Sports Out West

Can Olympian Lawrence Okoye become next great 49ers DL?

Photo by Ludovic Péron / Wikimedia Commons

The San Francisco 49ers made some exciting picks in the 2013 NFL Draft. The team moved up in the first round to get LSU safety Eric Reid. They also acquired two potential top-notch pass rushers in Florida State’s Cornellius Carradine and Auburn’s Corey Lemonier. The 49ers also possibly drafted the best running back of the class in the fourth round in the case of rehabbing Marcus Lattimore out of South Carolina.

However, it may be a prospect who went undrafted that becomes the best newcomer of the bunch. Aside from not being drafted, the most amazing fact for this player is that he has never played football in his life. His name is Lawrence Okoye and he was a 2012 Olympic discus finalist.

Soon after the selection of this year’s Mr. Irrelevant, the 49ers signed Okoye, 21, as an undrafted free agent. Standing in at 6-foot-6 and 304 pounds, the British athlete first burst on the scene in April after putting up amazing numbers at the super regional combine at Cowboys Stadium.

In a setting where football experience does not matter, Okoye showed off his unbelievable athleticism and physical talents in a variety of drills. Some of his accolades include running the 40-yard dash in 4.78 seconds, displaying a 35-inch vertical jump and posting a 10-foot-5 broad jump. Needless to say, numbers by an athlete this big are rarely seen.

With all these physical talents, the 49ers view him as a project and a future contributor to the team’s defensive line. Working heavily with renowned defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who does have experience working with newcomers to the sport going back to his days as a coach in NFL Europe, Okoye definitely has the motivation, work ethic and physical attributes needed to make it from football neophyte to NFL player.

“I had to work really hard to become good at [throwing the discus],” Okoye said. “When I start out, I’m not going to be as good as everybody else. I’m going to look out of place, that’s for sure. But with some work and with time and effort, I know I can catch up and hopefully become a dominant player in the league.”

These are the types of comments that make the 49ers brass salivate. With so much potential and depth at the defensive line, the team can develop him on the practice squad and hopefully add him as a contributor the following season. With players like Justin Smith and Ray McDonald getting up there in age, adding a more-polished Okoye to the mix could make for a seamless transition.

While there’s no telling where Okoye will be one month, one year or even five years down the line, the 49ers are hoping he can become the next gem of their defensive line.

Follow and interact with Austin Chang on Twitter @_austinchang.

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Austin Chang

Austin Chang is the Associate Editor of Sports Out West and a San Francisco Bay Area-based sports journalist. His work can also be found on Yahoo! Sports and RamsTalk. Follow him on Twitter @_austinchang.