The 2019 NFL Draft is drawing near, which seems to be a fitting time to take a look back at the rookie seasons of the Pittsburgh Steelers class from the 2018 NFL Draft. People start talking about the quality of a draft class before said class is even completed, of course, but now we have a year of data to work form.
Over the course of the next several days, I will be providing an overview of the team’s rookies, as well as an evaluation of each rookie that the Steelers drafted, while also noting any undrafted free agents that were able to stick around. This will not include the likes of Matt McCrane and Trey Griffey because they were first-year players, not rookies.
The Steelers went into the 2018 NFL Draft with eight selections, including two in the third round, but ended up trading out of the sixth round to move up in the third. They had two fifth-round selections and none in the fourth round, and flipped a number of picks due to multiple trades
Continuing a recent trend, the class has proven to be top-heavy in terms of early results, though there are still opportunities for those selected by them in the later rounds of the draft to develop into bigger contributors as well.
Player: Chukwuma Okorafor
Draft Status: 3rd round (92nd overall)
Starts: 3 (1 at tackle, 2 at tight end)
First of all, I want to briefly clarify that the only thing a ‘start’ means is that a player was on the field for the first snap of the game. So the fact that Chukwuma Okorafor had three ‘starts’ last year doesn’t really mean much. Meaningfully, he started one game, at right tackle, and also was on the field for the first snap twice more as a tackle-eligible.
But that’s not to diminish the significance of the very fact that he was indeed the tackle-eligible. In fact, he was the game-day swing tackle, even though, when the team had a week to prepare for a replacement, they had Matt Feiler start for Marcus Gilbert rather than the 21-year-old rookie.
With that being said, Okorafor’s rookie season was pretty strong overall. He had a good showing in training camp and in the preseason, which looked to be enough to earn himself the swing tackle job. Had it not been for Feiler, they likely would have entrusted him with that role regardless of circumstance.
At 6’6” and 320 pounds, Okorafor has the size of prototypical tackle, but he also has slightly above after athleticism, which the Steelers have come to covet in their linemen—with Ramon Foster being grandfathered in.
He has some technique flaws to clean up heading into his second season, but that’s no surprise given his limited football background. Head Coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that he will be part of an open competition for the vacant right tackle position in 2019, and I wouldn’t bet against him.