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Chigoziem Okonkwo Titans
NFL

Chigoziem Okonkwo Growing Into Major Role For Titans

  • Justin Melo
  • December 20, 2022
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Tennessee Titans rookie tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo is quickly establishing himself as the Titans’ best tight end. Okonkwo was once again excellent in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, hauling in four receptions for 54 receiving yards. Okonkwo’s 28-yard reception in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter helped the Titans tie the game at 14 apiece. The Titans’ struggling passing offense must continue featuring Okonkwo.

The No. 143 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Okonkwo has been especially excellent as of late. The former Maryland standout has recorded at least four-plus receptions and 45-plus receiving yards in three consecutive showings. Titans starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is scanning the field for Okonkwo’s presence when the Titans require a chain-moving play.

Okonkwo is an explosive passing play waiting to happen. He is averaging 15 yards per reception through 14 regular-season contests. Okonkwo already has three receptions of 40-plus yards this season.

The advanced statistics help put Okonkwo’s rare rookie campaign in perspective. Okonkwo’s Pro Football Focus receiving grade of 84.3 currently ranks second among all rookie tight ends dating back to the 2014 campaign, trailing just Hunter Henry’s excellent 2016 debut season. Okonkwo’s 2.63 yards per route run ranks first all-time among rookie tight ends since 2014, with minimum qualifiers, per James Foster.

Okonkwo is also creating for himself as a run-after-catch threat. He’s averaging an elusive 7.8 yards after the catch per reception, according to PFF. Tannehill and Malik Willis have enjoyed a combined quarterback rating of 121.8 when targeting Okonkwo.

The Titans are lining up Okonkwo all over the field. Okonkwo has spent the majority of his time in-line (165 snaps), but he’s also played 70 snaps in the slot, 37 in the backfield, and 29 on the boundary. Okonkwo is being utilized in a variety of manners as Tennessee’s offense attempts to identify mismatches and place him in advantageous positions.

Okonkwo has done an impressive amount of damage via the medium (10-19 yards) areas of the field. Okonkwo has been efficient, hauling in 7-of-9 targets for 161 receiving yards and an elite PFF receiving grade of 98.6. Okonkwo has been most effective near the line of scrimmage, recording 13 receptions on 17 targets for 121 receiving yards and both of his receiving touchdowns.

Okonkwo’s 25 receptions rank third among all rookie tight ends, trailing just Cade Otton (37) and Greg Dulcich (29). Okonkwo’s 374 receiving yards lead all rookie tight ends in that category. His 15 yards per reception also leads his first-year class (minimum reception qualifiers).

Okonkwo joined a tight-end room that already possessed Austin Hooper and Geoff Swaim. Hooper signed a one-year contract with the Titans worth $6 million approximately one month before Okonkwo was drafted. Swaim is a long-time Titan who’s a favorite of Mike Vrabel and his coaching staff due to his in-line blocking abilities. Playing time wasn’t easy for Okonkwo to initially come by.

Okonkwo is finally capturing the faith of offensive coordinator Todd Downing, and his playing time is increasing as a result. Okonkwo played a season-high 37 snaps in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. He was on the field for a season-high 60% of Tennessee’s offensive snaps. Okonkwo out-snapped both Hooper (30) and Swaim (32). 

It marks a much-welcomed change in situation for Okonkwo, who played less than 50% of Tennessee’s offensive snaps every week up until Week 13. Since then, he has played 32-plus snaps in three consecutive contests. The Titans can no longer keep Okonkwo’s explosive abilities on the sidelines. 

Tennessee’s 29th-ranked passing offense isn’t moving the ball through the air effectively. Okonkwo’s skill set can help Tennessee’s air-game secure the necessary improvements ahead of a potential postseason run. Okonkwo must become a focal point of Tennessee’s offense down the stretch.

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Justin Melo