Recently, a news report came out naming multiple teams that may be targeting Chargers OLB Uchenna Nwosu as he enters free agency. In the report, it was noted that the Green Bay Packers could be one of the teams that pursues him if he decides not to re-sign with L.A. Za’Darius Smith has likely played his last snap with Green Bay and Whitney Mercilus is a free agent, leaving little depth in the Packers’ outside linebacker room. With that in mind, it makes sense for Green Bay to pursue a veteran pass-rusher in the offseason. Even if they pick one – or even several – edge rushers in the draft, it is rare for rookies to contribute immediately. So, what would the Packers be getting if they signed Nwosu?
Nwosu was an important contributor for the Chargers in 2021. He played 67% of the defensive snaps, racking up five sacks, 17 QB hits, 30 pressures, two FF, eight TFLs, and one INT according to Pro Football Reference. In PFF’s grading system, he recorded a good 64.3 overall grade, with an excellent 68.5 pass rush grade. In addition, the OLB is only 25, leaving some room for improvement as a player. Of course, the numbers only tell part of the story.
Film Review: Pass Defense
Nwosu’s pass-rush game is built off of his outstanding speed. He has an excellent first step and an extensive toolbox of initial moves and counters based off of his speed rush. In this clip, he uses a beautiful swipe move against the RT, then bends around the edge to finish with the strip sack.
Nwosu is capable of more nuanced rushes as well. Here, he hits the left tackle with a stutter move, then attacks the tackle’s outside shoulder by establishing contact on the outside shoulder pad, using his inside hand to knock down the inside hand of the tackle, then looping his inside hand under for the rip. Strip sack.
When tackles start oversetting against Nwosu’s speed, he has the awareness to attack them with inside moves. On this snap against Vikings rookie LT Christian Darrisaw, he sees Darrisaw open his hips too soon and takes advantage with a stutter-club counter inside for the QB hit.
Although Nwosu primarily wins with speed, he has the ability to turn speed to power. Against the Steelers LT in this clip, he takes a quick inside step that triggers the OT’s hands, then transitions to a fantastic bull rush and finishes with a rip move.
The Chargers didn’t ask Nwosu to drop into coverage much, but he showed off some nice movement skills and fluidity in space when necessary. On this snap, he does a good job recognizing the fullback running a wheel route out of the backfield. He carries him up the right sideline, then closes for an outstanding open-field tackle on the running back.
Nwosu is not just a pass-rusher, however. He is a hard-nosed run defender, despite his smaller size (6’2″ 251 lbs). He demonstrates the necessary strength, hand placement, and quickness to shock and shed against both tight ends and tackles in the run game. Nwosu generally maintains great positioning on the ball and has nice vision and timing to disengage when the runner reaches him. These three snaps are a good exhibition of his capabilities in run defense. On the first he shocks and sheds the LT for a TFL. On the second snap he absorbs the LT’s block and holds the edge to help make the tackle. In the third example, he stops the TE on the left side of the formation in his tracks to force the run back inside.
Nwosu’s speed and fluid athleticism are some of his greatest assets, and he can use them to wreak havoc in numerous ways. This next cutup demonstrates some of the pure disruptive potential he possesses. In the first clip, he chases down Kirk Cousins after he is flushed from the pocket. In the second, Nwosu forces the quick throw on a bootleg using his lightning-quick closing speed. On the third snap, he beats the puller on Counter to lay the wood on the RB in the backfield. In the fourth clip, he gets another TFL by redirecting onto the give on the inverted veer play. Finally, he passes off a route to the ILB before closing on the flushed QB to force an incompletion.
Another area where Nwosu’s physical skills stand out is in the stunt game. His speed, agility, and ability to move well in space combine to make him a highly effective penetrator.
While Nwosu didn’t show much potential as an interior rusher in subpackages – a trait that the Packers have valued in the free agent edge rushers they’ve signed in recent years – his ability to create chaos by using his speed in different ways increases his value as a pass-rusher and run defender.
Signing Uchenna Nwosu would be an interesting departure from the OLB prototype that Brian Gutekunst has established. Nwosu doesn’t have the height or weight of the Smiths or Rashan Gary. Unlike those players, who primarily operate using power moves, Nwosu’s game is built off of speed. However, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Adding some extra speed to a defense is usually a good idea. Nwosu would provide an excellent change-of-pace rusher coming off of the bench, assuming that Preston Smith and Gary are the starting OLBs for the 2022 season. He has the versatility to be more than just a designated 3rd down specialist. He would certainly be an improvement over the substandard play that most of the backup OLBs displayed last season. Moreover, he could enhance Green Bay’s ability to defend bootlegs and mobile QBs and increase the effectiveness of their DL stunts in passing situations.
Money is, of course, a huge question. Though they now have some level of certainty about their QB situation, it still remains to be seen how much cap flexibility the Packers will have this offseason. The reported interest from Green Bay may be a play by Nwosu’s agent to drive up demand for the young linebacker. Nwosu could simply end up outside of the Packers’ price range. If they can find a way to pick him up, though, Nwosu would be a fantastic addition to the Packers defense.
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