The Bengals were just 17 seconds away from forcing yet another one of their games against the Chiefs to overtime when disaster struck on a Patrick Mahomes scramble.
Mahomes, who was hobbled by a high-ankle sprain during the AFC championship game, gained five yards on a third-and-4 to keep the Chiefs’ potential game-winning drive alive. However, there were just eight seconds left on the clock and Kansas City wasn’t yet in field goal range, so it looked — at least momentarily — that Cincinnati would need to just get one or two more stops to force extra time.
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Instead, Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai barreled into Mahomes while trying to push him out of bounds. His hit came after the quarterback was well out of bounds, so Ossai was whistled for a 15-yard penalty.
Mahomes gives it his all for the first down!
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— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2023
That gave the Chiefs a chance to kick a 45-yard field goal with Harrison Butker; he split the sticks with three seconds left on the clock.
Indeed, the penalty proved costly to the Bengals and it put a spotlight on Ossai, who had been enjoying a rock-solid game against the Chiefs before his critical error. His name wasn’t a familiar one to many of the fans watching the game, however, as he had previously been a more anonymous part of the Cincinnati defense.
MORE: Bengals’ Germaine Pratt vents frustration about Joseph Ossai penalty
So, who exactly is Joseph Ossai? Here’s what to know about the Bengals defender as he finds himself in an unfortunate spotlight.
Who is Joseph Ossai?
Joseph Ossai is a 22-year-old defensive end who plays for the Bengals. He just completed his second NFL season after being selected out of Texas in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Ossai (6-4, 253 pounds) was a key rotational edge defender for Cincinnati during his second season. He missed his first year as a result of a torn meniscus he suffered in the Bengals’ second preseason game.
Ossai grew up in Lagos, Nigeria before moving to Conroe, Texas at age 10. He played multiple sports in high school but became a well-regarded football player as a four-star recruit. That led him to seek a playing career close to home as a part of the Big 12.
Where did Joseph Ossai go to college?
Ossai chose to attend Texas after receiving 28 FBS scholarship offers, per 247Sports.com. The Longhorns beat out Alabama, Notre Dame, Oregon and Texas A&M, among others, to secure his services.
Ossai developed into a consistent playmaker for the Longhorns. He began his career attempting to play the inside linebacker position but eventually shifted out to the edge to take advantage of his length and gritty playing style.
Ossai played in 29 games for Texas and racked up 11.5 sacks and an even 30 tackles for loss. He was a dynamic playmaker, especially following his position switch, and earned All-America recognition following his 2020 season. That helped him to become a well-regarded prospect heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.
Below is a look at Ossai’s stats during his three years with the Longhorns.
Joseph Ossai college stats at Texas
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Joseph Ossai NFL draft
Ossai got plenty of buzz as a potential early selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. He was thought to have tantalizing potential given his length, high-motor play and solid production in a limited role on the edge.
As such, Ossai was projected by many to be a second-round pick. That included NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, who compared Ossai to 2017 first-round pick Takk McKinley in his scouting report.
Former inside linebacker who has seen his stock rise quickly after a move to a more natural edge position. Ossai’s draft grade will require a good deal of projection as he is still raw and inexperienced at his new position. His passion and go-go motor are the juice that fuels his desire to make plays, and his outstanding practice habits improve his chances for continuing to adjust quickly to his newfound positional home. He’s long but has some hip tightness that limits his ability to hold the point of attack and bend the edge as a rusher. Ossai won’t out-race tackles to the edge, but if a team can coach up his hands and add to his rush plan, he should turn into a solid pro as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Ultimately, Ossai was selected on Day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Bengals chose him early in the third round with the 69th overall pick; he was the team’s third overall selection behind wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and offensive lineman Jackson Carman and was expected to compete for playing time right away.
MORE: Why no holding was called on Patrick Mahomes’ final scramble vs. Bengals
Joseph Ossai stats with Bengals
Unfortunately, Ossai couldn’t play for the Bengals during his rookie season because of a torn meniscus he suffered during the preseason.
In his second season, he was able to carve out a role as one of the team’s top rotational pass rushers. He played 32.3 percent of the defensive snaps (334 overall), good for fourth among defensive ends on the team, trailing Sam Hubbard (801), Trey Hendrickson (629) and fellow 2021 draftee Cameron Sample (412).
Ossai was able to post solid numbers in his limited role. Below is a look at his numbers in 16 regular-season games and three postseason games.
All told, it was a solid debut season for Ossai, especially considering that he won’t turn 23 until April 13. He has room for improvement but certainly looks like a quality rotational player at the next level provided that he keeps playing with a lot of energy.
MORE: Joseph Ossai thanks Bengals for “having his back” after costly penalty
Joseph Ossai contract
Ossai just finished his second season, so he is still playing on the rookie deal that he signed after being drafted by the Bengals. That pact is worth just under $5.2 million over four years; that makes him a relative bargain at just $1.3 million in average annual value.
Below is a breakdown of Ossai’s contract as a whole:
|Year||Base salary||Signing bonus||Cap hit||Dead cap|
If the Bengals wanted to move on from Ossai after his blunder against the Chiefs, they could do so while only incurring a dead-cap penalty of $568,224.
That said, it’s far more likely that the Bengals keep Ossai around as a cheap, developmental pass-rushing option who could eventually break out and become a starter. As his teammate B.J. Hill pointed out, the team isn’t going to let one play define Ossai.
So, he figures to be a part of the team for the remaining two seasons of his rookie contract at a minimum.