Lawrence Okoye is a name you have probably never heard before. If you saw him walking down the street, you wouldn’t know he was in the NFL. Well, besides the fact he’s 6-foot-6, 304 pounds. Okoye is 22 years old and plays defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers. He is from England and was an Olympic competitor for Great Britain in the 2012 Summer Olympics in track and field. Okoye is a physical specimen, cut out to be a modern day gladiator. So, why hasn’t anyone in the States heard of him? No one has heard of him yet because he spent the entire 2013 season on the 49ers’ Injured Reserve after sustaining an injury in the preseason.
Despite being one of the largest men in the NFL, Okoye was undrafted in 2013 and had absolutely no experience playing American football. As someone who grew up playing rugby in England, he was completely unfamiliar with football. Besides being an Olympic athlete, further evidence of his freakish athleticism is his 40-yard dash time of 4.84 seconds, 36 inch vertical jump, 10-foot-7 broad jump, and posting 30 reps on the bench press with 225 pounds. All of these numbers for a 6-foot-6, 304 pound man.
In 2014, the 49ers should be deep at the defensive line. Last season, they rotated Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, DeMarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie at defensive end. Not to mention they will have Tank Carradine this season, who was out all of last season with an injury he sustained in the last game of his college career. All these guys will be getting reps this season, plus the 49ers might be looking to draft another defensive lineman in the mid-late rounds. So, why would they keep Okoye around?
They would keep Okoye around because they put a tremendous amount of value on their special teams. If they throw Okoye out on the field for kickoffs, there aren’t many players able to slow down a 304 pound man who runs a sub five second 40-yard dash. For what the 49ers are paying him, special teams alone would make it worth his price. But his value doesn’t end there. McDonald is getting older, as is Smith. Neither will be playing as many reps as they have in the past, and both will be more prone to injuries. The coaching staff loves the strides Okoye has made in his short NFL career and would love to have him on the bench as an insurance policy, and to get him some garbage time here and there to help his skills grow.
Okoye is a freak athlete, there is no denying that. His skills are quite raw, but he’s improving on the field everyday. I don’t expect him to be a perennial Pro-Bowler, but I do expect him to be a solid contributor in one way or another on the field, as long as he stays healthy. Look for him in the preseason on special teams to start off with; he’ll be the one running down the field with the opposing team jumping out of his way.