Joseph Ossai drafted by Cincinnati Bengals in third round of NFL Draft

Carter Yates

Former Texas linebacker and team captain Joseph Ossai is headed north to play for the Cincinnati Bengals after being selected with the 69th overall pick in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Ossai, an AP First Team All-American and First Team All-Big 12 honoree in 2020, opted to forgo his senior season and enter the Draft a year early after playing in 36 games and making 24 starts over his three-year Texas career. The 6-foot-4-inch, 253-pound linebacker is the highest selected Longhorns’ defensive player since defensive tackle Malcolm Brown went in the first round in 2015.

After starting only two games as a freshman in 2018, Ossai started the final 22 games he played in a Texas uniform. As a sophomore in 2019, Ossai led the team in solo tackles with 62 and tackles for loss with 13.5.

It wasn’t until his junior season in 2020, however, that Ossai became a legitimate NFL prospect. He switched to a primarily edge rusher role in new defensive coordinator Chris Ash’s scheme after alternating between inside and outside linebacker early in his career and never looked back. A semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award presented to the best defensive player in college football, Ossai notched 16 tackles for loss and recorded five sacks as well as three forced fumbles, all of which led the team.

Arguably his best game of the season came against then No. 21-ranked Oklahoma State when he made seven tackles and terrorized the Cowboys in the backfield with three sacks. The play of the game came in overtime when he chased down Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders for the game-winning sack.

A former four-star recruit out of Conroe, Texas, Ossai is the first player from the Longhorns’ No. 3-ranked 2018 recruiting class to be drafted in the NFL. Professional scouts were fond of Ossai’s relentless motor on the field, but questions about his inexperience and raw playing style after adapting to a new position in 2020 kept teams from picking him in the second round as widely projected.

Ossai will likely compete for an edge rushing spot with Cincinnati after the Bengals ranked dead last in the NFL for sacks per game with 1.1.