The NFL’s market for pass rushers does not need to make perfect sense for it to reflect reality. Take Odafe Oweh, for example.

Last season, the Ravens’ ascendant outside linebacker finished fourth on the team in sacks (five), behind Justin Madubuike (13) and fellow edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney (9.5) and Kyle Van Noy (nine). All three picked a good year to have a career year. Not everyone broke the bank because of it.

Madubuike signed a four-year, $98 million contract extension that made him one of the NFL’s richest defensive linemen. Clowney left Baltimore for a two-year, $20 million deal with the Carolina Panthers. And Van Noy returned on a two-year, $10 million contract, with just $5.3 million guaranteed at signing.

Where, exactly, did that put Oweh’s value? That calculus was left to Ravens officials, who had until Thursday to pick up his fifth-year option for 2025. The quarterback pressures were there for the 2021 first-round pick; the sacks were not. Oweh has just 13 sacks over his first three seasons. Of the 13 edge rushers who’d had their fifth-year option exercised since 2019, only the New Orleans Saints’ Marcus Davenport had fewer career sacks (12) by Year 3.

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The Ravens’ bet on Oweh, though, has always been based on his potential. On Tuesday, general manager Eric DeCosta doubled down, exercising Oweh’s $13.3 million option. There is obvious risk in the move, but also, maybe, great reward. In an exploding market for pass rushers, Oweh’s fully guaranteed deal could become a bargain by next year.

“We were really happy with his game this year,” DeCosta said at the NFL scouting combine in February. “I think sometimes people get really caught up in the number of sacks that people get. We prefer to look at pressures and disruptions and their ability to affect the game. Odafe’s probably one of the hardest-working players we have on our defense. He has a great motor, plays with a passion. He’s an exciting young prospect. He has battled back from some injuries, and we think that this is going to be a great season for him.”

Oweh, 25, arrived in Baltimore four years ago defined as much by what he could do as what he hadn’t done. He could run the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at 6 foot 5, 257 pounds. He could broad-jump over 11 feet. He could complete the three-cone drill faster than wide receiver Rashod Bateman, taken four spots before him in the first round. What Oweh couldn’t do was reliably get to the quarterback; he had just seven sacks over 20 games at Penn State, including none in a coronavirus-shortened 2020 season.

In Baltimore, though, Oweh’s pass rush improvement has been swift and steady. According to Pro Football Focus, his pass rush win rate on “true pass sets” — a sample that excludes plays with play-action passes, screens, short drop-backs, a time to throw of less than two seconds or fewer than four pass rushers — has jumped 12 percentage points since his rookie year. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, his quarterback pressure rate rebounded from a dip in 2022 to a career high last season. Oweh ranked near the top of the league in both metrics in 2023.

His challenge now is to turn more pressures into sacks. Despite missing four games last season with an ankle injury, Oweh finished 32nd in the NFL among edge rushers in pressures (51), according to PFF. (All but one player above him missed just one game.) Oweh’s 15.5% pressure rate, meanwhile, ranked 18th among edge rushers with at least 250 pass rush snaps in 2023, according to NGS, just ahead of Danielle Hunter (16.5 sacks), Aidan Hutchison (11.5) and Montez Sweat (12.5).

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But Oweh’s 1.7% sack rate ranked 44th, and 51 edge rushers finished with more than his five takedowns. Conversions could become even more difficult if he sees more double teams in the wake of Clowney’s departure.

The next step in Oweh’s evolution is broadening his pass rush arsenal while refining it. He is not a one-pitch player. Far from it. He got to sacks with a mix of moves last season, including two-hand swipes, spins and rips.

Oweh’s pass rush plan could be predictable at times last season, however, and it seemed to ignore the best possible cocktails available on his menu. He showed his length and power when setting the edge, grading out well on PFF as a run defender. He showed his speed in the open field and as a pass rusher, especially on effort plays.

Rarely, though, did Oweh blend all of his most intimidating traits. He said before last season that he was still “learning who I am as a rusher,” and he called himself a “power-explosive edge rusher.” But that speed-to-power potential — long-arm moves and bull rushes where Oweh would walk the opposing tackle back into the quarterback’s lap — appeared only in flashes.

With another year or two of growth under pass rush coach Chuck Smith, Oweh could be in line for a big payday. Outside linebacker Jonathan Greenard had just 10.5 sacks over his first three seasons with the Houston Texans — then went off for 12.5 last season, parlaying his breakout year into a four-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings worth $19 million annually. Oweh had a higher win rate and a similar pressure rate in 2023.

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Outside linebacker Bryce Huff had 10 sacks and 67 pressures in 17 games with the New York Jets last season, then signed a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason worth $17 million annually. He’s never played more than 480 defensive snaps in any of his four seasons; Oweh got 600-plus in each of his first two.

Oweh has always had that kind of star potential. The Ravens know it, too. A $13.3 million salary might seem like a big risk now. Before long, it could be a small price to pay for a game-changing piece.

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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