A lot of people were pretty annoyed and confused when the Pittsburgh Steelers used a third-round draft choice to select a raw, 20-year-old college junior at offensive tackle by the name of Chukwuma Okorafor. Many felt that it was too early to address the offensive line, while most others doubted that he was even worth being selected near that point in the draft.
The assumption was that he was so raw that he would probably need a redshirt year. He would have to be on the 53-man roster, of course, but he probably would not even dress for a single game unless some horrible things happened along the offensive line.
Fast forward several months later and it’s quite possible that we see Okorafor starting the season opener. Not at tackle, of course, where Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert are pretty well entrenched, but as a tackle-eligible tight end, which the Steelers have opened games with before.
The tackle-eligible is a favorite of former offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s, something that he began to implement in 2012 with Mike Adams, but it’s also something that offensive line coach Mike Munchak really picked up on once he came in in 2014.
He talked about the value of that role back in June, saying that it’s something that “gets you in the game. You can’t just standing on the sideline the whole game”. It is something of a developmental tool that the team has been able to use to get in-game experience for the likes of Adams, Kelvin Beachum, Chris Hubbard, and Jerald Hawkins.
Okorafor is the next in line to inherit the tackle-eligible role, and I can pretty much guarantee you that we will see it today with the Steelers already down tight end Vance McDonald. The Steelers, in fact, like using it so much that they have certain packages geared toward it when they run the ball, typically in the second half with a lead.
I can tell you from our charting that the tackle-eligible was a role that was called upon more when there were injuries at the tight end position. Hawkins, for example, saw 10 snaps there in the New England game. The Steelers got about 100 snaps over the course of the season from the extra lineman.
Hopefully those are the only snaps that Okorafor will see during his rookie season, because otherwise it likely means that one of the starting tackles was injured or suspended, unless they are afforded the luxury of resting in a meaningless regular season finale.