He's never played a down of football in his life. Heck, he didn't even know how to put on pads. But there isn't a more intriguing undrafted free agent than Lawrence Okoye, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers and could earn a spot on the practice squad this year.
So what makes Okoye so intriguing?
I'm glad you asked. From ESPN:
The 6'6", 304-pound British athlete wowed scouts at the super regional combine at Cowboys Stadium in April, running the 40-yard dash in 4.78 seconds and posting impressive results in the vertical jump (35 inches) and broad jump (10'5").
He holds the British record in discus (68.24 meters) and qualified for the finals in the event at the 2012 London Olympic Games but finished last.
Guys that size who run that quickly and jump that high don't exactly grow on trees. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find an athlete projected as a defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end with those types of measurables.
In a word, Okoye is a freak.
And as he told Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, the Niners were the perfect fit:
He has a better chance on the 49ers than elsewhere because of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
"His background in NFL Europe was something that really appealed to me," Okoye said of Tomsula. "Obviously, he's worked with guys that have hardly played the game before. ... He sees potential in me and he's made it clear that he wants to take me all the way. That's something I'm really happy about. I can't wait to work with him day in and day out."
It's easy to get excited about Okoye, but it's also important to be realistic about the type of impact he can have for the Niners in the short term. Football is a complicated, technique-driven game, and the fact that Okoye has never played means his learning curve is steeper than Filbert Street.
If he makes the practice squad, it will be an incredibly impressive feat. Imagine never playing a sport your entire life, then making a professional practice squad the first summer you sign for a team. That's just bonkers, man.
And the Niners are deep enough to give him a shot on the practice squad. If he can combine his athleticism with a quick learning curve and solid technique, he could be an impact player in the NFL in a few years.
And seeing as he competed in the Olympics, I don't doubt he can pick up on the finer points of defensive line technique. Plus, it's not as though he's trying to play quarterback or middle linebacker here. Defensive line may have its own complexities, but it's not like other positions on the field.
If he can be a physical force, he'll get his shot.
Sure, the speed and strength of his teammates will be an eye opener as he learns the game. But Okoye is accustomed to competing against the best athletes in the world—I think he'll be up to the task.
And if he is, we could be talking about a truly savvy signing by the Niners in a few years.
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