With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#30: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
We continue this year's series with Texas defensive end Alex Okafor, who saw playing time pretty much right away with the Longhorns in 2009 as a backup defensive end, and then, switched inside to defensive tackle in 2010. That move forced the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Okafor to get stronger, but wasn't the ideal fit. It also didn't do much for his stats, as he was undoubtedly expected to put up more than the 3.5 sacks he amassed in his second season. Moved back outside in 2011, Okafor started fulfilling his potential with 7.0 sacks in his junior season, and 12.5 in 2012. His game wasn't just about the splash plays, either -- he had 16.5 tackles for loss, 20 quarterback pressures, and four forced fumbles last season.
A trip to the Senior Bowl was next on his agenda, and Okafor looked very dynamic against some of the best blockers in this draft class (specifically and especially Central Michigan's Eric Fisher) through the week of practice. However, the bruised hip flexor he suffered in Mobile prevented him from participating in combine drills, and the 4.91 40-yard dash he ran at his pro day gave some people pause and probably added to the myth that Okafor doesn't get off the snap quickly enough. But the tape is always the best indicator, and as Okafor himself has said, "A 40-yard dash is not needed in football at my position."
"As a person you’ll get a high-character guy, a professional, somebody who's accountable and responsible," Okafor said of himself at the scouting combine. "As a player you’ll get someone whose going to come in and make an immediate impact right off the top. And I’m going to make some noise right off the bat and hopefully play some meaningful minutes."
He could most certainly do so. Okafor isn't the kind of scheme-transcendent player who is going to rip it up no matter where he goes, but the potential is there for him to be a major cog in the right kinds of fronts.
Pros: Very quick and sudden player off the snap who can play with his hand off the ground, as well as in three- and four-point stances. Gets around blockers on the edge in a big hurry, and has the kind of burst that can propel him past some blockers before they get their hands up. Strong enough to split double teams with his hands. Determined pass-rusher who can circle back and get sacks even after he's been moved out of the pocket. Has the kind of dip-and-rip needed to get under tackles -- can get low and skinny when he needs to. Will chase ballcarriers from sideline to sideline.
Excellent effort player who doesn't give up even when the play goes away from him. Can use his hands to split double-teams when playing inside, adding to his palette as a one-gap player. Practiced at riding the outside shoulder of the tackle and peeling off to get pressure. Athletic enough to avoid cut blocks. Frequency with which he looped inside may have NFL teams pegging him as a LEO end, and he can get straight upfield fairly quickly in those situations. Plays the run well when directed to do so, as opposed to pure edge-rushing -- he has the quick-twitch ability to catch up to faster backs and is a solid form talker.
Cons: Doesn't have a bull-rush of note -- will get caught up against blockers when playing a power game. Slips inside to tackle on pass-rushing downs, but doesn't always display the raw upper-body power you'd want from a five-tech in those situations. Doesn't have elite lateral movement skills, limiting his ability turn quickly on inside stunts and loops. Tape will have some people wondering if he can slip outside and play the "endbacker" position in a 3-4 or variable front, but he'd need to learn to cover in short spaces in some schemes.
Comes inside from the end position to provide additional pressure, but needs to use his hands more adeptly on the inside counter. Current "slap" move won't cut it in the NFL. Like a lot of pass-rushers in this class, Okafor spends too much time trying to run around people. Good burst, but mid-line speed is sometimes an issue -- better outside blockers will catch up to him in kick-steps. No spin move to speak of. Ran a slow time at his pro day, but is much faster on tape.
Conclusion: NFL teams with more standard 4-3 fronts, or those teams who play more one-gap 3-4/5-2 fronts (the Wade Phillips defense) will covet Okafor very highly. His combination of nascent pass-rush skills, positional versatility, and run-stopping ability position him to be an early starter in the right kind of defense.