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New York Giants ILB Bobby Okereke: The Good, The Great, and The Ugly

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New York Giants ILB Bobby Okereke: The Good, The Great, and The Ugly

When the New York Giants signed inside linebacker Bobby Okereke last offseason to a four-year, $40 million deal, fans were excited about what a talent like him could bring to the defense. 

After his first season with Big Blue, many realize the team got a steal. The defense may have struggled in 2023, but Okereke picked up right where he left off with the Indianapolis Colts. 

After back-to-back 130-plus tackle seasons in Indy, he recorded 149 tackles last season. His ten passes defensed, six quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, and 2.5 sacks were all career highs for the fifth-year guy out of Stanford. 

His 92 solo tackles were the most for a Giants player since 2016, when former safety Landon Collins recorded 100. 

Okereke is the prototype of the modern-day inside linebacker. Gone are the days of the thumpers who were liabilities in pass coverage and rarely chased down anything on the perimeter. 

Okereke represents a position that may not be as big as yesterday’s generation, but they are far more athletic. When you add that to the way he plays the game above the shoulders, there is not a team in the NFL today that could not use a Bobby Okereke. 

Athleticism, desire, toughness, and intelligence are great building blocks for any defensive player, especially a linebacker. Is he perfect? No, but he does so many things well that it is difficult to hone in on the flaws. 

The Giants’ game against the Buffalo Bills gave us a look at Okereke’s many dynamics, including chasing down a ball carrier and forcing a fumble, knocking down passes, shooting gaps to cause tackles for loss, and much more. 

Let’s check out the good, the great, and the ugly of Okereke’s game. 

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Okereke has good speed and agility, which are the keys to his coverage ability. He’s really strong in man coverage. He can run with receivers, and due to his excellent footwork, he is good at route matching on short and intermediate routes.

However, in this game against Buffalo, he showed his savvy in zone coverage. He was able to drop into areas, read the quarterback’s eyes, and make a play on the pass. He has the explosiveness to break on passes and limit an opponent’s yards after the catch. 

He has good enough ball skills to get his hands on a pass, and in this game, he was able to break up a couple of passes, one of them turning into an interception. 

There are three factors that make Okereke so great as a tackler. The first is his athleticism, as we discussed above regarding his coverage ability. He can run with receivers so he has no problem tracking down almost any ball carrier. 

The second is his motor skills, which mainly come down to desire. He just continues to chase the ball as if his life depended on it. 

The final thing is intelligence. He understands run fits and knows how to read the offense well. He puts himself in the right positions to get to the football quickly. He predicts where the ball carrier will need to go and does a great job of beating him to the point. 

In the Bills game, he exploded through lanes to make tackles, chased down ball carriers, and shut down a lot of quarterback Josh Allen’s scrambling ability. 

Okereke is not the biggest linebacker, although he plays big. One place that his size seems to be a disadvantage is addressing offensive linemen when they come to block him.

He can be pushed out of his lane or knocked off balance when attacking the ball carrier. He allows the offensive linemen to cover him up sometimes on his run fits, which completely takes him out of the play, but it also places some unnecessary wear on his body. 

It can sometimes be seen later in the game when he does not have the same steam. In this Bills contest, there were several plays where he attacked the run lane and was sideswiped by a pulling lineman. He was in his run fit but not in a position to squeeze the gap. 

The 2024 season has a chance to be Okereke’s finest statistical season based on the defense that new defensive coordinator Shane Bowen plans to run. With more explosive elements upfront, it should allow Okereke to be cleaner and run free to the ball carrier. 

One thing he should focus on is how to shed blockers better. Give them a half-man or less to attack, and hopefully, that will keep the hits off his body and result in more sustained excellence throughout the game. 

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