Ogbo Okoronkwo discovered his best stuff in the second half of last season with Texans, and he expects to find more of it working next to Myles Garrett in his first season with the Browns.
One of the Browns' first free-agent additions of the offseason, Okoronkwo sees plenty of reasons to be excited about how he'll fit as an edge rusher in the Browns defense. Garrett, the All-Pro edge rusher, is certainly one of those reasons, and so is the idea of playing more freely in the defensive line-friendly schemes of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
"With Coach Schwartz, just traditionally, D-ends have a lot of success in his defense — high sack numbers and high production," Okoronkwo said Wednesday in his introductory Zoom call. "I'm really excited about that. Playing on the other side of Myles Garrett, I think it speaks for itself. He has been one of the best pass rushers in the league year in and year out. Being able to play alongside him will open up a lot of things for me so I'm excited about that, as well."
Check out photos of new Browns DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who agreed to terms as the Browns' first free-agent pickup of the 2023 offseason
He should be, especially with the way he finished last season in the first games he ever started in the NFL.
Okoronkwo tallied five sacks in the last eight games of the year when he became a starting player for Houston and pressured the quarterback just as much as his new defensive end teammate — his 16.4 pressure rate late season was third among all NFL edge rusher with 200 or more snaps, which was one spot ahead of Garrett (16.3), according to Next Gen Stats.
Garrett, of course, was one of the most double-teamed players in the league last season and will likely continue to be in 2023. Okoronkwo will command extra attention as well, especially if he maintains his level of success from 2022.
"I think me and Myles both possess a combination of traits — speed, power and quickness," Okoronkwo said. "That coming off of both edges is going to be a lot for an offensive line to deal with. We're just excited to see how they are going to try to block us."
So what helped Okoronkwo play the best football of his career toward the end of last season?
He believes it was all about opportunity.
Injuries significantly hampered the beginning of his career, which started by not playing a game as a rookie due to a foot injury. After playing 10-games in an injury-free 2019, he was back on injured reserve in 2020 and missed five games with an elbow injury. The next season, he landed on the list again and missed the first month of the season with a shoulder injury.
Last season was finally different — it didn't include time on the sideline in a T-shirt and sweatpants or any period spent in injury rehab. Okoronkwo was active all season and finally cracked a starting job after nine games spent only as a rotational player.
With more snaps came more sacks.
"I went from playing anywhere from eight to 10 snaps to 30," he said. "When you get more snaps and more opportunity, you get to do more things with it. I feel like when I got moved to the starting position, I took full advantage of it."
Okoronkwo could do even more when he has one of the game's best edge rushers on the other side of him. Previous Browns edge rushers Olivier Vernon (nine sacks in 2020) and Jadeveon Clowney (nine sacks in 2022) played at some of the highest levels of their careers with Garrett as the offense's top concern.
Okoronkwo hopes to be the next beneficiary, but he also believes his pass rush arsenal can help Garrett play better, too.
"I think where I can complement him is a lot of people talk about my spin move, but I think my long arm and my ability to crush the pocket and disrupt the pocket is one of my biggest attributes," he said. "As he's rushing the edge and flying off the edge with all of that speed as I crush the pocket and just make the quarterback uncomfortable and escape in ways that he is not used to, I think that will just open it up for Myles more."
That would certainly be a formula not many offenses are equipped to stop, but it's only possible if Okoronkwo continues to rip around linemen the same way he did near the end of last year.
As he envisions playing next to Garrett and seeing a similar snap load as he had a year ago, there's no doubt in his mind he will.
"I think the best is yet to come for me," he said. "I don't think anybody has seen my best ball yet. I'm excited to show everybody."