NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
Playing on a defense loaded with NFL talent can be very beneficial for a draft prospect, as the talent around him can increase his playmaking opportunities and mask his flaws. In Earl Okine’s case, however, the talent at Florida may have just masked his talent.
While fellow defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd is a potential top-10 overall draft pick, and a number of other Gators defenders including linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins and safeties Matt Elam and Josh Evans all look like sure draft choices, Okine is a long shot.
Although Okine played in 41 total games over his four-year Florida career, he never started a game, remaining toward the back of the Gators’ defensive line rotation throughout his career.
It’s rare for a back-of-the-rotation player to be an NFL draft selection. If one is going to be, he has to find ways to stand out to catch the eyes of NFL scouts. It appears Okine has started to do that in this year’s draft process.
Okine started making a name for himself at the Texas vs. the Nation postseason all-star game, where he was named Defensive MVP for a two-sack performance in which he also had a fumble recovery touchdown, and was an explosive, disruptive pass-rushing threat throughout his time in the game.
In an interview, Okine said he has received more attention from NFL teams since that eye-opening performance in that all-star game.
“I feel like I showed them a lot of playmaking ability,” Okine said.
Because Okine didn’t play a majority of snaps at Florida, he has really had to prove himself not only at the Texas vs. the Nation game, but also in his pre-draft workouts.
Okine did not receive an invite to the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, but has continued to draw interest in workouts. In front of 20 NFL team representatives (according to NFL.com) at Florida’s pro day, Okine ran a disappointing 40-yard dash of only 5.14 seconds, but put up good numbers in the bench press (25 reps of 225 pounds), 3-cone drill (6.99 seconds) and vertical jump (33 inches).
That wasn’t Okine’s only workout, according to a source, as NFL teams have had continued interest. He worked out in front of 14 NFL team representatives during Sharrif Floyd’s pro day on March 22, and he also had garnered private workout interest, including from the New England Patriots.
Okine said he believes he has performed well in his workouts.
“Every workout that I’ve had, I’ve felt positive about,” Okine said. “There’s been positive feedback so I feel like I’ve done all my workouts very well.”
Long could be used to describe Okine’s odds of being drafted, but can also describe his frame. He has very promising size, measuring in at 6’7” and 284 pounds at his pro day according to NFL.com, which combined with his quickness off the snap make him an intriguing project as a pass-rusher who can line up both outside and inside.
Okine said he believes he would be a good fit to play defensive end in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme.
“Because of my size, my ability to move, I feel like I can play one of those positions,” Okine said.
Unfortunately for Okine, his inability to earn a significant role in the defense limits both his draft stock and his game film. He acknowledges that his NFL draft hopes were negatively affected by those circumstances, but said he doesn’t regret staying at Florida for all four seasons.
“It’s just unfortunate that you know, at Florida, we had rotations so you know, I couldn’t get on the field every single series,” Okine said. “Sometimes I have regrets about you know, leaving and maybe I should have transferred but at the end of the day, I feel like it made me a better football player and it made me a tougher person.”
Playing for an elite college football program and in the SEC, Okine said, helped prepare him for NFL competition.
“I’ve been playing with the best of the best in college football for the past five years,” Okine said. “I think that’ll be great with at least the speed aspect of the NFL … I’ve heard that the speed in the NFL might even be a tad bit slower than the SEC so I feel like, just being with the top players that I was playing with in that conference, it’s definitely helped me for the NFL.”
Okine said he thinks he will prove himself worthy of a roster spot for whichever NFL team takes a chance on him as a late draft selection or undrafted free agent.
“I feel like as soon as I get a chance to get some pads and practice that, I’m going to show them, really show them what I can do,” Okine said.
Okine neither confirmed nor denied his private workout with the Patriots during his interview, but it seems safe to believe that workout did in fact occur. That begs the question: is Okine a fit for the Patriots, potentially with one of their two seventh-round draft picks or as an undrafted free agent?
In my most recent Patriots Mock Draft, I projected the Patriots to draft Okine with their second of two seventh-round picks, No. 235 overall. Although very much a project, his measurables and postseason performance make him a player worth taking a flier on in the late picks of the draft.
For the Patriots, who could use rotational talent for their pass-rush, Okine could be a good fit as he has the size to line up at both defensive end and defensive tackle in their 4-3 scheme in rush situations. Even if they do not deem him worthy of a draft pick, there is a strong possibility they could still bring him as a priority free agent signing.
Okine said he sells himself to NFL teams as a “physical” football player.
“I stop the run well, good hand placement and I feel like my best football’s ahead of me,” Okine said.
Okine said he will be “very grateful” if a team such as the Patriots takes a chance on him with a draft selection.
“That would be mean that a team believed in me,” Okine said. “They’re going to get someone who can come in and give 100 percent … that’s (getting drafted) just the beginning.”