Chigoziem Okonkwo's trainer at XPE Sports in South Florida said a 50-catch season is a realistic goal for the Titans second-year tight end. But Okonkwo has loftier expectations for himself. He's aiming for 100 receptions in 2023.
I asked him if he wanted to stand by that prediction, and Okonkwo wasn't backing down.
"I said it," Okonkwo said with a smile. "I said it."
I love the confidence Okonkwo has in himself, and I expect him to have a breakout season. He's one of my favorite Fantasy tight ends to target on Draft Day, and you should be able to select him after Round 8 in the majority of leagues. He has top-10 upside given what he showed in his rookie campaign, as well as the work he's putting in this offseason.
Okonkwo returned to XPE Sports in February, and he trained there for the NFL Combine prior to his rookie season. XPE Sports helped Okonkwo run the fastest 40-yard dash time among tight ends at the NFL Combine in 2022 at 4.52 seconds, and now Tony Villani, the founder of XPE Sports, is helping Okonkwo take his game to another level.
It's a great place for Okonkwo to train because Travis Kelce has spent time during his NFL career at XPE Sports, and Okonkwo, like most tight ends, would love to emulate what Kelce does on the field.
"He knows how to get open," Okonkwo said of Kelce. "He has a feel for the game. He controls the game speed. He moves at his own pace. He gets open all the time. I see that all the time. He doesn't really look like he's trying. When I got here and talking to Tony, they said that's what they teach him. They teach you not to run full speed and run at a controlled game speed so you can get out of your breaks quickly. As a young guy, I'm trying to trust it. All of my life I've been taught to run fast to get open. But learning that running fast all the time kind of hurts you sometimes with routes and getting open. I'm trying to learn that now."
Villani, who has trained NFL players at XPE Sports in South Florida since 2009, said Okonkwo is doing everything possible to put himself in position to succeed.
"Chig has really bought into it," Villani said. "It will be interesting to see what will happen with the ball in his hands. When the ball gets in his hands and he gets a step, he's the speed of a pretty fast running back. Hopefully he makes that next jump in his second year."
As a rookie, Okonkwo saw his playing time increase as the season went on, and he averaged 4.4 targets per game over his final seven outings. He had six games with at least four targets over that span, and he scored at least 10 PPR points in three of them, including two touchdowns. He finished the season with 32 catches for 450 yards and three touchdowns on 46 targets.
This season, Okonkwo should be among the target leaders for the Titans. Tennessee doesn't have a lot of proven weapons in the passing game with second-year options Okonkwo, Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips the top receiving threats, and Okonkwo could be the best of the bunch.
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Okonkwo is excited for the opportunity to showcase his skills in 2023.
"Going into Year 2, I really feel like it's going to be a huge year for me, a huge leap," Okonkwo said. "I'm so confident going into it. I know what to expect. I know I can take my game to the highest level. Year 2 for me, I'm just really excited. All of the stuff I've been doing now. Building on the tools and my weaknesses, working on those and refining them. I can't wait to get on the field and show myself. I feel like I'm really under-the-radar. I feel like I'm one of the top tight ends in the league. I can't wait to put that on display and show everybody."
Okonkwo is also confident in his teammates. On Burks, Okonkwo said, "he's going to have a big year, too. His confidence toward the end of the year really grew as well."
Burks had an injury-marred rookie campaign, playing in just 11 games. But in his final six outings, Burks scored at least 12 PPR points in three games over that span. I like Burks as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in all leagues, and he's worth drafting as early as Round 6.
Okonkwo also really wanted to highlight Philips heading into this season.
"He's a dog," Okonkwo said. "In (training) camp he was the best player by far. He really solidified himself, and then he got hurt in the first game. Whenever people bring up me and Treylon, but they always forget him. I don't want people to forget him. He's going to have a huge year, too. He's going to explode on the scene, too. I'm really excited about our offense."
Philips missed the final 12 games of the season in 2022 due to a hamstring injury, but he's expected to be the primary slot receiver this year. Philips had nine targets in Week 1 last year and finished that game with six catches for 66 yards, which could be a preview of things to come. Philips is worth a late-round flier in all PPR leagues.
But Okonkwo knows the Titans' offense is still centered around Derrick Henry, who is coming off another terrific season in 2022 with 349 carries for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns, as well as 33 catches for 398 yards on 41 targets. Henry now has at least 1,500 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in three of the past four seasons.
"He really is an alien," Okonkwo said. "It's crazy. When you play with him, you know you have to block. I have to. I know if I get it then he's going to make a crazy play. It's just so nice having him on your team because he'll bail you out. He'll just do something that no other running back can do and make a touchdown out of it. Playing with him is awesome."
I'm a little concerned about Henry as a Fantasy option this season since he's 29 and has a lot of mileage on his body over the past four seasons (1,249 carries), but he's still worth drafting toward the end of Round 2. If he's healthy then he should outperform that draft value.
The biggest key for the Titans and Okonkwo is what happens at quarterback, and Ryan Tannehill should open the season as the starter ahead of rookie Will Levis. If Tennessee plays well then Tannehill should remain the starter, but Tannehill struggled with injuries in 2022 and missed five games.
Of the four games when Okonkwo scored at least 10 PPR points last year, three of them came with Tannehill under center. The best-case scenario for Okonkwo, Burks and Philips is for Tannehill to start the majority of games in 2023.
"It's huge," Okonkwo said of Tannehill remaining in Tennessee. "His presence there alone in the huddles, in the meetings ... he makes me feel way more comfortable. He just understands the game because he's played for so long. He understands the flow of the game. I hate that he gets so much hate from the fans, but he's a good guy."
I'm hoping that Tannehill, who is just a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback in the majority of leagues, can connect with Okonkwo often this season. He might not reach 100 catches, but I would take the over on the 50 receptions that Villani predicted. Let's say 75 catches for 2023.
Okonkwo has the chance for a breakout campaign this season. He is someone Fantasy managers should target, and I'm excited for his production in his second year in the NFL.