Now that the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.
Player: Chukwuma Okorafor
Stock Value: Up
There is now a clear and direct path for rookie third-round draft pick Chukwuma Okorafor to seize an important role for himself this season. The opportunity to walk that path presented itself last week when third-year tackle Jerald Hawkins suffered a torn quad muscle that is likely to keep him out of the 2018 season.
Though he was a three-year starter at Western Michigan, the only school outside of the Power 5 that sent a lineman through the draft in each of the past three seasons, Okorafor has been spoken of as somebody who is still a bit raw, with the implication that he might not be ready as a rookie to see game action.
With Hawkins out of the picture, though, he will be afforded every opportunity to prove himself, because they don’t have a lot of other impressive options currently on the roster. Jake Rodgers is somebody who has spent time on the practice squad, while Matt Feiler has worked at tackle before, but seems to still be focusing on working inside even after Hawkins’ injury.
Every player that reporters spoke to about the injury seemed only to bring up Okorafor with respect to the ‘next man up’, and many have sung his praises, saying that he has an NFL-ready body and that he has been making strides.
Still, some allowed that he is going through growing pains, which should be anticipated. Ramon Foster noted that T.J. Watt gave the rookie a hard time, something of a ‘welcome to the NFL’ practice, after Hawkins went down.
It would be a great life if Okorafor were able to rise to the occasion so quickly, though the hope is always that it will not be necessary. Of course, the odds favor the swing tackle starting at least a game or two this season. It’s been a while since that has not happened.
At the very least, this should but to bed any doubts that he might not make the roster. There was never really a chance of him missing the team anyway, but I saw a few people mention that, especially right after the draft, so I felt it was worth at least making a note of.