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Did Chuks Okorafor’s play make him deserving of his new contract?

Okorafor is the only offensive lineman on the Steelers to start most of the games the last two seasons.

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a number of additions so far for the 2022 season. One addition was actually a retention by signing Chucks Okorafor to a three-year contract. But is Okorafor worth the investment the Steelers made in him? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

As is usually the case, there aren’t a lot of statistics when it comes to players on the offensive line. A couple numbers that are of note is the fact Chuks Okorafor will not turn 25 years old until training camp. Being such a young player with four years of NFL experience could mean his play is still on the rise.

Another number when it comes to Okorafor is his salary from the three-year deal he just signed this offseason. While the total contract is worth $29.25 million over three years, Okorafor only counts $4.333 million against the salary cap in 2022. Seeing a large jump to more than $13 million in 2023 and just under $12 million in 2024, if the Steelers don’t see the improvement they want in their young tackle they could cut ties after this season.

As for other statistics, Okorafor has started all but one game in each of the last two seasons for the Steelers. Playing over 1,000 snaps both in 2020 and 2021, Okorafor is the longest-standing starter on the Steelers offensive line by far.

Another number which is sometimes reported with players on the offensive line is the number of penalties they have received. Okorafor had nine accepted penalties against him last season, but this could be misleading as many times when a wide receiver lines up incorrectly the penalty is charged to the tackle for being the last player eligible in the line of scrimmage although it is not their mistake.

Another metric which could be measured for offensive lineman is Pro Football Focus grades. Whether you like them or not, I will least report the scores. Okorafor’s 62.2 overall grade for the 2021 season was the best of his career. Unfortunately, looking at tackles currently under contract in 2022, Okorafor ranks 62nd out of 83 qualifying tackles based on their 2021 grade. Surprisingly scoring higher in his run blocking with a 65.0 versus a 61.1 pass blocking score, Okorafor seems to be very streaky when it came to looking at individual games. After notching a season low 46.0 against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11, Okorafor bounced back with his three best performances of the season the next three games against Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Minnesota at 76.3, 74.1, and 76.7 respectively.

After doing my best to give some numbers, the effectiveness of Chuks Okorafor and his potential for growth in 2022 will be better determined by the film.

The Film Line:

Chukwuma Okorafor hasn’t been the greatest offensive lineman in his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he hasn’t been the worst player on the line either. To get a better look at what he offers, we are going to look at where he struggles, and where he does better.

Let’s start by looking at one of Chukwuma Okorafor’s worst games of the year, Week 11 vs. Joey Bosa and the Chargers.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 1st quarter, 0:13.

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle

Okorafor takes a loss to Joey Bosa on this snap, and it allows a hit on Ben Roethlisberger. While Bosa won this rep, Okorafor held his own for most of this game when facing Bosa one on one, and the Chargers found better success mixing up their rushes or moving Bosa around.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 1st quarter, 12:49.

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle

You can see the attention and focus Okorafor is giving Bosa, and the stunt leaves Okorafor in a bad spot. One of the chief skills any offensive lineman needs to succeed is knowing how long you can hold without getting flagged, and while Okorafor doesn’t win the rep on this play, his well-executed hold gives his quarterback time to get the ball off before getting hit.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 1st quarter, 9:28.

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle

Here’s some Matt Canada play-action, and Okorafor does a great job in his assignment, forcing the defensive lineman inside, putting him well behind and out of the play.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 2nd quarter, 13:46.

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle (left side of screen)

There’s plenty of poor execution on this play, and Chukwuma Okorafor joins his teammates in their struggles. He is trying to get inside the defensive end to control his movement and while he doesn’t completely fail, the defensive end is able to move in and pinch the line through Okorafor’s block. Not good.

Week 11 was a bad week for Okorafor, but honestly, it wasn’t terrible, and Okorafor did a solid job against Joey Bosa. Bosa did get a sack in the game, but it came lined up on the other side of the line. If that is Okorafor playing poorly, then the Steelers could do much worse with their right tackle.

In Week 13 the Steelers beat the Ravens and Okorafor had a much better game, at least according to the PFF grades.

Steelers vs. Ravens, 1st quarter, 7:59.

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle

This isn’t a great block as you’d love to see him take the momentum from the help Zach Gentry gives and finish the block, but Okorafor does a solid job here. Okorafor fails to get inside the defensive lineman, but he’s smart enough to at least drive the defender as far inside as he can, limiting the space the end can defend and giving Najee Harris a small crease to run through and gain good yards.

Okorafor isn’t a great run blocker, but he is solid, at least most of the time.

Steelers vs. Ravens, 1st quarter, 7:59.

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle (left side of screen)

I like this rep for Okorafor. You can see the edge rusher fake the stunt to begin the play, and Okorafor reaches out, ready for the lineman to stunt into him if it is indeed a stunt. Even with that fake putting him a bit behind the edge rusher, Okorafor is able to use his long arms to greatly widen the edge’s rush and stays with him to keep him and deepen his rush as well, putting him well behind Ben Roethlisberger and keeping the pocket safe.

Steelers vs. Ravens, 1st quarter, 7:59.

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle

Okorafor gets good drive on his man here, and Trai Turner is still able to get to the second level. While the run play doesn’t work out great, Okorafor shows he can move a defender when he has a leverage advantage like he does here.

Steelers vs. Ravens, 4th quarter, 14:05.

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle

Okorafor again showing off his movement and his ability to move a defender when he has an advantage. This Matt Canada special plays off of previous ones (note the attention Freiermuth gets) and the Steelers get a good gain downfield without asking their lineman to do anything like traditional pass blocking.

Okorafor is great in Matt Canada’s plays like this, you don’t see him missing his target very often and he has the athleticism and length to get to his target quickly.

Steelers vs. Ravens, 4th quarter, 10:45.

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle

Again Okorafor’s length shows up as he drives the edge defender outside opening up a lane for Najee Harris to gain yards.

The Point:

While Chukwuma Okorafor isn’t a lineman that will line up and dominate the defensive lineman across from him, he fits the athletic and long profile of lineman Pat Meyer and the Steelers are looking for to run Matt Canada’s offense. And while he’s not the guy you typically want for your highest paid offensive lineman, the Steelers are running one of the cheaper lines in the NFL, and Okorafor ranks outside the top 25 tackles in annual salary. Playing in his fifth year at the age of 25, Okorafor’s contract is structured in a way for the Steelers where his cap hit is increasing while his quality of play should be doing the same thing. If it does not, the Steelers will have to make the call next offseason before committing another $10 million for 2023.