Now that the 2020 regular season has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
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. 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 season as we move forward.
Player: T Chukwuma Okorafor
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Okorafor made his first of what will likely be 15 starts on the season last Sunday against the Denver Broncos, and he handled himself well.
Although he didn’t come by the starting job the way that he would have liked, third-year offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor showed on Sunday that head coach Mike Tomlin wasn’t lying when he said that the battle for the job really was close.
Okorafor battled Zach Banner throughout the preseason for the right to start at right tackle after the Steelers moved Matt Feiler to left guard following the retirement of Ramon Foster, which created that vacancy. Banner won the job and started in the opener, but suffered a torn ACL very late in the game and was lost for the season.
It’s not the first time the Steelers have lost a right tackle in the waning moments of the opener. It happened to Willie Colon back in 2011, and it forced a then-rookie Marcus Gilbert into the starting lineup for the rest of the year.
That worked out well, especially over time, and one can only hope that this prove to work just as effectively. For whatever it’s worth, Pro Football Focus graded him out relatively well in his first start of the season, especially in pass protection, credited with allowing just one hurry.
This was actually Okorafor’s third start of his career, having started one game as a rookie and then another last year when they moved Feiler to guard to fill in for an injured Foster. That was the only game for which he was active in 2019.
Now he will not only be active for every game but will likely see about 1000 or so snaps. He has already played one more snap in 2020 than he did a year ago. As a rookie, while also serving in the tackle-eligible role, he logged 155 total snaps, which will also be passed in the near future.
Of course, now he has a major challenge on his hands working against J.J. Watt. This game will be a good litmus test to see where he is. Although it wouldn’t be damning if he struggles, as naturally anybody with three starts in their career can continue to benefit from more playing time, but if he does struggle, it will reveal the areas in which he needs to improve.