From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be taking a look at Maryland tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo, a physical freak at the position who also carries an interesting connection to Pittsburgh.
#9 Chigoziem Okonkwo, TE, Maryland (Sr.) — 6024, 238 lbs.
East-West Shrine Bowl, Combine
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Chigoziem Okonkwo||6024/238||9 3/4″||32 3/4″||78 1/8″|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
-True height/weight/speed guy with freakish physical traits
-Impressive physique overall; well built
-Explosive runner with the football in his hands, easily generates power
-Powerful lower half to run through tackles; looks like a running back with the ball in his hands
-Showcases soft hands with ideal body control to easily adjust to the football
-Very good feel against zone coverage for when to sit and show numbers
-Splash-play threat any time he touches the rock
-Utilized all over the formation; comfortable in a number of roles
-Extremely limited route tree overall, will have late learning curve there
-Needs to learn to have some pace/tempo in his routes; runs everything one speed without deception
-Slightly undersized overall for true tight end at the next level
-Limited overall as a blocker
-Must develop hand usage more and not rely so much on his length as a blocker
-Added experience at next level should unlock football IQ from a blocking standpoint; looks lost at times in blocking role
-Bit of a ‘tweener overall that will be scheme dependent
-Three-year starter for Maryland Terrapins
-Sat out all of 2020 season for medical reasons (myocarditis)
-Finished three-year career with 77 receptions for 717 yards and eight touchdowns; added three carries for 72 yards and two scores
-Recorded career-high 52 receptions for 447 yards and five touchdowns in 2021
-Named 2021 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten
-447 receiving yards most in a season at Maryland since Vernon Davis in 2005
-Played under current Steelers’ offensive coordinator Matt Canada in 2018, scoring three times on nine total touches (six catches, three rushes)
-Former No. 8 overall tight end in Class of 2018 out of Georgia; chose Maryland over Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and Navy
Throughout the pre-draft process, you get a chance to watch a number of players across the board, and sometimes you gravitate towards some players more than others, depending on preference.
For me, that one player I gravitated towards quickly is Maryland tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo, who profiles more as an H-back in the NFL. Built well at 6024, 238 pounds of chiseled rock, Okonkwo is a freak athlete at the position. Though relatively raw from a route running and blocking perspective, there’s something to be said for the athlete he is overall.
According to his RAS score from Kent Lee Plate (@MathBomb on Twitter), Okonkwo doesn’t score as high as his testing numbers were, largely due to being dinged for his height and weight.
Chigoziem Okonkwo is a TE prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 6.47 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 353 out of 998 TE from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/n7dppjdw58 #RAS pic.twitter.com/WzKmsWBtaZ
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 6, 2022
The testing numbers are very impressive though, and the tape backed it up, showing a guy that can take a short pass and turn it into an explosive play after the catch, while also being able to stretch the seam vertically, giving Maryland a dynamic weapon they could move all over the formation.
Here against Syracuse in 2019, Okonkwo lines up as the in-line tight end off right tackle.
You can see he’s a fluid athlete overall right away as he bounces inside against the Syracuse safety, easily winning across the field for the first-down catch, putting Maryland on the doorstep. Though his route tree overall is very limited, largely due to how Maryland used him, there’s certainly some intrigue there with Okonkwo due to his movement skills and overall explosiveness.
One thing that really jumped off the tape with Okonkwo was his hands and body control. Here against Indiana in 2019, Okonkwo is lined up as the wing tight end. This is simple out route into the flat for Okonwko, but the catch is all that more impressive. It’s a high throw that’s also behind him, yet he easily contorts his body and makes a fantastic catch without breaking stride, resulting in the touchdown.
Again, nothing fancy from the route tree for Okonkwo, but you can see the explosiveness in his first step. Watch the way he explodes latterly to get outside the Iowa linebacker last season, resulting in the easy pitch and catch for the score. Maryland loved to use him on these short dumpoffs, largely because he’s an absolute mismatch in space for defenders tasked with covering him. This is how he’ll succeed right away in the NFL.
Where he can really take his game to the next level though is as a vertical weapon up the seam against overmatched linebackers and safeties.
Here against Michigan State in 2021, Maryland unlocked Okonkwo, asking him to push vertically. He does a tremendous job winning off the line of scrimmage, turning the Michigan State linebacker, splitting the safety and working himself wide open for the touchdown. The route tree doesn’t have to deep right away in the NFL as there’s clear areas he can win. Getting into a vertically attacking offense at the next level could really cause a jump in his game.
Of course, if he lands in an offense that wants to use him similar to how Maryland used him, that’s a win for Okonkwo too, just based on what he can do with the football in his hands.
He just looks like a running back with the football in his hands. It’s fascinating to watch. Somebody his size and his position shouldn’t really move like this in space, but that’s what Okonkwo brings to the table. His vision is pretty sound too in space, which is a huge plus for him. He doesn’t panic with the football, picks his way through defenses and lets his physical traits take over.
Overall, I really like Okonkwo’s projection into the NFL. While he does have quite a bit of a learning curve coming from a route tree perspective and as a blocker, there’s no denying how dynamic he can be as a receiving option, especially with the football in space.
He might be slightly undersized, but he’s as powerful as they come with his thick frame and muscular lower half. He truly looks like a rocked up running back when he touches the football and has impressive speed overall. He can be a serious mismatch in the right system for teams looking to get value late in Day 2 or early on Day 3.
Okonkwo reminds me of Orson Charles, a former H-back out of Georgia in the 2012 NFL Draft, who was selected by the Browns in the fourth round that year. Charles went on to have a journeyman career spanning seven teams in seven seasons, but Okonkwo is the charged up version of Charles from a pass catching standpoint. He’ll be a ton of fun to track in the NFL just based on what he can do after the catch.
Projection: Late Day 2/Early Day 3 (4th-5th Round)
Depot Draft Grade: 7.2 Raw, athletic tight end with physical traits to develop into dynamic receiving threat
Games Watched: vs. Illinois (2018), vs. Ohio State (2018), vs. Syracuse (2019), vs. Indiana (2019), vs. West Virginia (2021), at Illinois (2021), vs. Kent State (2021), vs. Iowa (2021), at Ohio State (2021), vs. Indiana (2021), vs. Penn State (2021), vs. Michigan (2021), vs. Virginia Tech (2021, New Era Pinstripe Bowl)