INDIANAPOLIS — What’s the only thing better for the Indianapolis Colts than one Darius Leonard?
While he may not have the type of instant impact that Leonard did as a rookie — after all, it'd be tough for any NFL player to duplicate that season, let alone a rookie — new Indianapolis Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke compares quite favorably to the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
With the 89th-overall pick in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Okereke became the seventh linebacker off the board (and was introduced in spectacular fashion). Both the Colts’ newest player and their war room could not have been happier as a result.
"I just felt really comfortable with them,” Okereke told the local media on a conference call following his selection. “They kept telling me, ‘We want you to be a Colt. We love you. We love your play style. We think we would fit well with you.’ I’m excited that they pulled the trigger."
Before we get to Okereke the player, we’ve got to give a quick look into Okereke the person. You have to know his background before understanding what he is capable of.
The Stanford team captain and Eagle Scout is quite accomplished off of the football field. He won the "prestigious Watkins Award in 2014 as the nation's top African-American high school player in terms of academic and athletic excellence,” according to NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein.
Most notably, Okereke once interned for former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and even organized an important project for her.
Okereke is someone who’s been able to juggle all of these things while being a collegiate student athlete and three-year starter at a prestigious school like Stanford. Now he’s got more time to focus on football as his full-time job, which should be a potentially scary thought for opponents.
In terms of on-field potential and athleticism, Okereke is well above average. At 6-1, 239, he is “undersized” by old school linebacker measurements, but he fits the Colts perfectly. His 34” arms and 82” wingspan are both way more than normal, ranking in the 97th percentile. Okereke’s 4.58-second 40-yard dash at the Combine was in the 85th percentile for NFL linebackers, and his 122” broad jump was in the 82nd percentile.
The NFL linebacker who Okereke most closely resembles in terms of measurables and athletic testing is none other than current Colts linebacker and reigning First-Team All-Pro and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Darius Leonard.
Okereke’s 40 time verified what you see from him on tape, which shows a linebacker that can fly sideline to sideline. His range and tracking speed is excellent, as is his read-and-react ability. If he has you in his sights, it's over.
He's not just an athlete, though. He plays the linebacker position with the necessary aggression. He attacks the ball rather than waiting for it to come to him, which is more than you can say for some top linebacker prospects.
Okereke’s range and closing burst even shows up while blitzing the quarterback.
Okereke’s long arms help him gets off blocks, and they give him more space when he stacks-and-sheds from blockers when the ball is approaching him. His arm length also helps him reach ball carriers when out of position easier than a typical player would be able to.
Similar to Leonard, one concern for Okereke coming into the draft was that he does sometimes get stuck on blocks. He can be taught better hand-fighting techniques and how to use his leverage to get out of those situations.
He will also sometimes come in too hot in the run game, missing the ballcarrier. It’s easier said than done because it’s often based on instinct, but if Okereke can develop some better patience and discipline when approaching the ball, it could help clear up this area.
Linebacker is a crowded position group for the Colts, so you better be talented if you’re going to make the team and crack the lineup, and that should be the expectation for Okereke. One thing young players often have to learn to be accepting of is special teams play, and that’s already at the forefront of Okereke’s mind.
“Yeah, I mean I’ll obviously come in as a guy who can play on all four special teams and then just be a fast, athletic guy that can compete and just play wherever I’m needed,” he said.
Okereke has a lot of experience at WILL and MIKE already, but according to him, he is expected to play more MIKE for the Colts, although that situation could be fluid according to general manager Chris Ballard.
“Any 'backer we take we think can play all three spots. So Darius can play all three. Anthony Walker can play all three. Bobby can play all three,” Ballard said. “He’ll get in and he’ll compete and the best three will play.”
One bittersweet part of the Colts’ linebacker group is that they’ve done such a fine job of acquiring talent at the position over the last two years that there won’t be room for everybody come the start of the regular season.
This is truly an example of “iron sharpening iron” and “letting the best man win.” When the Colts hit the practice fields at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., for training camp in late July, linebacker will be one of the liveliest position battles we see.
So, what’s it going to be like to come in and play with such a decorated teammate like Leonard? Okereke can’t wait.
“I mean, it’s amazing. I obviously get to come in and pick his brain,” Okereke said. “But to have someone in the position room like that to compete with every day and to feed that type of energy off of — I mean it’s only going to make both of us better.”