Were you surprised to see the Pittsburgh Steelers draft a tackle this year, and in the third-round at that? I know I was, but even so, the one they selected 92nd overall in 2018 NFL Draft, Chukwuma Okorafor out of Western Michigan, is one they have had their eyes on for some time now, according to general manager Kevin Colbert.
“Chuks, he’s a rare, very, very talented tackle,” Colbert said during the Steelers draft recap press conference Saturday night. “You know, Coach [Mike Tomlin] and I were just talking before, we’ve been seeing a lot of these kids really for the last two years. And Chuks was a kid last year when we went into Western Michigan to look at Corey Davis and [Taylor] Moton, their right tackle, Chuks kind of stood out on film. And we followed up and continued to scout him throughout this season.
“He’s got a very good upside, probably the most unique upside of this whole group, and he’s got left tackle abilities. I think we get him with a guy like coach [Mike] Munchak, you think about where Alejandro [Villanueva} was when he came in, a free agent practice squad tackle that turned into a Pro Bowler. You had Chris Hubbard, who came in as a free agent, work with Coach [Mike] Munchak and left this season and left as a priority free agent for another squad. So, real excited to see how much Chuks can improve under Coach Munchak’s tutelage.”
Okorafor’s upside probably being the highest of this year’s Steelers’ draft class is a result of him not playing football very long. In fact, Okorafor, who moved from Botswana, a country in Southern Africa, to the United States in December of 2010, said during this year’s combine that the first football game he ever saw was Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and Steelers.
“I wasn’t really sure what (was going on),” Okorafor said at the combine. “But the thing kind of looked fun to me, so I said, ‘Let me give it a shot.'”
In short, Okorafor didn’t start playing the tackle position until his junior year of high school and thus is still very, very raw, even though he enters the NFL having been a three-year starter at Western Michigan where he played on both the right and left sides. In case you haven’t looked, the 6-6, 320-pound Okorafor won’t turn 21 until August, either. He’s still a baby and a big baby at that.
“I see that in a lot of players I watch,” Mike Munchak said of Okorafor during his Friday night press conference. “I mean, so he’s had I guess three or four years of playing offensive line, so they’ve done a nice job with him and he’s developed nicely and you see him get better each year, each time out there playing because it is new to him and that’s kind of exciting for me because you get a guy that doesn’t have a whole lot of bad habits, wasn’t asked to do a lot of things.
“He got away with things because of his size, his arms, his strength, those types of things, which he’s not even close to being developed the way he can be. So, just really excited about all the upside that he has and then looking forward to working with him and seeing, you know, teaching technique, teaching how we do things for myself and for the guys and the group that we have in that room will be great for him. They’ll teach them the game a lot of ways. how to prepare, how to work, the work ethic.”
Even though he has that rawness factor to him, Munchak likes a lot of Okorafor’s core characteristics.
“Great size, great strength,” Munchak explained about the Steelers newest tackle prospect. “Played against some good college competition watching him play at Western Michigan. So, just really excited about the opportunity to work with him.”
Some of that good college competition that Okorafor faced during his three years as a starter at Western Michigan included games against Ohio State, USC and Wisconsin, just to name a few. In fact, Okorafor even faced the Steelers 2017 first-round selection, outside linebacker T.J. Watt, in the 2017 Cotton Bowl game. While Watt did register a sack in that game, it didn’t come against Okorafor.
“He looks very strong,” Munchak said. “When you have a big man like him, it’s hard to run around him. He’s long, got nice long arms, has good size. [He] has a lot of growth ahead as far as strength, technique. He’s capable of doing everything we want to do.”
While it might take some time to develop Okorafor, Munchak knows that he’ll have the help of the Steelers other offensive linemen when it comes to that task.
“We have great leaders in our room with [Maurkice] Pouncey and those guys – Dave [David DeCastro], Ramon [Foster], that’d be great for a young guy like this and I think they’re going to really like him and I think he’ll just add another element to our room. Competition.”