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Chigoziem Okonkwo
NFL Draft

Chigoziem Okonkwo: NFL Draft Prospect Interview

  • Justin Melo
  • February 21, 2022
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Maryland's Chigoziem Okonkwo is one of the more intriguing tight ends in the 2022 NFL Draft. Okonkwo experienced an excellent campaign as a senior by recording 52 receptions for 447 yards and five touchdowns while appearing in all 13 contests. It qualified as a triumphant return to the field for Okonkwo, who provided quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa with a sure-handed option in the passing game. Okonkwo recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his monstrous senior season, his experience at this year's East-West Shrine Bowl, his athletic skill set that allows him to accumulate chunks of yardage after the catch, why he loves to block as a traditional tight end, and so much more. JM: You started all 13 games in 2021 and you were very productive by recording 52 receptions for 447 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. How do you reflect on your senior season? CO: I considered it a very productive season at the end of the day. I started off kind of slow but I was playing a more prominent role toward the end of the season. I feel like I had a lot more to give but I’m also very pleased with the production I finished with. JM: You returned to the field in 2021 after battling myocarditis in 2020. How did that off-field scare impact the way you approach the game, and life in general? CO: It certainly made me realize that nothing in life is promised. I never thought something like that could happen to me, but it did. It was certainly an eye-opening experience. It made me a more grateful person. I’m more appreciative of the little things now than I was then. It made me enjoy every situation more. Waking up and working out at 6 a.m. is a lot easier when you’re a more gracious and thankful person. I don’t stress those things anymore. I’m thankful and extremely happy to do those things. I see life from a different perspective now. Any day can be your last day playing the game of football. I’m happy, 100% healthy, and ready to shine through this process. I approach every day with grace. I appreciate the people I’m around and how I get to spend my life. It brought me a whole new level of passion and love for the game and life in general. JM: We love to hear that. It’s certainly an eye-opening experience. By all accounts, you had a fantastic week at this year’s East-West Shrine Bowl. You strung together several impressive practices. What was that experience like? CO: I really wanted to show the scouts what I’m capable of. I think I showcased some things the scouts maybe didn’t see on tape this past year while addressing any questions they had about my game. I was getting down the field vertically and winning one-vs-one routes. I didn’t always get a chance to showcase those things throughout the season. I did get to show it through the East-West game, though. I think I surprised some people out there. I didn’t surprise myself, because I knew exactly what I could do. I got to answer a lot of questions. It was another opportunity for me to showcase my ability as a blocker, which is something people think I struggle with even though I really don’t struggle as a blocker at all. It was a great week for me. I put all of it together. JM: It’s surprising for me to hear you say that. According to my evaluation, I thought you looked like a player that enjoyed blocking on film. I thought it was evident on tape. It’s an important trait that few tight ends master at the collegiate level, but I felt differently about you. CO: It’s all about being a complete player for me. I never want to be a part-time player that can only see the field on certain downs. In my opinion, that’s terrible for a team and their offense. It tips your hand offensively. It gives keys away to the defense. I don’t want to be that guy that can only see the field on certain passing or running downs. I’ve always wanted to do it all. I’m always working toward being a more complete player. Learning how to block plays a big role. I don’t want to be stereotyped because I’m an athletic tight end. I can block, too. I feel like sometimes it’s just assumed that I can’t block. I really wish people would just turn on my tape, as you said. I’m really out there blocking. Just because I’m an athletic tight end doesn’t mean I can’t block. I’m a willing blocker and I can do it against the best of the best. JM: That’s in line with my evaluation of your game. You bring me to my next point. Your athletic ability also really pops on tape. You’re able to create yards for yourself after the catch. What do you attribute that to, and how did you develop those aspects of your game? CO: Honestly, at that point, it’s just about the “want to.” You have to “want to” create yards for yourself after the catch. When I get the ball in my hands, I want to make a special play. I don’t see anybody that’s in front of me (laughs). They have to get out of my way at that point. That’s how I approach it. I’m always trying to run tough with the ball in my hands. I aim to punish would-be tacklers. That’s honestly how I approach that aspect of the game. JM: It’s very obvious. You discussed clearing things up for scouts at East-West Shrine week. Did you meet with many teams throughout the week? Did any of those meetings strike you as particularly in-depth? CO: I met with roughly 30 teams. I had some really good conversations with the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots. Those two teams sorta stuck out to me. I had a lot of conversations in general. I believe I met with every team other than the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons if I remember correctly. JM: There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. Do you have a favorite route to run? CO: I would probably go with a short post route. That allows me to catch the ball down the middle while splitting the safeties. It gives me a chance to showcase the run after catch ability we touched on earlier. That’s probably my favorite route. JM: As an uber-athletic player, I imagine you’re looking forward to the combine. Any predictions? How about particular drills you’re looking forward to? CO: I’m really looking forward to running the 40-yard dash. That’s the drill that’s really going to drop some jaws and improve my draft stock. I don’t think teams and people understand how fast I’m going to run. Everybody will see on March 3. Everybody will understand then. A lot of people are going to be surprised, but myself and the people that know what I’m capable of, we’re not going to be surprised. JM: We can’t wait. If you could catch a pass from any quarterback in the NFL, who would you choose and why? CO: I would probably have to say Aaron Rodgers. He was my favorite quarterback growing up and he’s still playing at such a high level. Catching a pass from him would definitely make for a pretty cool experience. JM: I’ve really appreciated your time today. Why should a team use one of their draft picks on Chigoziem Okonkwo? CO: A team should draft Chigoziem Okonkwo because they’re going to get a competitive guy that’s a team-first player. I’m going to work incredibly hard and I’m never going to have any off-field issues. I’m going to raise the level of play of the people around me. I’m not a guy that makes excuses. I’m going to be smart and dependable. I’m ready to hit the ground running thanks to my football IQ. That’s why a team should draft Chigoziem Okonkwo.

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Justin Melo