It takes a rare exception for an athlete to become a potential NFL draft pick without playing college football, or for that matter, having never played competitive football at any level.
Thanks to rare measurables that equal immense athletic potential, Lawrence Okoye is that rare exception.
How Okoye Became An Unlikely NFL Draft Prospect
While Okoye has no football experience, he does have an impressive athletic background.
In his hometown of London, Okoye finished 12th in the discus throw at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
While playing football is a far cry from throwing a discus, it is an indicator of his strength and athleticism.
Okoye proved his natural ability and ability to progress quickly in his rise to Olympic-level discus thrower. Okoye did not begin training full-time for the discus until less than two years prior to last year’s Olympic Games, before which he was a rugby player, according to The Guardian (UK newspaper).
Rugby does have some similar aspects in its game to football, but Okoye is still an athlete learning a brand new game. The numbers he has put up in pre-draft workouts, however, show a rare blend of athleticism and size that have teams intrigued about his potential as an NFL defensive end.
Okoye made his first appearance in front of NFL teams at one of the NFL’s regional combines in Atlanta in March. He told the Daily Mail (UK newspaper) that “NFL clubs began talking to (him) immediately” following his performance at that combine, and from there, he earned an invite to the NFL’s Super Regional Combine in Dallas on April 7.
It was there, at the Super Regional Combine, where Okoye truly backed up his athleticism and started gaining steam as a player with a real shot to be selected late in the 2013 NFL draft.
Okoye measured in at 6’6” and 304 pounds, while measuring in with 35” arms, running the 40-yard dash in unofficial times of 4.88 and 4.78 seconds, completing the 20-yard shuttle run in 4.38 seconds, and also completing a 10’5” broad jump and 35” vertical jump, according to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt. Additionally, Brandt said Okoye was “unbelievably active and incredibly explosive” in defensive line drills.
Is Okoye Worth A Draft Selection?
The backbone of every typical NFL draft evaluation is a player’s game tape from their college football career. In Okoye’s case, however, the absence of such game tape requires an evaluation process that relies upon measurables that should otherwise be a very small part of a prospect evaluation.
Of course, if it wasn’t for Okoye’s outstanding measurables, there would be no reason to even discuss him as a potential NFL prospect.
How rare is Okoye’s combination of size and athleticism? The only two athletes to weigh in above 300 pounds and run a sub-4.9 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis were offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Lane Johnson, with defensive lineman matching the feat. Okoye’s broad jump and vertical jump would have both ranked among the top five of all defensive linemen in Indianapolis, while his short shuttle would have ranked among the top 10 (combine results via NFL.com).
While it is unknown whether he can actually play the game in pads, he has an ideal set of measurables between his length, speed and explosiveness for a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defensive scheme, and would also project to have potential as a defensive end/inside rusher in a 4-3.
If a team plans to draft Okoye, they better have patience with him, as he is going to need time to learn how to play the game of football before he can significantly contribute to an NFL defense. That said, he is only 21 years old, and with outstanding athleticism plus no experience, his potential remains untapped but very high.
An additional concern that should raise red flags with Okoye is his level of commitment to well, everything he’s done recently. In the span of three years, Okoye has jumped from rugby player to Olympic discus thrower to NFL hopeful, all the while deferring an opportunity to attend law school at Oxford University, while he also told the Daily Mail that he intends to return to discus throwing eventually.
The fact that he has the athletic ability to succeed in multiple sports, while also the intelligence to attend one of the world’s most prestigious law schools, is certainly impressive. If an NFL team is to draft him, however, they better believe he is going to remain committed to developing as a player and sustaining as long of a career as possible.
All said, it only takes one team to put a prospect high enough on their board for a player to get drafted. Considering that many sixth- and seventh-round selections do not end up making NFL rosters anyways, Okoye’s raw upside could be enough to entice a team into selecting him into the late rounds of the draft, even though the pick would be made completely off of potential displayed in workouts.
If his measurables end up translating to the field, a team could very well end up with a steal in their hands by drafting Okoye in the late rounds or signing him as a free agent if he goes undrafted.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.