Alex Okafor’s injury history presents Chiefs with slight concerns

Alex Okafor of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Alex Okafor of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Alex Okafor’s injury history is spotty enough to slightly concern the Chiefs.

Already seven seasons strong, Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor has already put together a solid NFL career and there’s every reason to believe he has another few years ahead of him. For a former fourth round pick, Okafor has defied the odds facing most NFL hopefuls and put together a career that’s more than double the average playing career.

The downside for Okafor, however, is that his injury history is just as long.

From the moment Okafor first entered the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals after the 2013 NFL Draft, the list of injuries began to accrue. Okafor tore his bicep in his first professional game and missed the rest of his rookie season in 2013. He missed the first three games of the 2014 season with a bruise before starting the rest of the way. He would miss the same amount of games in 2015 with a calf injury.

In his final season with the Cardinals, a contract season, he suffered another torn biceps tenden in the preseason but decided to play through it. Then he missed two postseason games due to a toe injury, caused by something that still remains a mystery.

From there, Okafor was forced to sign a cheap, one-year deal in free agency in order to repair his reputation and prove himself worthy of a bigger paycheck. The New Orleans Saints offered a one-year, $2 million deal and Okafor started 10 games before missing the rest of the season with a torn Achilles.

Okafor would go on to earn an extension with the Saints and rewarded them with the first full season’s worth of starts of his NFL career. In those 16 starts, he had 9 quarterback hits, 4 sacks, and a showcase that he really could stay healthy—finally. On the verge of free agency again, it was a nice exhibition and the Kansas City Chiefs decided to bite in the spring.

These days, Okafor is a known quantity for Chiefs fans. He was a nice mid-level signing by general manager Brett Veach to help remake a defensive front for new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Veach maneuvered to import his pass rushing anchor in Frank Clark and Okafor gave the team predictable production, when healthy, on the other side.

Veach could have waited for his own pick of Breeland Speaks or John Dorsey‘s choice of Tanoh Kpassagnon to develop, but as it turns out, Okafor was a worthy addition. Speaks ended up injured for the year and Okafor enjoyed solid production opposite Clark with 22 tackles, 9 quarterback hits, 5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble in only 10 games. Then came the latest injury: a torn pectoral muscle that landed Okafor on injured reserve, a loss up front for a team that still won it all.

At this point, Okafor has certainly proven his ability to return to form after injury. Despite the setbacks, he’s clearly a man of grit and determination, one who can look at these negative situations with the sort of vision required to overcome them. It’s a testament to his work ethic and talent that he’s been able to earn millions over the course of a long career while dealing with so many injuries.

But there are only so many times a player can come back, right? Every player eventually hits a wall, whether it’s injury or age or interest. As Okafor begins his eighth NFL season returning from yet another season-ending injury, it’s natural to wonder whether this is his wall. Will the Chiefs be forced to lean upon those same developmental guys who still haven’t turned the corner to dependable starter because the one they imported no longer has what it takes?

Okafor’s injury history yet continued production is a small yet intriguing question facing the Chiefs in 2020. Will this torn pectoral prove to be the hurdle he couldn’t overcome or will it be yet another testament to his endurance and skill set? We will find out soon enough.

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