Brian Orakpo was in the news this week. The former Longhorn and first round draft pick of the Washington Redskins was given the franchise tag designation. He will be a free agent next Tuesday, though the “free” is relative, now that he will cost $13+ million AAV and two first round draft picks to sign. Orakpo is one of the finer defensive talents in the NFL. His football fame, however, started at the University of Texas.
Orakpo was a freshman when Texas won the National Championship in 2005. Unlike other players recently profiled here, Orakpo was a pass rush specialist from the day he walked on campus straight through today. Orakpo was recruited out of Lamar High School in Houston in 2004 where he was a defensive end. He was a realtively young player when he signed out of high school (he turned 18 a month before the start of his first year on campus), so Texas redshirted him in the 2004 season.
Orakpo was a rotational player on the 2005 national championship team, but started full time at the weak-side end position from 2006-2008. His senior year was one of the better defensive seasons in program history. Playing in Will Muschamp’s defense that season, he recorded 12 sacks, the second best total in the Big 12 that season. He won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was a consensus All-American, and also received some of the highest honors in the country for defensive lineman: the Ted Hendricks award, the Vince Lombardi award, and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
He was drafted 13th overall by the Redskins in the 2009 draft. The Redskins then controversially moved Orakpo off his defensive end position to sam linebacker, because they had a hole in their starting lineup to fill after Marcus Washington was released. At the time, the Redskins played a very traditional 4-3 defense and the responsibilities of the sam linebacker were fairly foreign to Brian Orakpo. Because he dropped down to defensive line on passing downs, Orakpo ended up making the pro-bowl as a rookie in 2009. The Redskins coaching staff was fired that season, and the new head coach, Mike Shanahan, wanted a 3-4 defense. And because of that, Orakpo has comfortably stayed at LB ever since.
He’s a remarkably consistent performer at the NFL level. In 5 NFL seasons, he started 15 or 16 games 4 times, and in those four seasons, Orakpo has been between 8.5 and 11 sacks every year. 2008 remains the spike year in his career, the year that probably got him drafted in the top half of the first round, but it’s hard to say that Texas has produced a better pass rusher than Orakpo since he has been drafted.
Currently, Orakpo is one of the twelve to fifteenth best pass rusher in the NFL, although he draws a lot of criticism for what he isn’t. It’s one of the stigmas that former Texas teammate Lamarr Houston has largely avoided: Houston is a well-rounded player, but not a notable pass rusher. Orakpo came in as a pass rusher who needed to refine the rest of his game. This season, Orakpo returned as a player who could do more than just get the quarterback. He can defend the run, and had his best year as a pass coverage player in 2013.
The franchise tag is likely to keep Orakpo in the nation’s Capitol at least one more season. Despite being a three-time pro-bowler in the NFL, Orakpo is better known for his accomplishments at Texas. He has played in a National Championship game, and on a 13-1 Texas team, but he has not played in the NFL playoffs. He was on IR when Washington played in the playoffs in Jan. 2013. It won’t be long until Orakpo plays in the postseason in the NFL. If not with Washington, somewhere else.