Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically, where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the season and into the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. 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. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: T Chukwuma Okorafor
Stock Value: Even
Reasoning: Although one could argue that Okorafor had his best season in 2021, I do not believe that he significantly raised his value relative to what could have been reasonably anticipated, and the fact that he was scheduled to play at left tackle but had to move back to right tackle will not be of benefit to him on the open market, unless he truly bombed playing left tackle.
2021 was, all things considered, a fine season for Chukwuma Okorafor. It was mostly quiet, which isn’t the worst descriptor for an offensive lineman, but I don’t know that he meaningfully boosted his market value over the course of the year relative to what was expected.
This past season was the first in his four-year career in which he was slated to be an intended starter, expected to move to right tackle following the team’s decision not to re-sign Alejandro Villanueva. Okorafor started 16 games at right tackle in 2020, but only after Zach Banner, who defeated him in a training camp competition, tore his ACL in the opener.
Because of a setback in his recovery from that ACL injury, Banner was not ready to play at the start of the year. With rookie Dan Moore Jr. only ready to play at left tackle, the coaching staff made the decision to start him there and move Okorafor back to the right side in late August or early September, even though he had been practicing on the left side all offseason.
In terms of his on-field performance, it was his best season thus far, which one would generally expect when talking about a young offensive lineman, but he did have too many penalties, eight in all, six of which, inexcusably, were false starts. He only had two in his first three seasons. But he did not draw a hold, according to Pro-Football-Reference.
It will be interesting to see what his market looks like and whether or not the Steelers have much interest in retaining him. They do have Banner under contract for $5 million. Would they move ahead with the assumption that Banner is their current best option to start at right tackle? Would they release him and use that cap savings to re-sign Okorafor? Perhaps we’ll know in the next few days.