It’s pretty likely that many of you may not have been familiar with the name of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second pick in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Chukwuma Okorafor out of Western Michigan plays tackle—offensive tackle—and I doubt a lot of people were expecting the Steelers to address that area of the team earlier than the third day of the draft.
Even the team’s offensive line coach, Mike Munchak, seemed to imply as much while speaking to reporters after they made the selection about Okorafor, talking about the uncertainty of how the draft falls and of the fact that the team had not drafted a lineman on the first two days of the draft since 2012.
For what it’s worth, the offensive tackle position is one that I have talked about heading into the draft as an area that the team might be more concerned about than many expect after they lost Chris Hubbard in free agency, evidently not content to rely upon Jerald Hawkins and Matt Feiler as their only options.
Munchak ideally sees Okorafor as somebody who can come in and immediately compete for a swing tackle role behind presumed entrenched starters Alejandro Villanueva, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, and Marcus Gilbert.
He noted that his newest lineman had experience playing at both left and right tackle during his college career and expects that he will be able to play on both sides at the professional level as well, which necessarily is key.
The Steelers are fortunate that they have had stability at left tackle under Villanueva, and had that with Kelvin Beachum as well right up to his knee injury—which made way for the former, who has only missed a handful of snaps over the past three years.
Many young linemen do come in and end up getting pigeonholed as a right tackle. The Baltimore Ravens just drafted Orlando Brown, who is seen as a right tackle, but Munchak said that he feels like “he’s not limited in any way”.
“He’s played both” sides of the line, the coach noted. “He’s comfortable at left [tackle]. We’ll find out when he gets here but the goal would be that he could play both sides, compete that with for us, with us, and then once you get him in you find out how quickly he’ll improve”.
While he acknowledged that Okorafor is raw, he talked about how he saw him improve with each season in college. He also said that he sees similar things in most college linemen he scouts because “some of these guys haven’t done a lot of the things we’ll be asking them to do”.
He may have been the last player people expected, or wanted, the Steelers to make last night, but he’ll have his opportunity to write his own future. It might be worth noting that Gilbert is 30 with two years left on his contract and misses multiple games a season. Villanueva will also be 30 this year.