The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.
This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others.
Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor is heading into free agency, as is Trai Turner.
These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.
Question: How close is Chukwuma Okorafor to his talent and performance ceiling?
The Steelers drafted Okorafor out of Western Michigan with the idea that they could groom him into a starter. An African native who didn’t really discover the game of football in earnest until his teens, who didn’t play the offensive line until well into high school, who declared for the draft as a true junior, they knew in selecting him they were taking somebody who was raw.
He has now started 35 games at right tackle over the course of his career, including the postseason. So what do we know about him—or rather, what do we know about his limits? Has he plateaued, and if not, how much higher can he go?
Even though he has been in the league for four years now, he is still only 24 years old. He has only been playing the position for nine years in total; compared to most NFL players going into their second contract, that’s really not long at all.
Okorafor was not a player I would describe as a plus starter last season, by any means. I would hesitate to even call him a replacement-level player sometimes, though he has certainly had a decent amount of good tape—mixed with the stuff you want to see eliminated. And his high penalty count last year was unusual, especially with so much of it being pre-snap.
The Steelers signed him to a three-year deal worth nearly $10 million per season. Even if they have a relatively easy out after each year, they still committed a meaningful amount of money to him, and it had to have been predicated upon the belief that he is still getting better. So how much better can he realistically get?