Baylor defensive lineman Shawn Oakman has had one the most intriguing, if not maddening, college careers to track in recent years, and his draft process is likely to be similar. The takes on him range from monster athlete who just needs the right opportunity to unlock his potential, to misplaced bodybuilder masquerading as a football player.
Oakman was removed from the Penn State football team before he could even take a snap for them because he took a redshirt his freshman year. He then transferred to Baylor and, after sitting out a season, flashed immense potential as a rotational defensive end. His size and strength as such a young player were enticing, and everybody looked on Oakman to shine in 2014 and beyond.
But during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, his firsts as a starter in college, Oakman had the microscope of the entire nation and every draft analyst right on him. The player everyone thought they saw as a rotational defensive end seemingly disappeared when thrust into a full-time role. The hot takes flew, and you had to stand on one extreme side of the spectrum or the other. Either you thought he was a freak athlete or you thought he just wasn't a good football player.
Oakman still received an invite to the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama despite rough back-to-back seasons. He might not have the tape to back up the hype that has been generated around him over the years, but the hype is still there. As a player many projects as a "project player" that hype may never die down. People will always think there is talent just waiting to be unlocked.
The Jaguars' front-seven, specifically their defensive line, is going to see massive changes throughout the offseason. They need to look at every option and exhaust all resources in finding the right defenders to fix a defensive line that was unathletic and untalented. One of the resources the Jaguars are sure to use is their week coaching the South Roster at the Senior Bowl, as it is loaded with defensive line talent. The Jaguars will have a very clear opportunity to see which side of the extreme hot take spectrum they stand on in regards to Oakman.
The question now is will they see him as a monster athlete who just needs the right opportunity to unlock his potential, to misplaced bodybuilder masquerading as a football player?
Misleading and troubling production
In his three seasons at Baylor, two of which he saw major starting snaps, Oakman accumulated 17.5 sacks and 46.5 tackles for a loss. On the surface, these are solid numbers. But when you dig deeper into the numbers is when you see some troubling trends that speak volumes about the type of college career that Oakman had.
In his first year with Baylor, Oakman had 12.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks as a rotational player. Those stats seem fine, but it is who the chunk of the stats game against that is troubling.
Against Wofford, Buffalo, Louisiana-Monroe, West Virginia, Iowa State, and Kansas, Oakman had all of his tackles for a loss and all of his sacks. The combined record of those teams? 29-43. That's a 0.403% win percentage. The only teams he had sacks against (WVU and Iowa State) had seven wins between them.
The second half of Baylor's schedule was much tougher that season compared to the first half. Their opponents Oklahoma, Texas Tech, TCU, Texas, and UCF had a combined 43-21 record. A 0.672% win percentage. The competition was a huge boost.
Oakman's stats against these teams? 0 tackles for a loss. 0 sacks.
Identifying how a player produces when the competition sees a bump is an extremely important factor when evaluation players. If the defender is producing against cupcake teams but disappears when the competition is more established, then it is a serious issue. Unfortunately for Oakman, this is an issue that was not just found in his first season with Baylor. It was an issue throughout his career.
In the 2014 season, Oakman had 19.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. Oakman's stats against teams with losing records (six games) which included teams like SMU and Iowa State, in 2014? 12 tackles for a loss and 7 sacks. Oakman's stats against teams with winning records (7 games) in 2014? 7.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks.
In the 2015 season, Oakman had 14.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Oakman's stats against teams with losing records (6 games) which included teams like Lamar and Rice, in 2015? 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. Oakman's stats against teams with winning records (7 games), in 2015? 4 tackles for a loss and 0.5 sacks.
In his entire college career, Oakman amassed nearly 75% of his sacks (13) and over 75% (35) of his tackles for a loss against teams with losing records. Against teams with winning records, he only recorded 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss in 20 games.
On the surface, Oakman was a productive college player. But in reality, the chunk of his production came against the Rices, the Lamars, and the SMUs of the college football world. When he faced the heavyweight teams such as Oklahoma and Michigan State, he made little impact.
What is he?
Outside of the concerning production trends with Oakman, there are also clear concerns with what he put on the field and game tape over the years and what he projects as in the NFL. A big reason so many were ever so high on Oakman is that he has a reputation as a "freak athlete" and at 6'9" and 280 pounds with a massive wingspan, Oakman is certainly built like a freak athlete. Does he actually have the athletic traits to back this coined term up?
Well, we won't really know until the combine, but years of playing shows that he does not. Actually to the contrary, it is Oakman's size and frame that prevents him from being able to display "freak" athletic traits, and it is his size and frame that may prevent him from being a success in the NFL.
At 6'9" Oakman simply can not play with any type of leverage. He shoots straight up out of his stance and plays high because, well, he is six feet and nine inches tall. This causes a lot of issues with his play, especially as a pass rusher.
Because he is so tall and lanky, he is unable to really move with much agility. He is a lumbering athlete who struggles to bend the edge as a pass rusher because of his size.
You might think a solution to a defensive end with length and strength who is not able to rush the passer from the edge could slide to defensive tackle and produce, but that isn't the case with Oakman. And again, it is because of his size and his frame.
To be productive when playing on the interior of the defensive line, you have to be explosive, strong, and play low. All things that Oakman struggles with, and all things that are magnified even more when he slides inside.
It is not just an issue vs the pass either. Against the run, he is moved off his spot too easy against most blockers because he is unable to play with proper power due to his height and his slight frame.
Not all hope is lost with Oakman, though. He still does some things really well. The most impressive things he offers as a football player is his understanding of length while setting the edge and his flashes of block shedding ability.
When playing against the run as a defensive end, Oakman can still overcome his leverage issues at times by using his freakish wingspan and strength.
And he also shows a lot of impressive block shedding ability with his hand usage, something that I did not anticipate as I prepared to watch him. He can't bend the edge with speed and he plays too high too often to rush with power, but he can free himself and separate himself from the blocker right off the snap from time to time.
And that brings us to our final point. Oakman has some traits that are valuable, but his size and play style just makes him such an odd fit in the NFL. What his usage should be is something that is extremely murky, but with the Jaguars specifically he is not a fit at either LEO or the Big End position.
Oakman might not be either a monster athlete who just needs the right opportunity to unlock his potential or a misplaced bodybuilder masquerading as a football player. He is likely somewhere in between.
All in all, the Jaguars need clear scheme fits who are ready to produce Week 1. Oakman does not appear to fit this criterion.