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How Big of an Absence Would Chuks Okorafor Be for Steelers?



Pittsburgh Steelers RT Chuks Okorafor

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor missed practice on Thursday with a back injury, and his status for Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals is deeply in question. 

If Okorafor misses Friday’s practice, he will almost certainly not suit up against the AFC champs. If he can’t play, veteran Trent Scott is the most likely to accede to the role of starting right tackle, despite Jesse Davis being listed behind Okorafor on the depth chart.

Davis just joined the team last week, while Scott has been switching between left and right tackle all preseason. Who will replace Okorafor is fairly easy to figure — Scott and Davis are the only two options, with John Leglue on the practice squad. 

What’s harder to figure is how Okorafor’s absence might impact the Steelers. The team’s offensive line has had notable struggles dating back to at least the start of the 2021 season, it not earlier. Okorafor has been starting at right tackle since the second game of the 2020 season.

So is he a part of the problem, or will the loss of Okorafor make a struggling line even worse? At least when it comes to pass protection, the data seems to suggest it’s the latter.

According to data from Pro Football Focus, Okorafor had about an 86% win rate when solo blocking in 2021, while being left with a solo block approximately 57% of the time. That left Okorafor above the median productivity for pass blocking tackles compared to how often they needed help.

Steelers left tackle Dan Moore Jr., however, was far on the other side of that line. Moore was on an island close to 63% of the time, but won only 81% of his reps. Scott didn’t play tackle in 2021, but in 2020, he gave up 14 pressures on 213 pass-block snaps. Okorafor allowed 23 pressures on 683 pass-block snaps last season. So the pass protection will almost certainly see a big downturn in productivity if Okorafor is unable to play.

When it comes to run blocking, Scott was rated as 60.8 by PFF in 2020, his last season at tackle. Okorafor had 65.9 rating last season. Jesse Davis has never had a run-blocking grade above 60 in his career. Those evaluations are subjective, but it does not appear that the Steelers have either a run- or pass-blocking equivalent to Okorafor on their roster, so his absence could open up a big hole on Sunday.