By Zach Alvira
LSU edge rusher BJ Ojulari said Friday the Cardinals had always been on his radar as a potential landing spot during the 2023 NFL Draft.
Yet, he knew nothing was set in stone.
Then, while sitting with his family watching Day 2 of the draft, his phone rang. He saw an Arizona area code and knew this was the moment he had been waiting for.
“It was surreal, especially seeing that Arizona area code pop up on my phone,” Ojulari said. “I almost went into shock like it wasn’t real. It was definitely surprising for them to come pick me.”
Ojulari’s production at LSU began when he was a freshman, appearing in 10 games and making one start. He 6 recorded 16 total tackles, five for a loss in his first season. As a sophomore he led the Tigers in sacks with seven and was received first-team All-SEC honors last season after he recorded 58 total tackles, 8.5 for a loss and 5.5 sacks.
According to ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss, Ojulari pressured the quarterback on third down 18% of the time. That led the SEC and was sixth highest in the Power 5. He also generated 80 pressures in the 2021 and 2022 seasons combined.
Cardinals General Manager Monti Ossenfort was quick to praise Ojulari for his three-down ability on the defensive line.
While Ojulari isn’t the tallest edge rusher at 6-foot-2, 248 pounds, his length was enough for the Cardinals to take him off the board.
“He brings some juice out there on the edge and he’s got a nonstop motor,” Ossenfort said. “I think they showed some of the highlights when he got picked and his ability to close space on the backside. He plays relentlessly.
“The makeup, the football character, the football talent on the field, it all added up for us.”
Ojulari brings speed off the edge to chase down outside runs. He’s also strong and has the ability to defeat one-on-one battles with opposing tackles.
When needed, he utilizes a combination of the two to dip and rip under the hands of tackles to make himself skinny around the edge to pressure the quarterback.
He believes these same traits will come into play for the Cardinals, who are in need of edge rushers with the retirement of J.J. Watt and release of Markus Golden this off-season.
“I think I do a great job using my ability and athleticism to get the edge, bend the edge and create plays in the backfield and disrupt the quarterback,” Ojulari said. “I think I do a great job causing havoc in backfield, creating (tackles for loss) and movement in the backfield.”
Ojulari said the Cardinals liked his play-style and his approach to the game. His coaches at LSU felt the same way back in August before his junior year.
Ojulari was awarded No. 18 for the Tigers, a number that has to be earned for leadership and contributions on the field. It’s a tradition that started back in 2003 by quarterback Matt Mauck, who wore the number when he led the Tigers to the national championship.
The number was passed on to several LSU greats, with Ojulari being the latest to wear the jersey that also hangs in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
“No. 18 meant a lot to me …. just my legacy,” Ojulari said. “Especially coming to LSU from being a Georgia boy … creating my legacy, being able to represent the state of Louisiana and wear that No. 18 is a big testament to me and how I carry myself and my character.”
Ojulari said he looks forward to battles with Cardinals No. 6 overall pick Paris Johnson Jr. at the end of the line. He said he and Johnson have known each other from their time attending The Opening, a premier high school football camp for top recruits.
Given his talent, Ojulari believes he can come in and contribute immediately to the Cardinals defense.
Ojulari becomes the second member of his family to be drafted to the NFL. In 2021, his older brother, Azeez, was taken in the second round by the New York Giants out of Georgia.
He said he will lean upon his brother for advice as he navigates through his first off-season program with an NFL organization.
But just like he did at LSU, he aims to make a name for himself with the Cardinals.
“I think the possibilities are endless,” Ojulari said. “I’m so versatile that they can put me anywhere and I can produce … I definitely want to come in and contribute immediately.
“Get in with the coaches, learn from the vets and just contribute any way that I can to the team so we can win these football games and compete for a championship.”