With every all-star showcase in sports, especially one showing off NFL draft hopefuls, there are always a few players that prove themselves to be real stars. Sometimes, it ends up being multiple players who break out from the same position group. At this year’s Shrine Bowl, it seems as though we’ve got a whole position group full of potential studs.
The practices in Las Vegas so far this week have been dominated by performances from the tight end group as a whole. We’ve seen guys like Ohio University’s Armani Rogers show a lot of potential converting to tight end from his native position of quarterback. There have also been guys like Virginia’s Jelani Woods, a massive athlete who’s been putting on a show in practices and moving smoother than it looks like he should with such a large frame. The star tight end of Monday’s practices though was Maryland’s Chigoziem “Chig” Okonkwo.
The Maryland product was someone we expected to see a lot of this week. He put together a really nice 2021 season with both his production and his game tape after missing the 2020 season recovering from myocarditis. Okonkwo is someone that can excel in finding gaps in zone coverage and creating separation with his route-running skills.
Once he has the ball in his hands, he becomes even more dangerous. Okonkwo is a serious YAC threat as a height/weight/speed guy that can both break tackles with his big frame and outrun pursuit angles once he gets to open field in the secondary.
Those skills were what Okonkwo was able to show off at Monday’s practice after two relatively quiet days. He was showing off some nice moves in one-on-ones and red-zone drills, winning pretty consistently in those settings, and even throwing in a casual one-handed catch to boot.
The Georgia native made the most of when he was on the field in team drills as well.
On back-to-back plays in two-minute drill work, Okonkwo got some big yardage on seam routes. The first one he caught for a 20-yard gain after simply beating the defender on him, getting inside leverage with a nice route. He capped off the play by lowering his shoulder through contact to tack on a couple of extra yards.
On the next play, he was quick in his release off the line of scrimmage, then faked out the safety with a stutter-step toward the outside before cutting back in. He ended up wide open 20 yards downfield and hauled in the pass from Notre Dame’s Jack Coan. All that was left to do was waltz in for the touchdown.
After practice, Okonkwo specifically pointed to those two-minute drills as a highlight of his time at the Shrine Bowl so far. Along with his impressive plays, it’s helped him learn NFL rules and strategies for clock management and what makes it different from what he was used to in college.
“Knowing the clock don’t stop on first down anymore, you’ve got to really hurry up and really get it going,” he said.
And while he has learned a lot in three days of practice, some things have come more naturally.
“I was very surprised when we got the playbook because it was the exact same playbook that we ran at Maryland,” Okonkwo said. “So everything I’m doing at Maryland I come out here and do. I feel very comfortable doing everything.”
Having that familiarity with the playbook has allowed Okonkwo to thrive wherever he’s being asked to line up. Whether he’s in-line, out wide, or at wing, he’s always been able to make plays because he’s not uncomfortable running routes or blocking out of any formation. That much was clear after his great showing in Monday’s practice.
With just one more day of practice before game day on Thursday, Okonkwo has gotten a good practice under his belt now, something he can build on to continue boosting his draft stock. If the rest of his week in Las Vegas goes the way Monday went, he’ll have made himself some good money here at the Shrine Bowl.