In the second round of the 2018 NFL draft, the Colts selected a lanky, athletic linebacker. His name was Darius Leonard, a player whom many criticized the Colts for drafting. Fast forward six months and Leonard is an All-Pro linebacker and a leader of a young and promising defense. Throughout the season, he ironed out much of his rawness and became much more disciplined. Combined with his tools and coverage ability, Leonard is the centerpiece of the Indy defense.
In the second round of the 2019 NFL draft, the Colts selected a lanky, athletic linebacker. His name is Bobby Okereke, a talented player out of Stanford. Let’s take a look at his spider graph, courtesy of Mockdraftable.com:
Okereke fits the mold of the athletic linebacker Chris Ballard loves. With freakishly long arms and excellent speed, his physical profile is quite similar to, you guessed it, Darius Leonard. Unsurprisingly, Okereke’s closest athletic comparison is the one and only Darius Leonard. Did Chris Ballard draft another Darius Leonard? Are the Colts going to have two All-Pro linebackers? Probably not, but Okereke’s tape is eerily reminiscent of early-season Darius Leonard. The highs were always there for Leonard, but early in the season, more lows accompanied the great plays. The one word I kept coming back to with Okereke’s tape is inconsistent. Okereke flashes like this play are incredible, where he penetrates with speed and blows up this run:
So let’s dive into Bobby Okereke’s film and break down what he brings to the Indianapolis Colts.
The bulk of Bobby Okereke’s value comes with his ability in pass coverage. With the league moving ever towards passing the ball, coverage linebackers have become more and more vital. We saw Darius Leonard dominate in coverage last season, even holding up with DeAndre Hopkins in the slot. While Okereke is no Leonard, his coverage skills are solid. His 4.58 speed allows him to get quickly from sideline to sideline and cover both man and zone. In zone coverage, his play recognition is a bit slow; in the first play, he is late reading the slant and in the second, he doesn’t drop deep enough to take away the corner route:
Even when Okereke’s instincts aren’t as quick, Okereke’s speed helps make plays. He reads this swing route quickly, closes the gap and lays the wood:
In man coverage, Okereke is fine for a linebacker. Against quick running backs and slot receivers he will struggle, getting burned when he can’t turn his hips quickly to react to cuts:
Again, he has some serious flashes in man defense, here sticking with a slot receiver running across the field:
It is easy to see Matt Eberflus blitz Okereke in a myriad of creative ways, making use of his speed and quickness. The closing speed here he exhibits is absurd; like a heat-seeking missile, watch how quickly Okereke gets to the quarterback:
Just like Darius Leonard early in his career, Okereke’s biggest weakness is his play recognition. Specifically, he struggles mightily to read play actions and read options. He bites hard on every fake handoff, taking him way out of position. This is the first wrinkle Okereke will have to iron out when he reaches the NFL:
In space, Okereke is usually a solid tackler. With his speed, he does well-tracking ball carriers. His uber-long arms help him wrap up, even when the angle he takes is slightly off:
There were too many examples of bad misses, though, mostly Okereke taking poor angles and being too ambitious in his pursuit of the ball:
I expect Okereke to be a valuable asset for the Colts in pass coverage. As an underneath zone defender, his range and long arms will help clog up passing lanes and make life hard on opposing quarterbacks. In time, when his discipline and instincts improve, I expect him to be a capable man cover defender as well, sticking with tight ends and even some slot receivers.
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Run defense is the poorest area of Okereke’s game, where his poor discipline and lack of functional strength really hurt him. Despite the aforementioned statements, there are real flashes of capable run defense. Return to the first clip of this article. Okereke’s gap discipline is often spotty, as he overpursues the play and leaves his gap. This leaves him vulnerable to give up huge plays, like the second clip of the article. When Okereke stays patient and fills his gap, his length and athleticism allow him to fill gaps in a hurry:
However, most of the time, his gap discipline is poor. He often sprints towards the ball, dispositioning himself and opening up running lanes. Returning to this play, watch Okereke extend too far outside and open up this gap:
Due to Okereke’s lack of functional strength at the point of attack, he often gets stuck on blocks. He’s ineffective stacking and shedding, unable to disengage when a strong lineman gets his paws on him. Defending inside runs and working through traffic will be a major issue for Okereke early in his career:
One specific type of run I expect Okereke to defend well is the outside zone. Due to his speed and range, Okereke can flow east-west with the offense, beating ball carriers to the edge. Since the offense is moving laterally, linemen will have a harder time getting clean blocks on Okereke, allowing him to use his length and speed to disengage. Okereke flows outside with the run, then pushes off of the lineman to prevent more yards gained on this run:
I don’t expect Okereke to have much success early in his career defending the run. He’s going to struggle on early downs when teams want to pound the ball down the middle, right at Okereke. If he has space to run around and make plays, he could be effective. However, he needs the rest of the defense to swallow up blocks to do so and that won’t happen on every play.
Bobby Okereke is far from a finished product. Due to his discipline issues, lack of functional strength and overall inconsistencies on tape, I expect Okereke to struggle early. However, that’s far from an indictment on his overall projection. Athletes like Okereke with his coverage skills at such a young age are rare and will have utility for the Colts. Anthony Walker, for all he does well, can struggle in coverage. Okereke can slide next to Leonard in the Colts’ nickel package. We saw Kansas City carve Indy up over the middle last season in the playoffs and Okereke’s coverage upside will be a necessity against the many elite passing offenses in today’s NBA.
As a Stanford grad with high marks and a former intern of Condoleezza Rice, I have zero concerns about Okereke’s willingness to learn. Given how well this coaching staff develops players, I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of Okereke’s weaknesses lessen during the season. Fast, physical coverage linebackers are a must in the modern NFL. With Bobby Okereke, the Colts added another one to that room. Get excited, folks, this defense just got even scarier.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_and @FPC_Colts.