Previous pick: San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny
The Bucs draft defensive linemen back-to-back with the selection of Okoronkwo in the second round to bring the pass rush off the edge. Tampa Bay needs another explosive defensive end to get after the quarterback and there are some similarities between Okoronkwo and Noah Spence, the team’s 2016 second-round pick.
Spence ran a 4.8 time in the 40-yard dash, but had a 1.62 10-yard split, did 29 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, had a 10-foot-1 broad and a 35-inch vertical. Okoronwko ran a 4.77 in the 40, had a 1.65 10-yard split, posted 27 reps in the bench press, with a 10-foot-1 broad jump and a 38-inch vertical.
The good news for the Bucs is that Okoronwko’s shoulders are healthy, unlike the injured shoulder that has limited Spence’s production in his first two years in Tampa Bay to just 6.5 sacks and cost him much of the 2017 season. Licht and Koetter are expecting Spence to make a full recovery for 2018, but can’t count on it. Drafting Okoronkwo, who was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last year with 75 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
So why would the Bucs draft two of the same type of player? Because Spence is the only speed rusher on the team and Tampa Bay needs more speed off the edge. Is Spence was worth a second-round pick, so is Okoronkwo, and remember that Spence has more experience playing off the left side, while Okoronkwo played right defensive end at Oklahoma.
Okoronkwo has faced some NFL-caliber talent over the years in Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown, Georgia left tackle Isaiah Wynn, Ohio State left tackle Jamarco Jones, who he beat for 1.5 sacks and six tackles this year, and Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, who is now Chicago’s starting center. In 2016, Okoronkwo had 11 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble against Connor Williams in Oklahoma’s 45-40 win over Texas.
“He was definitely one of the best pass rushers that I’ve gone against,” Wynn said at the Senior Bowl, talking about the Rose Bowl match up against Okoronkwo. “He kept me on my toes the whole game. He’s just a quick-twitch guy. He has a great move. His best move is an inside spin. Normally with an inside spin guys usually slow down going into it, but he’s so quick that he goes full speed into. That makes it hard to defend.”
The Bucs have met with Okoronkwo twice this offseason. The first meeting came at the Senior Bowl where he recorded four tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble for the North team. The second meeting came at the NFL Scouting Combine. There the team discussed playing both a 3-4 scheme and a 4-3 scheme, and players like Spence and Okoronkwo can function in both as stand up outside rush linebackers in a 3-4 and hand-in-the dirt defensive ends in a 4-3.
Another NFL comp for Okoronkwo is Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue, who was drafted in the third round by Jacksonville in 2016. At 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, Ngakoue and Okoronkwo are the same size, and Ngakoue ran a similar 4.75 time in the 40-yard dash with a 1.65 10-yard split. Even the 26 reps on the bench press, the 34.5-inch vertical leap and the 9-foot-8-inch broad jump are similar to Okoronkwo’s numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine.
So is the college production. Ngakoue, who just made his first Pro Bowl with the Jaguars, racked up 83 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one interception at Maryland, while Okoronkwo amassed 162 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, five passes defensed, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Despite constant double teams, Ogbonnia was credited with 11 quarterback pressures, a sack and a forced fumble in 57 drop backs on pass plays and made the game-saving tackle on a lateral in OU’s 29-24 thrilling win over Texas in the Red River Rivalry. Despite being 6-foot-2, Okoronkwo has 34.5-inch arms and nearly an 80-inch wingspan, which helps him reach around offensive tackles to get to quarterbacks. To put that in perspective, Fort Hays State’s 6-foot-5 defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd has 33-inch arms and an 80-inch wingspan, and Miami’s 6-foot-5 defensive end Chad Thomas has 34-inch arms and an 81-inch wingspan.
Although he has a smallish stature, Okoronkwo has a violent punch at the line of scrimmage and is able to set the edge against bigger, athletic left tackles and be a factor in the run game. But it’s his ability to dip his shoulder, bend and come around the edge as a pass rusher that made him a terror in the Big 12 and hopefully in Tampa Bay.
Click below to view Tampa Bay’s third-round pick in 2018.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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