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Patriots 90-Man Roster Spotlight: Chukwuma Okorafor

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New England Patriots offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (77) steps on the field for an NFL football practice, Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The New England Patriots can have up to 90 players under contract during the offseason. Patriots Football Now will profile all 90 players (though there are currently 91 on the roster) over the upcoming months. Today’s featured player is offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor.

Chukwuma Okorafor

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Chukwuma Okorafor in the third round (No. 92 overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. Okorafor played collegiately for the Western Michigan Broncos. He had an outstanding college career, playing 51 games and earning FWAA first-team All-America honors as a senior. Okorafor moved from right tackle to left tackle before his junior season.

Okorafor appeared in 13 games as a rookie in 2018. The following season he dressed for only one. This was due in part to offseason surgery he had to repair a torn labrum. In his second season, Okorafor went from being a swing tackle on the active roster to being an afterthought.

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The 2020 season saw Okorafor take over as the starting right tackle for the Steelers. He held the spot for the next three and a half seasons. From 20020 (Week 1) to 2023 (Week 9) Okorafor played in 60 of 61 games for Pittsburgh. He was replaced in Week 10 by rookie Broderick Jones, who was the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2023.

Pittsburgh waived Chukwuma Okorafor on Feb. 12, 2024, a move that saved them $8.75 million in salary cap space. The move made sense considering Okorafor was no longer part of their staring unit. He signed with the New England Patriots on March 7, 2024.

Pro Football Focus has graded Okorafor unfavorably in his NFL career. His season-ending grades range during his four seasons as a starter range from 57.4 (2020) to 62.2 (2021). Last season he received a 60.4 for his efforts. One aspect of Okorafor’s game that has improved is his discipline. He received 11 penalties in 2021, but only one each of the past two seasons.

Contract Status

Chukwuma Okorafor signed a one-year deal with the New England Patriots for $4 million with a chance to earn up to $8.25 million. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2025.

Offensive Tackles Group

The New England Patriots need to determine if they are better off having Mike Onwenu as their starting right guard or right tackle. The other options at offensive tackle on the roster include Chukwuma Okorafor, rookie Caeden Wallace, Calvin Anderson, Vederian Lowe, Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Liam Fornadel, and Zuri Henry. Guard Sidy Sow is also capable of moving to tackle if needed as well.

Outlook for Chukwuma Okorafor

Based on comments from Eliot Wolf and the rotation at mandatory minicamp, the starting left tackle appears to be Okorafor’s to lose heading into training camp. Since Okorafor has experience at right tackle, he is a safe bet to make the 53-man roster as a swing tackle at the least.

Trent Brown played very well for New England at left tackle for the first half of 2023. Brown dealt with several injuries over the second of the season. Injuries were a factor, as was seeming disinterested in playing. It seemed Brown’s focus shifted from the job at hand to his pending free agency in the second half of the season.

Okorafor needs to prove he can successfully move over to the left side before the Patriots can comfortably put Drake Maye under center. Protecting the blindside of their rookie quarterback might be the most important role on the field this season. Is Okorafor up to the challenge?

The New England Patriots will need strong play from their left tackle in 2024 if they want to improve on last season’s struggling offense. Chukwuma Okorafor will get the first opportunity to win the job. However, his contract amount and length prevent New England from being married to him at the spot. Calvin Anderson and Vederian Lowe have more experience starting at left tackle in the NFL than Okorafor. Caedan Wallace is an option if he doesn’t start on the right side. Tyrone Wheatley Jr. was impressive in preseason last year before being injured for the year. Okorafor might be in the lead to start, but the competition is far from over.

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