Oluwole Betiku Jr. presents a special kind of challenge for draft evaluators.
The Illinois redshirt junior defensive end was one of the most highly recruited players in the nation out of California. He has good size at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds and a first-off-the-bus physique. He put up great numbers this season, finishing in a tie for seventh-most sacks in school history. And Betiku has already earned his degree (international relations) and is pursuing a master’s degree.
So, let’s see: highly regarded and intelligent player with good measurables who put up great numbers this season.
What’s not to like?
— Oluwole Betiku Jr (@Kingwolehoudini) January 11, 2020
When it comes to the evaluation process, Betiku is going to have to answer for a couple of glaring issues: His injury history and his extreme lack of experience.
Basically, Betiku has barely played.
He recently declared his intentions to enter the 2020 NFL draft.
After U.S. prep school scouts spotted him at a sports camp tryout in his home country of Nigeria, Betiku played two years at Serra High School in Gardena, Calif. – his first two years of playing the sport. Betiku compiled 28.5 sacks in those two years and was recruited by every major program in the country, from Notre Dame to Alabama.
Betiku wound up picking the University of Southern California, graduated from high school a semester early and enrolled at USC in the spring of 2016.
But he rarely saw the field as a Trojan.
Betiku played in 14 games his first two seasons at USC, registering two tackles. Then he missed all of 2018 after undergoing hip surgery.
“Some days I would be on the sideline and a tear would just roll out my eye,” Betiku told the Chicago Tribune back in September 2019. “Nothing hurts more than just watching the whole game. Am I a good player? Am I a bad player? I don’t know but I know I practice hard. In order for me to know where I stand as a player, I have to go against competition.”
The graduate transfer wound up at Illinois, which is coached by former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith.
Betiku’s one season was a memorable one.
Betiku finished the 2019 season with 36 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 9 sacks and 7 quarterback hurries. Those are great numbers under any circumstances, especially when considering it was Betiku’s first and only season to get regular playing time in college.
However, those statistics also come with an asterisk: Betiku played in 10 games, making nine starts, but he missed three games with injury.
And therein lies the challenge Betiku presents to NFL teams: They have limited tape on a player new to the sport who has an injury history.
Yahoo Sports NFL draft analyst Eric Edholm said Betiku has “intriguing talent.”
“The lack of tape is worrisome, as are the repeated injuries, but he’s got enough pass-rush intrigue to be a late developmental pick,” Edholm writes.