By Adam Aniba
This year's tight end draft class is viewed as unspectacular in the Top 50. The early rounds have more questions than answers at the position, but day 3 of the draft features one prospect who impressed at the NFL Combine.
Maryland tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo got the attention of combine onlookers, after running the forty-yard dash in 4.52 seconds. After checking in at slightly over 6'2" and weighing 238 lbs, running a time that fast certainly helped his draft stock.
Terps HC Mike Locksley utilized Okonkwo in his Spread scheme in an unconventional role, often featuring him on screen passes. Although Okonkwo's career stats are pedestrian, his impact on the next level should be far greater than his collegiate career.
6'2" 238 lbs | TE | Maryland
Draft Proj Late 4th-5th Rd
Career (30 games) 77 rec for 717 yds & 8 tds with a 9.3 per rec avg
*Rushing- 3 att for 72 yds & 2 tds
2021 (30 games) 52 rec for 447 yds & 5 tds with a 8.6 yds per rec avg
Okonkwo shined for Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, GA as a 3-star recruit and rated as the 8th tight end in the nation by multiple collegiate scouting outlets. As a senior, Okonkwo lined up predominantly at receiver, leading the team to the regional championship.
Former Ole Miss TE Evan Ingram was also a Hillgrove HS standout (drafted #23 overall by the NY Giants in '17). He inspired Okonkwo, who was in middle school at the time and would walk to Hillgrove HS to watch Ingram practice. Both thrived playing off-script and had multiple offers from D1 programs.
Okonkwo received offers to play for Maryland, Wisconsin, GA Tech and Navy just to name a few of the bigger programs that showed interest. The hybrid tight end, ultimately committed to play for Mike Locksley and his spread scheme offense at Maryland.
Okonkwo was viewed as one of the best kept secrets in the nation during the recruiting process, but some questioned if the transition to tight end was the best way to utilize his skill set. Okonkwo's message to interested programs was to the point.
“I cause mismatch problems if I play the flex tight end position. You know, being able to stretch the field and open up plays going up against linebackers that can’t really cover me."
Embracing Tight End
During Okonkwo's freshman season at Maryland, it seemed as if coaches didn't exactly know how to best utilize the high school receiver. He participated in limited snaps as a true freshman, but had a few reps in the backfield as a runner and on screens as a flex tight end.
Okonkwo missed the '20 season, after being diagnosed with myocarditis (inflammation of heart muscle). After 6 months away from the game, he received a clean bill of health and was full go for the '21 season.
OC Dan Enos coached NFL flex tight ends, Irv Smith (Alabama) and Brevin Jordan (Miami U). In '21 the Terps passing game was lackluster, but Okonkwo was a bright spot with Enos finding creative ways to get him the ball. He finished the season with an 8.6 yard per catch avg, second on the team in receptions with 52 and lead the team with 5 touchdowns.
Okonkwo's 4.52 second forty-yard dash time and overall performance, during the NFL Combine, caught many by surprise. His 1.59 second time in the 10-yard split is elite for a tight end and added to his impressive showing with a 35.5" vertical leap. The Terps tight end dramatically improved on his forty time (4.74 seconds) and vertical leap (34.3") from his pre-recruiting workout, only three years ago. If anything, scouts will now take a deeper dive into Okonkwo's '21 film now.
Okonkwo's statement game came vs MSU last season. In the matchup, the Terps tight end had an impressive long touchdown, in which he tightroped the sideline for nearly twenty yards enroute to a 32 yard TD. Later in the 2nd half, Okonkwo added his second touchdown of the day, once again in spectacular fashion. On the play in question, the Terps tight end hauled in the short pass and hurdled the defender for another 32 yard catch and score.
OKONKWO'S CAREER HIGHS
*Receiving Yds - 12 (#8 MSU 11/13/21)
*Rec-12 (#22 PSU 11/6/21)
*Long Rec -32 (#8 MICH 11/13/21)
*Receiving TD's -2 (#8 MSU 11/13/21)
*Rushing YDS -54 (Illinois 10/27/18)
*Rushing TD's -1 (Illinois, 10/27/18)
A moveable chess piece, that can have a variety of roles in the passing game
Ability to gain YAC, tough to bring down in the open field
Strong hands with a wide catch radius
Extremely effective in the short game, excels on screens
Athleticism/speed lead to coverage mismatches vs Linebackers
Solid muscular build ideal for the position
Slightly short arms for the position (32.75 inch arms)
Raw as a route runner (minor concern with NFL coaching)
Needs a lot of work in pass/run protection
Game experience (only 30 career games)
Habit of chest catching on short routes
Can be a non-factor, if not a focus in the passing game early on
Okonkwo is viewed as a hybrid prospect, who could see time as an H-Back/Fullback on the next level. Although those are roles Okonkwo could potentially fill, it would be a disservice to pigeon hole the tight end. His background as a HS receiver certainly helps his projection as a flex-tight end.
Expecting Okonkwo to contribute as a run-blocker early in his career, won't be his calling card. Teams with an established in-line tight end, would greatly benefit from Okonkwo's ability to split out wide, leading to coverage mismatches. Okonkwo is a physical specimen, that possess the tools to be an immediate contributor on special teams and is a big play receiving weapon when in 12-personal (dual tight ends) passing sets.
As a developmental mid round prospect, Okonkwo has tremendous upside as a receiving threat and would represent great value if available in the latter stages of round 4-5.
*Games Watched- 9/4/21 vs WVU, 9/11 vs HOWARD, 9/25 vs KENT, 10/1 vs IOWA, 10/9 vs OSU, 10/23 vs MINN, 10/30 vs IU, 11/16 vs PSU, 11/13 vs MSU, 11/20 vs MICH & 11/27 vs RUTG
*Team Fits- WAS, PHI, NYG, DAL, GB, SF, ARZ, TENN, DET, NYJ, JAX, BAL, IND & CIN
**CLICK BELOW FOR MORE**