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Chukwuma Okorafor enjoyed a better late than never 2022 season for the Steelers

Steelers offensive tackle Chuks Okorafor produced his best season to date in 2022, just like the Steelers expected him to.

NFL: JAN 08 Browns at Steelers Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Better late than never. A familiar refrain from individuals who have a tendency to be fashionably late to any shindig or soiree. You can count on these individuals to faithfully show up, but seldom at the agreed upon arrival time.

That description could be used to describe Chukwuma Okorafor's NFL career up to this point. Okorafor has consistently reported for duty in all five of his seasons with the black and gold, but his growth as a professional has always seemed like it was a step behind.

Maybe it was a lack of maturity, because Okorafor was still a kid for the majority of his NFL tenure thus far.

Okorafor has five full seasons of work on his NFL resume, but he is still only 25 years old. There will be plenty of 23 and 24 year old prospects in the 2023 draft class as always, thanks to redshirt and transfer collegiate seasons. Okorafor, who finally played like the seasoned veteran he is this season, is grizzled beyond his years.

Apparently the Steelers recognized that Okorafor was on the verge of fulfilling his potential in 2022, and they wisely gave him a 3 year, $29.25 million dollar contract, before another franchise could reap the benefits of the four year investment the Steelers already had in the young man.

It already appears to have been an astute signing, but one I wasn't particularly thrilled with at the moment pen met paper. I have honestly been one of Okorafor's harshest critics through the years, and for good reason. It's easy to see Okorafor's potential, which made his lack of consistent production that much more maddening.

Okorafor has the requisite length and athleticism desired at the tackle position. He is light on his feet for such a large individual, and his movements seem very natural. Although blessed with natural athleticism, Okorafor had always lacked the proper amount of intensity and physicality needed for the position in my opinion, prior to his breakout 2022 season.

The Steelers invested in Okorafor once again because they realized that there were three main factors hindering his development: supporting cast, coaching, and confidence.

The supporting cast issue was easy to identify. The best stint of Okorafor's career happened in the early stages of the 2020 season playing right tackle alongside then rookie right guard Kevin Dotson. Okorafor appeared to feed off of Dotson's intensity and physicality, and the young tandem enjoyed an almost instant connection.

Sadly, that pairing was short lived, and Chuks has never been able to duplicate that easy chemistry with any of his linemates since then. That was true, until James Daniels and Mason Cole came along.

The trio gave the Steelers the best right side of the line performance we have seen in years, even if it took the left side a little longer to come around. The Steelers offensive line is still a work in progress, but their improvement this season was undeniable, and appears sustainable. Additional talent is needed to reach their desired goals, but the right side of the line appears set for the near future.

Another underrated aspect of Okorafor's best season was the hiring of Offensive Line Coach Pat Meyer. Meyer's zone blocking schemes and techniques are a much better fit for Okorafor, who relies on his length and mobility more than his strength and physicality. The Steelers realized that Okorafor was a good fit for Meyer's schemes and Matt Canada's offense, even as I and others were questioning the decision. Thankfully the Steelers could clearly see what I struggled to comprehend.

I realized that Okorafor had acquired an inordinate amount of NFL experience at a relatively young age; the same could be said for Daniels and Cole as well, but I questioned if Okorafor would ever find the intensity needed to reach his potential. That intensity finally started to show up in 2022 thanks to some new found confidence.

The type of confidence one often finds through a combination of maturity and job security. After achieving the hard-earned financial and professional security found in a long-term contract with the only franchise family you have ever known.

Okorafor was a different player this season, both on and off the field. On the field, he showed a level of physicality and intensity we have seldom seen before. Playing through the whistle, pancake blocks, downfield blocks, push the pile blocks, even some after the play enforcer tactics. I frankly didn't think that the young man had that level of junkyard dog in him, but he showed he is willing and able to stand up for his Steelers family. His post game interviews revealed a composed and articulate young man, yet another area were his new found confidence was revealed.

Congratulations to Chuks Okorafor for having his best season yet in 2022, and for proving this old Steelers fan wrong for ever doubting you in the process.