We know about Justin Reid and his knowledge of NFL defenses. We’ve heard about Keke Coutee’s agility and willingness to learn. And we are aware of Martinas Rankin’s injury, which may not be as positive, but it is news in this dull part of the year.
One player from the Texans’ 2018 draft class we haven’t heard much about is OLB Duke Ejiofor.
Drafted in the sixth round, Ejiofor fell in the draft due to a lingering shoulder injury. His measurables and production are well above his draft position, yet teams will always be wary of taking a player who has an injury history.
Duke Ejiofor slid in the draft because of injury concerns from what I've been told, but he has a toolbox full of rush tools and can be a dominant sub-package rusher along the interior. Great pick for the Texans.— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) April 28, 2018
Right off the bat, his technique needs a ton of crafting. He has skills and a couple moves, but needs to clean them up and sharpen their effectiveness. Wake Forest would occasionally put him in a four-point stance and have him rush from the interior, but he needs more space to be effective. He stays in a balanced stance when on the line, which allows him to disguise where he intends to attach the opposing lineman. With that in mind, the Texans should line him up as a wide 9 or a 6 (directly in front of the tackle). When on the edge playing the run, Ejiofor is disciplined and rarely crosses his feet.
Ejiofor’s low center of gravity keeps him from being pushed off the line of scrimmage. His athleticism is certainly a question for discussion. He is definitely not fast, but he is quick in short bursts. Ejiofor is more likely to sack a quarterback when the QB gets deep into a drop because it takes Ejiofor awhile to round a corner. You can see him flailing his arms to adjust his body weight in many of his highlights.
Ejiofor will not drive an offensive lineman back and collapse the pocket; rather, he resembles the role of a “change of pace running back” whose impact will be felt relieving other pass rushers and wearing out offensive tackles. When a tackle and defensive end are battling it out over an entire game, there comes a point when the tackle has seen everything the defender plans to throw at him; Ejiofor will surprise opponents with quick hands and great arm length.
The Alief Taylor product dominated as an interior sub package rusher at Wake, which is a perfect skill set since the Texans’ best pass rushers play on the outside. It would also spell players like Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham from blitzing, allowing them to focus on the rush or coverage. My two biggest concerns about Ejiofor are the shoulder recovery and change in scheme. He played a 4-3 in college that allowed him to purely rush from the line of scrimmage; he may not have that luxury in Romeo Crennel’s defense.
If Ejiofor is going to challenge Brennan Scarlett for a starting role, he will need to learn how to drop back in coverage. Honestly, if Ejiofor can hold the edge against the rush marginally better than Scarlett (who is coming off of an injury himself), he should jump into some meaningful reps right away. Since there hasn’t been much talk about Ejiofor’s recovery status or availability for training camp, I am worried that he has been focused on rehabbing instead of practicing his craft during rookie minicamp and OTAs.
We will find out soon if Ejiofor is ready to go and able to contribute. Even though he’s not making an impact in the headlines, hopefully he will make an impact on the field in 2018.