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The Arizona Cardinals' Alex Okafor can be a double-digit sack guy

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White begins his series on each team's breakout player with a player whose breakout has already started.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

To say Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor had an inauspicious start to his career would be a major understatement.

First he tore his bicep in Week 3 of his rookie season, which happened to be after seeing his first action of the regular season in that game.

Mind you, the Cardinals lost the two outside linebackers in front of Okafor on the depth chart, Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho, for the season also in the same game. A prime opportunity for increased playing time was lost. Talk about shitty timing!

Early last season, Okafor went down with injury again. He was hurt in the last preseason game, which knocked him out of the first four regular season games. Once again, his timing couldn't have been worse. The Cardinals ended up losing two of their best pass rushers in John Abraham and Darnell Dockett to injury during the time Okafor sat out.

I wouldn't have blamed Cardinals fans at all if they started to have major doubts about Okafor ever making a positive contribution.

Then a funny thing happened. After playing sparingly in his first game back, against the Broncos in Week 5, Okafor burst on the scene with his first career start against Washington the following Sunday. He ended up notching two sacks in the win and providing the pressure the Cardinals had been sorely missing.

He went on to start the rest of the way and terrorized quarterbacks in all 11 contests, ending the regular season with a team-leading eight sacks. That's what you call bouncing back from adversity.

Now I know Okafor got himself in some trouble this spring by being "drunk in public," as the Blue Collar Comedy Tour's Ron White puts it, but I still think he is very much an ascending player. He ended last season healthy, which means rather than rehabbing from injury, he can put all his efforts into sharpening up his technique.


I, for one, love his versatility as a pass rusher because he can give an offensive tackle a power rush on one play, then beat him around the corner by swiping his hands on the next. It's the kind of diverse technique I only see in veteran players, guys in their third or fourth year in the league, not a young pup seeing his first extended amount of live action.

He has 12 games worth of reps going into this season. If he can stay healthy for good, I see no reason why he won't have double-digit sacks, maybe even for many years to come.