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: Although he lost the initial competition for the starting right tackle job in 2020, he ended up starting 16 games including the playoffs due to injury.
Many people raised an eyebrow when the Steelers drafted a tackle out of Western Michigan that they had never heard of in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, especially relative to the fact that they had seemingly greater needs at other positions.
That player was Chukwuma Okorafor, who had a promising rookie season working as a tackle-eligible tight end and starting one game, but then seemed to take a step back his sophomore year, with Zach Banner surpassing him as the gameday reserve tackle, though he did still start one game.
This past season, he entered training camp battling Banner for the starting right tackle job after Matt Feiler was kicked inside to left guard to fill the shoes of Ramon Foster, who had just retired. He lost the competition, but everyone involved said it was very close.
Banner started in the season opener, but suffered a torn ACL late in the game, and Okorafor was tasked with filling in for the rest of the season. Now with Alejandro Villanueva perhaps departing in free agency, we could see Okorafor being moved to left tackle.
Truth be told, his performance still leaves a lot to be desired. While he did well enough in pass protection, he was greatly aided by Ben Roethlisberger’s quick time-to-throw. Like the entire line, his run-blocking was not where it needed to be.
Could a new offensive line coach get more out of him? Considering the high odds of his playing a big role in the 2021 season along that front line, all we can do is hope that that is the case. The Steelers will inevitably lose at least one or two of their linemen who are unrestricted free agents. Okorafor, meanwhile, is moving into the final year of his rookie contract.