Vikings FA Fits: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo Could be a Pass Rush Specialist for the New DC

Jan 8, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Houston Texans linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (45) pressures Indianapolis Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger (4) in the pocket Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, during a game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Scheer-USA TODAY Sports

Last offseason, I discussed adding edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.

My reasons were multiple. At just 26 (at the time), Okoronkwo was staring down several more years of good football. He was the 17th-best edge rusher on PFF, an indication that he may have been underrated around the NFL. Plus, he played for the Rams, meaning the new coaching staff would be well aware of his abilities. Making the potential fit even better was that he wasn’t going to break the bank.

Instead of the Vikings, Okoronkwo went to the Texans, where he had an excellent year. Might Minnesota circle back to the rotational EDGE?

The Basic Details: EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

  • 27 years old. 6’1″, 253 pounds.
  • 2018 5th-round selection.
  • 8 starts (17 games played) in 2022.
  • 44 tackles, 9 TFLs, 2 PDs, 1 FF, and 5 sacks.
  • 75.1 PFF grade, 29th among edge rushers.

The Talk Around Town

Quite often, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is overlooked in the top free agent articles. He is shutout in the lists on PFF, the NFL’s website, and CBS.

In some ways, that’s a good thing. There’s no shortage of anxiety among Vikings fans when it comes to the less-than-ideal salary cap. Flying under the radar may make it easier for the Vikings to bring Okoronkwo aboard. Last season, he cost the Texans a modest $3.25 million, a steal for someone who can come off the bench to make life challenging for the opposition’s QB.

During the season, Brad Spielberger of PFF noted some of Okoronkwo’s success, describing him as an “interesting rotational edge rusher free agent.” Indeed.

In Minnesota, he’d likely be tasked with being the EDGE3, a position he could thrive in.

The Fit in Minnesota

To my mind, the priority for the defense should be to add pass rushers like it’s going out of style. Simply leaning on Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith ended up hindering Minnesota’s D, especially once the latter was battling a knee ailment.

In the videos, you’ll see Okoronkwo win his reps with a similar strategy: a really tight rip move that allows him to get underneath the OT’s shoulder. He also shows off an impressive spin move that may bring back memories of Everson Griffen:

In 2022, Okoronkwo didn’t miss a tackle, a notable achievement for a player who was in on 518 snaps (a career high). He added 17 pressures, 6 QB hurries, and 6 QB knockdowns to his 5 sacks. The 9 TFLs are similarly impressive, especially when we consider his status as a rotational player.

For context, Hunter had 34 pressures, 11 QB hurries, 11 QB knockdowns, and 10.5 sacks (906 snaps). Minnesota’s defensive stalwart tacked on 12 TFLs. The point, folks, is that (once we adjust for snap totals) Okoronkwo’s basic stats aren’t too far from Hunter’s.

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Now, we shouldn’t be expecting a player who is on par with Danielle. Very few can match Minnesota’s top pass rusher. What we can expect, though, is someone who could be a very nice complement to the talent Minnesota already has on the roster.

Given the advancing age and injury history for Smith and Hunter, it makes a ton of sense to look toward free agency (and the draft) to bring in some more youthful reinforcements. Okoronkwo is 27, so it’s not like he’s brand new to the NFL. Nevertheless, he has only played 1046 reps in his career, meaning he could be a very young 27 by NFL standards.

Oct 11, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) is sacked by Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (45) and Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers (90) in the second quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

At only 6’1″, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo lacks the length that many talent evaluators want in an OLB/DE. Generally speaking, coaches want their edge rushers and corners to be long & strong (think Patrick Peterson and Danielle Hunter). However, the above videos show a pass rusher who uses his height (or lack thereof) to his advantage by getting underneath the OT.

At the right price, Okoronkwo could be a nice addition to the defense, providing a nice boost to a pass rush that was lacklustre for Minnesota in 2022.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.