Chukwuma Okorafor Providing Stability for Pittsburgh Steelers

Chukwuma Okorafor

Entering the 2020 season, there was a question mark at right tackle for the Pittsburgh SteelersZach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor were battling for a spot that either way, fans weren’t overly confident in. Ultimately, Banner won the starting spot, but it didn’t last long. He tore his ACL in Week 1 and Okorafor’s number was called. Since then, Okorafor has played almost every snap. The former third-round pick has played extremely well and has allowed the Steelers to breathe a sigh of relief- both in the short term and the long term.

Chukwuma Okorafor Providing Stability at Right Tackle

Stepping Up as a Replacement

When he lost the battle for the starting right tackle position, Chukwuma Okorafor was probably very disappointed. However, he quickly shook off any discouragement when he was asked to step in late in the game against the New York Giants. Since that game, Okorafor has been solid. No one will pretend that he has been a world-beater, but he has been steady. According to Pro Football Reference, he has been penalized just one time this year. And according to Pro Football Focus, he has only allowed one sack (which came against Myles Garrett, one of the best players in the NFL). Despite Okorafor entering the season as the number two right tackle, there hasn’t been a fall-off in quality at the position following Banner’s injury.

Okorafor has matched up with plenty of talented defensive linemen, too. He isn’t just playing well against scrubs. In Week 3, he was tasked with matching up with J.J. Watt. The Steelers gave Okorafor some help with double teams or chips, but for the most part, he was on an island. Watt finished that game with no tackles for loss and no sacks, with his only contribution being a few pressures. Against the Philadelphia Eagles stout defensive line, Okorafor was solid again. He followed that game up against the phenomenal pass rushers of the Cleveland Browns. Garrett beat Okorafor for a sack, but beyond that, Okorafor put on another good performance.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Of course, Chukwuma Okorafor playing well is a great sign for the rest of the 2020 season. With a salary cap pinch coming in the offseason, the Steelers only focus is winning the Super Bowl this year. Next year’s salary cap situation is likely in the back of their heads, though. And seeing Okorafor play this well will likely relieve some stress of the Steelers front office.

Banner will be a free agent this offseason, as will left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Okorafor is still under contract through the 2021 season. The offseason will be challenging for the Steelers; they will have to make several tough cuts. There’s only so much money to go around, and a large chunk of it will go towards a T.J. Watt extension. Okorafor’s 2020 performance provides some flexibility. David DeCastroMaurkice Pouncey, and Kevin Dotson are all under contract at least through next year. They will be the three starters on the interior of the offensive line. Based on the way this season is going, Okorafor will also be a starter. That allows the Steelers to re-sign just one of Matt Feiler, Villanueva, or Banner to play the other tackle position. Of course, they will still need some depth, but they’ll be able to save money by only needing to pay starter money to one of those guys instead of two.

For the rest of the season, Chukwuma Okorafor will be the Steelers starting right tackle. Moving forward, he will either remain in that position or he could slide over to left tackle depending on free agency. Either way, the team should be thankful for the stability and flexibility Okorafor has provided for them.

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