The first MAC prospect is finally off the board, and he is heading east to the rivers and bridges of the Steel City.
Western Michigan offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor heard the announcement of a lifetime Friday night when former Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks declared his selection in the third round at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The former First Team All-American (Phil Steele, FWAA) was the ninth offensive tackle selected in the 2018 Draft when the Pittsburgh Steelers took him off the board with the 92nd overall pick. Okorafor was the fourth Steelers pick this draft.
This marks the third consecutive year where a Western Michigan offensive lineman has been drafted in the first four rounds. In 2016, the Vikings chose Willie Beavers (currently with the Seahawks) in the fourth round (121st) and in 2017, Taylor Moton was selected as the 64th pick by the Panthers in the second round. Okorafor, a First Team All-MAC selection in 2016 and 2017, is the next Bronco to pursue NFL glory.
Okorafor stands at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds — an ideal build for an NFL tackle. As a sophomore, Okorafor lined up as a right tackle before shifting to the left side for his final two years in Kalamazoo. Not only has he played all over the line, but he’s been all over the globe. He was born in Nigeria and also claimed residence in South Africa and Botswana at a young age before moving to Southfield, MI. He held offers from Oklahoma, Florida, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Iowa but elected to play close to home.
Okorafor is often applauded for his incredible strength and power as a blocker, but his greatest asset is probably his footwork. For his large build, he is quite agile on the feet and excels at picking up blocks on even the fastest edge rushers. During the team’s 13-1 season in 2016, the Broncos line was one of the most dominant in the nation, only yielding 16 sacks in 14 games.
The Western Michigan alum has been especially prolific in guiding the run game, specifically paving paths for the backfield duo of Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin. In 2016, the Broncos nearly eclipsed the 3,200-yard mark as a team and registered 36 touchdowns. The rushing game took a bit of a step back without Moton on the line in 2017, but Okorafor still held his own and the three-year starter was recognized as an Outland Trophy semifinalist as a result.
Okorafor, a Senior Bowl invitee, was a projected first round pick and a potential first-year starter until the combine. He ran a 5.31-second 40-yard dash and completed just 19 reps on the bench press. A rough combine outing contributed to some slippage on Friday, but his on-the-field talent is undeniable. Working on the consistency of his blocks will be his key to moving up the ranks on the depth chart.
“Chukes” may slide to right tackle in the pros, likely lining up behind offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert on the Steelers depth chart. But there are plenty of accomplished veterans on the line to mentor the young Okorafor, including Pro Bowlers Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, and Maurkice Pouncey.
His selection by the Steelers is also notable because the first NFL game he watched was Super Bowl XLV — when the Packers defeated the Steelers 31-25 to determine the champion of the 2010 season.
Follow Behind the Steel Curtain, the Pittsburgh Steelers blog of SB Nation to follow Okorafor’s pro journey.