The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line is in a huge transition going into the 2021 NFL season. Only one starter from 2020 is returning this year in Chukwuma Okorafor who started 16 games including the postseason. Taking over in Week 2 after the season-ending injury to Zach Banner, Okorafor didn’t blow the doors off of anyone with his performance last season. But is there a reason to think Chuks can vastly improve for 2021?
The following are four reasons why I Chuks Okorafor could take a big step in his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Notice the emphasis on the word ‘could.’ While his play on the field will ultimately be the test, these are some factors which may lead to a better performance. Whether or not these things translate onto the field remains to be seen.
Sometimes we forget that Chukwuma Okorafor is only 23 years old. Yes, he’s going into his fourth season in the NFL, but Chuks will not turn 24 until after the Hall of Fame Game in August. As he is continuing to mature, Steelers fans often do not realize that, other than the two players drafted in the 2021 NFL draft, Okorafor is the youngest player on the Steelers offensive line. This isn’t just about the players who are starting, it’s all of the offensive linemen on the entire 90-man roster. Even 2020 rookie Kevin Dotson is older than Okorafor as he has already turned 24.
When Chuks was drafted, he was pegged as a developmental player. One of the biggest reasons was because of his age. But after three seasons in Pittsburgh, sometimes we forget that he is still learning and growing and has the potential to take a big step even in his fourth season.
While the Steelers drafted Okorafor in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft, he was pegged as a developmental left tackle to be specific. Playing left tackle at Western Michigan, Okorafor his yet to play at what is pegged as his natural position. Of course, being a swing tackle, Okorafor should be prepared to play either position. But finally getting a shot to play a position in which he was an All-American his final year of college could help give him a boost in his performance.
This category is a bit of a mystery as it could go in either direction. Having some coaching changes on the offense may bring out the best in the fourth-year tackle. With assistant offensive line coach Adrian Klemm being promoted to take over for Shaun Sarrett, it appears there may be a shift in philosophy and mentality along the unit. Bring in an assistant offensive line coach who has years of experience in the league in Chris Morgan, perhaps it’s a change which can bring out the best in a player like Okorafor. Add in some differences in the overall offense due to a change in coordinator, and perhaps there could be a better fit with what Okorafor will be asked to do in 2021.
But just as likely as these things could help the Steelers young left tackle, it could be just as likely that they set him back or don’t make any difference at all. It truly is a wild card.
It has to come into it a little bit that Okorafor is in a contract year. Set to become a free agent following the 2021 season, this will be the chance for Chuks to show both the Steelers and 31 other NFL teams that he is a capable starting tackle in the league. If Okorafor cannot rise to such an occasion, it may show that he doesn’t have a future where a starting job will be set in stone for him at the top professional level.
So there are four reasons why Chuks Okorafor could make a jump in performance in 2021. Do you think these factors will lead to improved play, or do the Steelers pretty much know all they’re going to get from their fourth-year tackle? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.