a combination of a deep running back class (see: the Green Bay Packers drafting three of them in the final four rounds) and also many defensive backs being taken. Mike Mayock mentioned earlier this week that he thought Clement, Ogunbowale's teammate, would have gone in the fourth or fifth round in another year. B5Q even heard a rumbling in January that Ogunbowale could have been a mid-round pick.
He showcased what he could do at the East-West Shrine Game, and put together decent numbers combined at the NFL Scouting Combine and Wisconsin's Pro Drill. He maybe didn't show some top-end speed like other running backs had (4.65 40-yard dash in Indy, 4.58 at Pro Day in March) but his three-cone and 20-yard shuttle times (6.99 at Combine and 4.22 at Pro Day, respectively) were among the best times for that position group this year.
Wisconsin has a long line of former walk-ons that have gone undrafted but still made a huge impact in the NFL -- among those being 10-year vet Jim Leonhard (now UW's defensive coordinator), special teams ace Chris Maragos and Cincinnati wide receiver Alex Erickson (all were walk-ons as well, crazy enough). Don't discount Ogunbowale from finding way to be on the roster and joining J.J. Watt (himself a former walk-on) as another Badgers standout in Houston.
If you’re interested, I answered some questions for Jake over at Bucky's 5th Quarter about how I saw Ogunbowale fitting in Houston. What do you think of his chances to make the roster?