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Analyzing Steelers 3rd Round Pick Chukwuma Okorafor: Finding the Right Balance

Sometimes the best football players are the ones that start late.??Chukwuma (or ‘Chuks’ as they call him) Okorafor knew little about football when he and his family immigrated to the United States in 2010. Once he learned about it though, it did not take long for others to find out how naturally gifted he was.

Coming into Western Michigan in 2014, Okorafor was noted as one of the best overall recruits in the state of Michigan. In his freshman year, Okorafor did not make any starts but played in 12 games. In his sophomore year, Okorafor started all 13 games at right tackle and was an essential piece in the Broncos’ rushing attack, which was one of the best in the conference. His most notable performance came in the??Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl, as he and the offensive line contributed to freshman running back??Jamauri Bogan’s MVP performance. By his junior year, Okorafor became a household name in the??Mid-American Conference. In this particular season, he moved to left tackle where he played all 14 games. Okorafor was a major contributor in the Broncos offensive line that was one of the best in all of college football (ranked 4th by Pro Football Focus) and made it possible for star running back??Jarvion Franklin to rush for over 1,300 yards that season. For his efforts, Okorafor was selected to the First-Team All-MAC team. Okorafor’s senior year was a culmination of his hard work and consistency displayed throughout his collegiate career. He was selected to several All-American teams, given First Team All-MAC status, and was one of 6 semifinalists for the prestigious Outland Trophy awarded to the nation’s top lineman.

Pass Protection Technique

  • Great feet and lateral movement
  • Effective use of hands
  • Has natural strength and often wins one-on-one battles
  • Uses effective movement to seal defenders
  • Pad level is a concern

The aspect that stands out with Okorafor is his feet and lateral movement; movements are fluid and seem very effortless, which was one of many reasons why he was one of the best in respect to pass protection. His use of hands, particularly his initial punch, tends to send opposing defensive linemen off balance, a key factor to his success in winning one-on-one battles. What defines him though is the fact that he does have an aggressive disposition.

The biggest concern with Okorafor is without question his pad level. In almost all the clips I viewed, he had this tendency of standing upright as his first move. The importance in all this has to do with the idea of playing with leverage. Playing with leverage entails keeping a low pad-level. For an offensive lineman like Okorafor, this is key since it allows him to keep his size and strength at a base, as opposed to his upper body. This tendency of staying too high is keeping him from reaching the full potential of his strength.

In this example shown against Toledo, when the ball is snapped, Okorafor’s first move is upright; as the play continues, he is able to use quick feet, lateral movement, and proper placement of hands to force the Rockets off the arc. Against this type of lineman, Okorafor is likely to win this type of battle the majority of the time. If presented with a linemen that has a quicker first step and bend, he may not be so lucky.

Speaking of bend, this is one aspect that needs work. As noted in his NFL Draft profile,??Okorafor is noted to have “limited lower body bend”.?? In order for??Okorafor to get the pad level necessary to win one-on-one battles in the NFL, this has to become an element of his blocking. When done correctly (as shown in the diagram below),??Okorafor’s natural strength and other techniques can shine through.

??Run Blocking Technique

  • Uses his strength effectively to redirect defenders
  • Displays excellent lateral movement and use of hands
  • At times is off balance and gets knocked over unnecessarily
  • At times looks unsure who to block.

When it comes to this aspect, there exists little to no median. Simply put, Okorafor displayed both extremes of proficiency; he can either be very good or very bad. When Okorafor is at his best, he exhibited the ability to explode off the ball into the opponent and keep a relatively low pad level. The key to his success is when he uses his strength to redirect linemen, and his size and width to protect the ball carrier.

In this particular clip against Michigan State, the Broncos offense is going to run one of their trademark zone blocking schemes. Okorafor from the snap explodes into the Spartans defensive lineman, uses his feet to drive him outside, leaving a gaping hole for the Broncos ball carrier to run through. Note how at one point, he uses his raw strength to drive him away from the ball carrier, a small sample of Okorafor natural strength. As seen here, he has the ability to impose his will on defenders, and create opportunities for ball carriers.

Okorafor’s deficiency in run blocking can be summarized in one word — “balance”.?? What was interesting to watch was how he was easily taken off balance when attempting to pull, or when trying to block at the second level.?? One thing I noted is that his head is often down, impeding him from viewing the defender he is blocking; as a result, he topples off balance. At times when watching him in certain run blocking situations, it almost seemed a little lost.

Early in this game, when Okorafor attempted to pull and block the defensive lineman on his side, he pulled but did not properly locate the lineman. The result is seen in the photo below as he defensive lineman was able to evade him, sending him to the ground. For Okorafor, his ability to locate his target should start before he even pulls. The hope is that with offensive line coach Mike Munchak, this can be corrected so he can become a reliable asset in the Steelers ground game.

Conclusion

Okorafor has all the physical attibutes to be a top-level offensive lineman in the NFL, if he is able to correct the technical flaws in his game. For Okorafor, his timing could not be any better, as the departure of long-time backup Chris Hubbard to the Cleveland Browns??has opened the window of opportunity for him or third-year offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins to take over one of the backup spots. Considering how late Okorafor started playing football, he has the tools necessary to make the Steelers roster.

Born and raised Ottawa, Ontario Canada, Kelly is a Steelers contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Formerly a contributor for SBNation's 'Behind the Steel Curtain'. Kelly can be reached via the Twitter handle @kanozie80

4 Comments on Analyzing Steelers 3rd Round Pick Chukwuma Okorafor: Finding the Right Balance

  1. Bob Stover // May 25, 2018 at 9:51 AM //

    I see him as a practice squad candidate his 1st year. He has a lot to learn, and putting him on the practice squad means potentially losing him at some point during the season to a team desperate for an O.T., but I would think Hawkins, with two years under his belt and knowing the Steeler’s offensive schemes gives him a definite advantage for that back-up spot this year. The only way he should be kept on the 57 man roster is if he can play on special teams, punts and extra points and field goal protection, better than he run block.

    • Kelly Anozie // May 25, 2018 at 11:44 AM //

      He is likely to make the practice squad, then again, I haven’t heard of too many 3rd round picks making the practice squad. Here’s the thing to remember though, Okorafor played at both right and left tackle; whereas aspiring backups on the roster like Matt Fieler played on just one side. So when it comes to deciding on who’s going to be on the roster as backup, this will likely come into play.

      Hawkins may have two years under his belt, but one of them was on IR; last season he only played 5 games and started once. So his place as backup is not altogether secure at this point.

      So at this point it’s a little premature to say where Okorafor is going to go, though I will say this, if he fixes certain technical deficiencies with Munchack, he’s going to be a very, very good one.

  2. Bob Stover // May 25, 2018 at 12:55 PM //

    I agree that he couldn’t have a better coach than Munchak, but it also is a reality that you need to have a role that you can fill to make the 57 man roster. That’s why I thought if he could pick up enough technique to be a factor on special teams, for FG and XP, and punts, that he could stick in his 1st season. He was, in my opinion, a bit of a reach as a 3rd rounder, and might not have been the BAA at that point, but a needs based pick.

    • Kelechi Anozie // May 25, 2018 at 2:41 PM //

      Well based on his skillset and measurables, the only possible position that he would take on special teams would be as protection on point after attempts and/or field goal attempts; aside from that, there’s not much else he can do in respect to special teams such as making tackles downfield

      Secondly, Okorafor grading was mid 3rd to early 4th round, so where he was taken made sense. As a matter of fact, Bucky Brooks of NFL Network had him ranked as the fourth best tackle in the entire draft. So the fact they got him there, was a gift. http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000915336/article/bucky-brooks-top-5-2018-nfl-draft-prospects-by-position

      When you look at it, Okorafor’s pick makes sense. The offensive line is not getting any younger, Marcus Gilbert still hasn’t received a new contract, aside from Jerald Hawkins they don’t really have any quality backups at tackle; especially after Hubbard departed. Okorafor may likely have been a needs based pick but he was highly regarded and obviously was someone that likely interested Munchak greatly to pick him in the 3rd round; the problem perhaps is that much of the fanbase were likely expecting a defensive player instead.

      All in all Bob, I can’t tell you what the immediate future holds for Okorafor, unlike Edmunds and Washington whom are more than likely to make the roster. But as I noted before, with Hubbard gone and the depth a tackle questionable on this team, he has as good a chance making the roster as any of the tackles going for it.

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