MOBILE, Ala. – This much is confirmed: Shawn Oakman is equally terrifying in person. The Baylor defensive end stands a Herculean 6 foot 7½ inches, 269 pounds, towering over everyone.
Opponents. Scouts. Reporters. Small buildings.
The man is freakishly chiseled with the word “SAVAGE” tattooed across six-pack abs underneath this jersey. Remember the meme? Before last year’s Cotton Bowl, a picture of Oakman staring down Michigan State took the Internet by storm. Well, now the Buffalo Bills and all NFL teams are figuring out if the guy can play.
And, heck yeah, Oakman would want to play for Rex Ryan.
“Because he gets after it,” Oakman said. “He likes dogs and I’d like to play for a coach who likes dogs.”
But … does Oakman really have that “dog” inside of him?
“Do I!?” Oakman sniped, smiling. “I thought I showed it. I think I showed it every time I was out on the field. No one’s going to take advantage of me.”
Meet the most unique prospect in Mobile, in this draft, maybe this decade.
Oakman is cut like a Greek God. He’d put P90X out of business with a DVD series of whatever he does to look like this. Even with these tree-limb arms, he can bench press 400 pounds and squat 600. One online video shows Oakman jumping onto a 40-inch plyo box while holding 35-pound dumbbells. He’s been clocked at 4.8 in the 40-yard dash, a time that’ll drop when he trains specifically for the NFL Combine.
Yet a prospect so many pegged a can’t-miss, top-five talent before the 2015 season was hot and cold on the field. He called last season “subpar” himself.
Despite the unprecedented blend of size/athleticism/build, some NFL scouts aren’t so sure he’ll produce in the pros. There’s also the dismissal from Penn State. After skipping practices and then trying to steal a $7 hoagie, Oakman was kicked off the team by coach Bill O’Brien.
But what we do we all know about the Buffalo Bills’ head coach by now? Ryan loves a reclamation project, a gamble. Oakman will be on Buffalo’s radar.
“I can make a huge impact,” he said.
Growing up in North Philadelphia, Oakman had a rocky upbringing. His mother, Vernetta Oakman, battled substance-abuse problems, which meant Oakman was often homeless. Rough surroundings provided an “inner beast” he said still fuels him today. Eventually placed in the home of his mother’s cousin, Kenn Roberts, and Roberts’ wife by the state, Oakman grew up in a military family. Kenn was in the Army.
Such discipline provided direction ... direction he then lost on his way to Penn State. Oakman said he gets asked about the hoagie “every day.”
As the story goes, Oakman hid a hoagie in his jacket at a campus convenient store. When he tried to pay for a fruit juice at the counter, a woman from the back asked him if he was going to pay for the sandwich too and he responded, “What sandwich?” The cashier swiped his student ID, he had no credits left to buy food and she set the ID on the counter.
That’s when an angry Oakman grabbed the cashier’s wrist to get his card back and she screamed. He set the sandwich and juice on the counter, headed back to his dorm room and, soon, heard from O’Brien to be at his office first thing Monday morning.
Oakman was kicked off the team and worried his football career was over.
“Where I’m from,” Oakman said, “when people get kicked out of school, they go back to the hood. And they don’t leave.
“It’s my past. People are going to want to know about the past. Even though they have it in their hand, they’re going to want to know my part and they’re going to want to hear it from me. So I’m going to tell them everything that I did and I want to let them know that it doesn’t define me. ... I guarantee you: if I didn’t go through that, I wouldn’t be here.”
Oakman left Penn State, got a second chance at Baylor and grew into the freak of nature he is today. He can shuck linemen away with those long arms, close in a breath and swat his arms at the quarterback with windmill-like fury. In 2014, the end finished with 51 tackles (19.5 for loss), 11 sacks and three forced fumbles. He dominated in flashes. Then, into 2015, his production never matched the hype the meme promised. His sack total dropped to 4.5. Scouts have questioned Oakman’s drive.
One visual snapshot of Oakman would suggest he might be too top heavy, too. His lower-body screams Olympian sprinter more than NFL defensive lineman.
Don’t be fooled by the thin legs, he says.
“The look doesn’t mean anything!” Oakman said. “It’s all in the (butt). It’s the pop that you have in the (butt). And if you watch a few of the plays, you can see that I can get off and I can separate. But the legs are the legs, they’re as big as they’re going to get.”
Fair enough. The Bills will be adding talent to their front seven this spring somehow. Oakman might be the one prospect in Mobile who generates the most debate.
As a breeze ripped through the 42-degree chill, causing Oakman to shiver, he repeated he’s more focused now than ever.
“I’ve seen so many people in my life fail,” he said. “So I didn’t want to follow that.”