We continue our review of potential 2022 Draft prospects for the Dallas Cowboys.
Name: Chigoziem Okonkwo
Weight: 238 lbs
Combine Results: 4.52 40-yard dash, 35.5” vertical jump
When the Cowboys made the decision to franchise tag Dalton Schultz, it dropped the tight end position down several notches on the list of needs this offseason. However, Blake Jarwin’s release creates a need for depth. While Sean McKeon and the recently re-signed Jeremy Sprinkle provide that, Dallas could opt to draft someone in the later rounds too.
If so, the Cowboys could do much worse than Maryland’s Chigoziem Okonkwo. One of the top tight end recruits in his class, Okonkwo committed to Maryland and earned playing time as a true freshman in 2018. However, that season also saw head coach DJ Durkin suspended prior to the season and then fired during it. Okonkwo’s new head coach in 2019, installed an offense that utilized its tight ends less than the previous regime.
Still, Okonkwo had a promising sophomore campaign as a rotational tight end. He was primed for a big 2020 season after showcasing his raw athleticism, but Okonkwo contracted myocarditis caused by COVID-19 and missed the entire season. Despite facing the risk of it being a career-ending affliction, Okonkwo recovered and played in his final year with the Terrapins, looking every bit the athletic freak he was in earlier years.
Receiving Ability: This is easily the best part of Okonkwo’s game. It’s easier to understand his game if you just consider him a really big receiver. He’s a playmaker in the passing game, and Maryland took advantage of that plenty. He has the hands of a receiver, and frequently made catches you rarely see tight ends make. He was a frequent chunk-play king down the seam, and Maryland used him on a lot of screens and bootlegs where he created big plays after the catch.
Route Running: Okonkwo impressed during his sophomore year because of his raw potential, and then missed a year that could have been critical to his development. As such, he’s still pretty raw, and that shows up in his route running. It helps that Maryland had him run a pretty diverse route tree, so he at least has exposure to a lot of different routes. Okonkwo is still working out the nuances of it all, though his athleticism let him get away with that in college. He’ll need to refine his techniques in the NFL.
Run Blocking: When asked to function as a run blocker, Okonkwo demonstrated good effort and desire to be used in that way. But he clearly hasn’t had much development in this area yet, and often struggles to maintain his blocks as long as is needed. The good news is he has the frame to become a good run blocker, and it seems he’s got the willingness to grow there too, but Okonkwo shouldn’t be part of any run blocking scheme in year one.
Pass Blocking: Okonkwo isn’t the kind of tight end you will want to leave in as an extra blocker on passing downs. This part of his game is so unrefined and he seemingly has no anchor, which can be catastrophic in pass protection. He functioned well as a chip-and-release type of player, though, and has a role in those concepts at the next level.
Athleticism: Okonkwo is a freak. At the combine, he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds, which easily placed best among tight ends; the next fastest guy came in at 4.61 seconds. His 40 time was even faster than 12 different receivers in attendance. Okonkwo’s 35.5” vertical jump came in second among tight ends too, demonstrating his explosiveness. It would have been fascinating to see Okonkwo participate in the rest of the combine tests, but it’s still obvious how much raw athleticism he possesses.
Size: Compared to other tight ends, Okonkwo is lacking in size. That’s a big factor in his struggles as a blocker too. Standing at 6’2” and 238 pounds, though, Okonkwo still had a size advantage over the safeties he drew at Maryland. His blazing speed is also enough to give him the edge against almost any NFL linebackers he might go up against. Okonkwo’s size is only an issue if a team is wanting to use him as a blocker with any regularity, which would be a massive waste of his talent.
Intangibles: The fact that Okonkwo was not only able to recover from something as serious as myocarditis, but he was also able to play meaningful football is a testament to his toughness and commitment to football. Okonkwo also plays with an edge to him, which can be seen in the way he tries to body defenders both before and after the catch. He’s a hard-nosed type who loves the physicality of the game, even though he has the speed and quickness to evade most contact.
As a prospect for the Cowboys, Okonkwo would figure in as a developmental prospect with a very high ceiling. His positive attitude towards blocking suggests he can grow into a well-rounded tight end, and spending a year alongside the likes of Schultz and McKeon could help him learn some things in that area.
In the short term, Okonkwo can be a dangerous receiving weapon if deployed properly, but he’s too raw to be an every down player. Long term, he could develop into a premium pass-catching tight end in the right environment. That makes his draft projection difficult, as some teams will value him on day two while others will view him as a day three prospect.