FAB 2. Tampa Bay Targeting Pass Rusher Okoronkwo
After signing two interior defensive linemen in Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein in free agency, the Bucs will have to turn to the 2018 NFL Draft to find some much-needed help when it comes to rushing the passer off the edge. North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb is the prized defensive end in this year’s draft, and it’s possible – but unlikely – that he slides to Tampa Bay, which has the seventh overall pick.
One of the players that the Bucs are targeting with their second-round pick is Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who was recently featured in PewterReport.com’s 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft 3.0. Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht drafted Noah Spence with a high second-round pick two years ago, and Okoronkwo is a similar-type player – only with healthy shoulders.
Spence is listed at 6-foot-3, 261 pounds on the Bucs’ roster, but he measured 6-foot-2, 251 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, and was actually played the upper 240s during his rookie season. Okoronkwo is similarly built at 6-foot-2, 253 pounds.
As I stated in our latest mock draft, “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.”
I interviewed Okoronkwo at the Senior Bowl and came away impressed. He told me, “I interviewed with the Bucs and it was cool. It was a good interview. I could help their pass rush.”
So I decided to catch up with him on Wednesday after Oklahoma’s pro day to see if there had been any more interest from Tampa Bay.
“The pro day went really well,” Okoronkwo said. “I improved my 40 time a little bit, which was good. I ran 4.74. I put up a good three-cone number. I went 6.8 on the three-cone. I went 4.2 on my shuttle and I feel like those are really important numbers for edge rushers because change of direction and bend are what those numbers are all about.
“I thought my Combine performance was okay, but there were a lot of things I didn’t do there. I didn’t feel like I did my best because I didn’t do all the drills. I wanted to come to my pro day and really get after it.”
To put Okoronkwo’s numbers in perspective, Chubb ran a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash, but 7.37 time in the three-cone drill and a 4.41 time in the 20-yard short shuttle. UTSA’s Marcus Davenport, who is believed to be the second-ranked defensive end in the NFL Draft by draft experts, ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, but had a 7.21 time in the three-cone drill and a 4.41 time in the shuttle.
“Dwight Freeny has a similar frame as me and I love his spin move,” Okoronkwo said. “I pulled it out in a couple games. I love Von Miller. I love coming off the edge and dipping around and having to make those big guys have to bend down to get me. They don’t like to do that. I do a lot of training for that in the offseason. I bring out the hula hoop and the towel down there and I run that edge and try to put my ear as close as I can to the ground.”
When Spence came out in 2016 he had 4.35 time in the shuttle and a 7.21 time in the three-cone drill. So Okoronkwo’s measurables are quite good, but so is his production.
Okoronkwo 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. He finished his Sooners career with 162 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, five forced fumbles, five passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.
In the Senior Bowl, which his last game in an OU helmet, Okoronkwo had two sacks and a forced fumble.
“I was just having fun,” Okoronkwo said. “There was no pressure, so I figured if I had fun I would get the best results, and I did. The game plan was fun and the Broncos coaches just told us to play hard, so that’s what I did.”
Not only did the Bucs interview him at the Senior Bowl, they also interviewed him again at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“They expressed interest in me as a pass rusher, and they said how much they needed pass rushers,” Okoronkwo said. “We had a good conversation both times and it seemed like they enjoyed it, too. Playing in a 3-4 and a 4-3 came up in conversation and I told them I was comfortable playing in either scheme.
“I interviewed with the linebackers coach [Mark Duffner] and he coaches one of my OU guys that I look at like a big brother, Devante Bond. I played behind him for two years and he taught me a lot. Coach Mark and I talked about Devante a lot, too.”
Okoronkwo also interviewed with Dallas, which has the 19th overall pick, and Indianapolis, who picks two spots ahead of Tampa Bay in the second round at No. 36 overall. He doesn’t care where he’s drafted, but if Okoronkwo came to the Bucs he would love the opportunity to play with a couple of Sooners alumni.
“I would love to be in Tampa,” Okoronkwo said. “I would be very comfortable around guys that I already know. Gerald McCoy has come back to OU and mentored me, and then Devante Bond was a mentor to me before he left OU for the NFL. I think I would be able to hit the ground running. I would be able to study the playbook with both of those guys and learn things that you can only know from playing in the league. I could help their pass rush, and the Bucs have really good, athletic linebackers, too. I feel like I would be a great addition to the team.”
The Bucs could use Okoronkwo as a 4-3 defensive end in pass rushing situations, or as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
“At OU we ran a 4-3, a 3-4 and a 3-3-5,” Okoronkwo told me at the Senior Bowl. “I played WILL [linebacker] in the 3-3-5 and also defensive end, I played outside linebacker in our 3-4 and I played weakside defensive end in our 4-3 scheme. That would be doing exactly what I’m used to. There wouldn’t be any learning curve because at OU we had a complex playbook. Learning the playbook won’t be hard for me at all and I can come in and make an immediate impact.”
Because other teams view him with the same position flexibility, Okoronkwo did a lot of linebacker drills at his pro day.
“I didn’t do a lot of pass rushing drills,” Okoronkwo said. “I mostly did coverage drills. The scouts said I performed a lot smoother in those drills than they thought I would. I knew I would. I decided to go out and do a bunch of coverage drills to show them how I can move in space. Although I didn’t do a lot of that at OU I feel like my transition to doing that wouldn’t be hard at all.”
The Big 12 conference often gets knocked because of the lack of defense, but Okoronkwo did face some top tier NFL-caliber left tackles in college. Aside from going up against possible first-round pick Orlando Brown in practice every day, Okoronkwo beat Ohio State’s JaMarco Jones, Texas’ Connor Williams and Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, who is now the starting center in Chicago, for sacks while at OU.
“Because I have beaten those guys for sacks gives me confidence that I will excel immediately because those are NFL-caliber guys,” Okoronkwo said. “A lot of people talk about the Big 12 and stuff like that and my competition level, but I’ve played against some really good guys – out of conference and in-conference.”
Okoronkwo has played his best against arch-rival Texas in the annual Red River Rivalry. He recorded his first career tackle and half a sack in that game in 2014 as a redshirt freshman in the Sooners’ 31-26 win. In 2016, Okoronkwo beat Williams like a drum in a 45-40 win, recording a career-high 11 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
Last year, Williams missed the game due to a knee injury and Okoronkwo called him out on it in pre-game.
“I saw him in warm-ups and I saw Connor walking around with a brace on his,” Okoronkwo said. “I told him he was faking it because he was scared of me, and we shared a little laugh.”
Without Williams, the Longhorns struggled to contain Okoronkwo, who had 11 quarterback pressures, five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and was in on the game-winning tackle on the last play of the game.
“I was getting double-teamed, but that’s fun because it creates one-on-ones with everybody else,” Okoronkwo said. “I didn’t mind it because I was still getting to the quarterback. I like to play with a chip on my shoulder, and when it comes to Texas – I really hate Texas. The rivalry had a lot to do with it, but when they were recruiting me they ultimately said, ‘You’re too short to come here.’ Every time I play them I try to go as hard as possible.
“In last year’s game I remember there were so many plays where I was tired and wanted to tap my helmet and come out, but I couldn’t let myself do that. I had to keep on playing because I didn’t want to feel bad if I came out and we didn’t win the game. So I just put it on myself and toughed it out.”
Okoronkwo has sacked his share of NFL-caliber quarterbacks, including Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph (three sacks), Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (1.5 sacks), Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (1.5 sacks) and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes (one sack). But there was one college quarterback that always eluded Okoronkwo, and he can’t wait to sack him in the NFL.
“Baker Mayfield – I’m looking forward to that one,” Okoronkwo said of the cocky Sooners quarterback. “Me and Baker went back and forth in practice, talking every day. I couldn’t touch him and it sucked. He knew it, too. He would laugh about it and say, ‘You can’t touch me, Obo.’ Well, I’ll get him back for that.”
Perhaps that long-awaited sack will come in a red and pewter jersey.