The 2019 NFL Draft has concluded and the Colts have added 10 new players to their roster. The main emphasis was on the defensive side of the ball, where Chris Ballard drafted seven new players, almost all of them being elite athletes. The team got better, younger, and faster this weekend, and we will be diving into the film on just about all of them to see what they bring to the team.
The next player who we are going to discuss is lengthy and athletic Bobby Okereke. Okereke was the 89th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft as a linebacker out of Stanford. He is a bit unrefined as an overall prospect, but he has the right mindset and athleticism to be successful in the NFL. Today we are going to look at his strengths, along with how he fits immediately in the Colts’ defense.
6’1”, 239 pounds
40 Time: 4.58 seconds / Vertical Jump: 33.5 inches / Broad Jump: 122 inches / 3-Cone Drill: 7.25 / 20 Yard Shuttle: 4.26 seconds
227 total tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, 1 Int, 8 pass deflections, and 3 forced fumbles in his career.
The Colts are likely bringing in Okereke to be more of a sub packages type of guy right away for the team. A big aspect of being a sub package player on this team is the ability to blitz. Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus is really creative with how he draws up his blitzes and he needed to add another athletic linebacker to add to those packages. Okereke is an excellent blitzer who understands how to navigate through traffic and locate the quarterback.
This first clip showcases how he works on a delayed blitz, something that Eberflus loved calling for star linebacker Darius Leonard in his rookie season. Okereke is able to read the initial play action then shift down the line to find space for his blitz. He comes around the opening and shoots up field towards the quarterback. He does a great job of pursuing the quarterback on the rush and getting him down for the sack.
On called blitzes, he also shows off the ability to get through the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing of the offense. Here he is on a straight up blitz with no delay. He is able to beat the guard to the hole and get quick penetration on the play. The guard does recover and knocks him off of his initial rush. He doesn’t panic though as he recovers and then gets in the way of the quarterback’s passing lane. The result is a mistimed throw from the QB and a very short completion as a result of Okereke’s blitz.
The number one takeaway from this Colts’ draft class is the addition of speed on the defensive side of the football. By adding Okereke, the team got much more athletic on defense. He is a sideline to sideline linebacker who makes plays all over the football field and adds a new dimension to the team in this aspect.
This first clip shows his pure speed and athleticism on full display. Here he is tasked with covering the linebacker in the flats on this pass play. He makes a quick read on the play and races to the flats to hit the running back once the pass is thrown. Even though the running back drops this pass, Okereke does a great job of getting to the flats quickly and delivering a huge hit on the back.
An underrated aspect of playing linebacker in the NFL nowadays is not only the ability to span sideline to sideline but also the ability to carry receivers in man coverage. He may not make a play on the ball here but he shifts over to cover the slot receiver and shows great ability to turn and run with a receiver. This is a rare ability in linebackers but Okereke is talented enough and athletic enough to run with receivers with ease.
What was one of the most critical traits that led to the success of Darius Leonard last season? It wasn’t his athleticism or his coverage ability, but his aggression and physical mindset that mostly led to his success. Okereke is very similar in this regard. He may not be the biggest or strongest linebacker in the world but the aggression and confidence that he plays with will always be a big plus.
This first rep is exactly what I am talking about with his mindset and aggression. He flies downhill in run defense and confidently fills the run gap. He gets knocked aside by the much bigger guard but is able to stay on his feet and still fill the gap. He then delivers a solid hit on the ball carrier in the hole and stops the run for a small gain. This confidence to come downhill and the aggression to fill the hole is why he could find success early in his career.
This last clip yet again shows off that aggressive mindset. 4th and short in a big game against Notre Dame, Okereke makes a huge play for an “undersized” linebacker. He flies downhill while sifting through the line and engages the running back in the hole. He stuffs the play at the line of scrimmage and gets the tackle for the loss. He may be a bit undersized but he surely does not play like it.
How He Fits the Colts
This pick may have confused people, hearing a linebacker called in the third round for the Colts. Darius Leonard was a star for the team last year and Anthony Walker was more than capable alongside him. With the selection of Ben Banogu to play SAM linebacker, where does Okereke really fit? Simple, the Colts needed depth and a linebacker who could play on passing downs.
The biggest area where Okereke will provide a major boost is subbing in on passing downs. His ability in zone coverage is much greater than Walker’s and he should be able to provide an instant impact in this area. Look at this clip with Darius Leonard in zone last year. Leonard is a player who compares favorably with Okereke due to their similar athleticism and length. His length and athleticism allows him to make plays like this.
Okereke is also a great zone coverage backer. His length and athleticism makes windows so much tighter for quarterbacks to throw to. This clip may not look like he is making a great play but his athleticism makes the quarterback have to throw a pass off of the mark. He then closes the gap between the receiver and himself and forces the incomplete pass. He is an excellent zone defender and is a much needed upgrade on this Colts’ defense in this regard.
There is a lot of excitement for Bobby Okereke in the Colts’ defense. Despite the strong play of Anthony Walker and Darius Leonard as well as the addition of Ben Banogu, Okereke does have a role in this defense. He is an excellent cover linebacker who should immediately contribute as a a sub player in the Colts’ versatile defense.
Now he does have some downsides in his game that could limit his immediate production. He struggles as a tackler in space and his reads are less than ideal for a player to start in the league. He can definitely be a high upside starter in this league but he needs to refine these weaker traits and be more consistent before he can start.
The biggest takeaway though with Okereke is speed and depth. At the bare minimum, he is an excellent special teamer who is an instant upgrade at linebacker behind the starters. If he reaches his potential though, this defense could be deadly. The Colts already found a diamond in the rough in Leonard last season, could Okereke be another one? He certainly has the potential and upside.