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Albert Okwuegbunam is an Elway bet on ‘upside’

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Can pairing Lock with his college buddy again lead to points?

SEMO v Missouri
Albert O has a blend of intriguing traits.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Draft season never ends. Now that the 2020 Draft is behind us, the most diehard among Draft Twitter are turning their attention to next year’s crop. That’s the way it’s happened forever, and it got me wondering about how the Broncos’ rookie class was getting talked about at this time last year.

One thing that became clear to me as I dug through it is that Albert Okwuegbunam was getting quite a bit of love from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller. While his 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine turned heads, it did not come out of left field. In fact, Miller had Albert O as his TE1 in this 2020 class 365 days ago.

Obviously things didn’t work out that way, and I hope to spend some more time this summer studying up on his film to get a really feel for 85’s game. One question I’m going in with is: how much did the situation changing from 2018 to 2019 impact Albert O’s performance vs his production?

At least from this side of that study, it looks like the Broncos are betting that reuniting Okwuegbunam with his former quarterback will pay off in a big way for both parties. They had Lock talk with him before Day 3 of the NFL Draft, and word after the pick was that Denver’s sophomore passer was blowing up his phone.

Earlier this week, Lock was asked on a Zoom call about his thoughts on the Broncos’ new tight end.

I think with me and Albert, it probably started with just the person that he was off the field. I like to surround myself with good teammates, good guys off the field. That’s exactly what Albert is. Once we developed a friendship off the field, it kind of just molded into on the field stuff. It molded that friendship from off the field first then it went on the field. I think what makes Albert so special is how smart he is and how he finds open spots on the field. Really him in the red zone, you can find a lot of clips of us at Mizzou on corner routes, putting it up high to him and letting him go get it. He is a massive human being. When you guys finally get to see him in person, you’ll realize that. He is very athletic, can go up and get the ball and moves really well as we saw at the combine.”

That last part is what most intrigues me. It’s no secret the Broncos had a lot of issues scoring points last year and that it was Elway’s biggest priority this offseason. While Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and Melvin Gordon should improve the offense as a whole, none was brought in specifically for his work around the goal line. There’s reason to believe that Okwuegbunam was. More than 23% of his career receptions have gone for six, and he has the kind of frame and hands that should make him a reliable box out weapon in tight quarters.

Add in that Pat Shurmur’s second most used personnel grouping is two tight end sets, and it looks like Elway’s hope is that Albert Okwuegbunam can solidify that grouping for the long term. Keep in mind that rookie tight ends typically have the roughest adjustment of any position to the NFL, but it seems like a good bet for a fourth round pick.

Just a few Albert O links I stumbled upon

NFL draft: College coaches dish on the biggest steals

1. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri TE (Denver Broncos, fourth round, 118th pick) “I think 2018 was a way better year for him because of the quarterback position with Drew Lock.” (Okwuegbunam reunites with Lock in Denver.) “His performance against Alabama in 2018 [four catches for 47 yards], he was an issue for them outmuscling them in the pass game.”

‘They’ve got two of my guys’: Former Missouri HC Barry Odom reflects on connection between Drew Lock, Albert Okwuegbunam

“Matchup-wise we were going to do as good a job as we could of putting Albert in position because of his size and speed,” Odom said. “We were going to try to find the matchup that helped us best. You can make the play call, but then the player goes and executes it. Both of those guys did that at a high level. They had a connected way that they played together. And that carried over from the reps and the habits that they developed in practice and then obviously [they were] skilled [enough] on game day to be able to go execute it.”

NFL Combine 2020: The 4 kinds of prospects to watch this year - SBNation.com

1. Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri This draft is begging for someone to step up in an otherwise dull tight end class. Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet is the top tight end in the draft, but he might not be the best athletic tester. That could open things up for a player like Okwuegbunam, whose name I had to look up the spelling on twice while writing this portion. Okwuegbunam had just 26 receptions for 306 yards and six touchdowns this past season, which is nothing special. But in 2017, he had 11 touchdowns and averaged 14.3 yards per catch. If he can test well, he should rise.

Prospect Microscope: Meet Mizzou Tight End Albert Okwuegbunam | The Draft Network

What TDN’s Jordan Reid wrote about Albert O in August of last year.

Your Broncos’ Links

Denver Broncos Film Study: Did Garett Bolles improve in 2019? - Mile High Report

Digging into the tape to see if Broncos tackle, Garett Bolles was able to make any positive strides throughout the season.

How tough are the Denver Broncos 2020 opponents? - Mile High Report

Denver’s got a slog ahead of them.

What it’ll take for Denver Broncos to make it into a 14 team playoffs - Mile High Report

And what does that mean for the Denver Broncos in 2020?

Denver Broncos release uniform numbers for rookie class - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos have announced their uniform numbers for the 2020 NFL Draft class and other offseason additions.

What will the Denver Broncos offense look like in 2020? - Mile High Report

Young Drew Lock is reported to be learning at lightning speed the new Broncos offense. Will Broncos Country be wowed with fireworks?

UK Denver Broncos fan reacts to loss of 2020 London game - Mile High Report

Colum Cronin of Ireland talked about the disappointment of not being able to see the Broncos in England this season. He also discussed how he became a fan. As they say in Ireland, it was great craic.

Kareem Jackson: It doesn’t make sense to play unless “it’s 100 percent safe” - ProFootballTalk

“I just think for us, it doesn’t make sense to play any games unless it’s completely, 100 percent safe for us to go out there,” Jackson said in a conference call with beat reporters, via Nicki Jhabvala of TheAthletic.com. “If there’s any threat of us being able to [contract] COVID-19 in any way and spread it to our families or anybody we’re around, it just doesn’t make sense. I think I heard them saying something about us playing with no fans and all that. That would be like practice, so in my opinion, that would suck. But just talking with some of the guys, it just doesn’t make sense to go play any games unless it’s 100 percent safe for us to go out there.”

The Eight Best Player-Team Fits From the 2020 NFL Draft - The Ringer

WR Jerry Jeudy, Broncos (first round, 15th pick) Jeudy will encounter the same challenges that every other rookie receiver will face in the next few months, but the former Crimson Tide star has a leg up over his classmates thanks to his combination of top-tier route-running skills, lightning-quick footwork, and rare suddenness in the short area. Jeudy’s understanding of the full route tree and his ability to separate from tight coverage should allow him to be an early contributor in Pat Shurmur’s offense.

Breaking Down Every AFC Division After the Draft and Free Agency - The Ringer

Team With the Most Work Left to Do: Broncos

The Broncos are the choice here essentially by default. Every other AFC West team is loading up in an attempt to catch the Chiefs, and Denver simply added fewer pieces than its division rivals. But that doesn’t mean the Broncos had a bad spring. GM John Elway turned his pass-catching group into a track team by drafting Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Albert Okwuegbunam to add to an offense that already featured vertical threats in Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant.

I have no idea if Drew Lock will pan out, but Elway is giving him absolutely every chance to thrive. The Broncos added so many speedy receivers that it’s easy to forget that running back Melvin Gordon is now also on this team. And Denver made a couple low-risk trades to nab cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, fortifying two areas of need. Denver still has a hole at linebacker, a question mark at its second outside cornerback spot, and concerns on the offensive line, but if this is the weakest team in the division, the AFC West is doing well.

The Nine NFL Teams With the Biggest Roster Holes Left to Fill - The Ringer

Broncos: Cornerback

With Chris Harris Jr. now gone to the rival Chargers, the Broncos head into 2020 with question marks in the secondary. The team will lean on recently acquired veteran cornerback A.J. Bouye to man one of the outside spots in Vic Fangio’s scheme, and Bryce Callahan projects as the de facto no. 2. But the 5-foot-9, 188-pound Callahan is less than a sure thing after missing the 2019 season due to complications from a foot injury, and projects primarily in the slot after playing just 28 snaps on the outside (with 610 in the slot) for the Bears in 2018. That leaves the outside corner spot opposite Bouye up for grabs after the team neglected to add any other competition in free agency.

Former Patriot Duke Dawson started three games for Denver last year, and third-year pro Isaac Yiadom will throw his hat into the ring after starting (and mostly struggling) in eight games in 2019. De’Vante Bausby, who suffered a scary neck injury that left him temporarily paralyzed last season, could be another option. Ultimately, the team may be forced to throw third-round rookie Michael Ojemudia into the fire from the get-go absent any other game-ready options. Ojemudia has the size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and athleticism to excel in the Broncos’ scheme, but it’s a big ask to put a third-rounder out on the field early on, especially in a division with Patrick Mahomes.

NFL Links

It’s unfair - Chiefs had the most improved pass protection in 2019 - Mile High Report

They really needed ANOTHER advantage on offense to pair with the best play caller and the best QB in the league

Chiefs are the NFL’s heaviest favorites to make the playoffs - ProFootballTalk

The odds at Caesars have the Chiefs at -1800 favorites to make the playoffs, by far the heaviest favorites to make the postseason of any team in the league. That’s due in part to the Chiefs’ own strength and in part to the rest of the division, where the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders are all playoff long shots. The Chiefs have won the AFC West four years in a row, and there’s every reason to believe they’ll make it five.

Kevin Colbert explains why he wanted three more draft rounds - ProFootballTalk

“You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again. The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”

Dolphins rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa to wear No. 1 - NFL.com

The Dolphins retired that number in 2003 in honor of Hall of Famer Dan Marino. Tagovailoa said shortly after being drafted he wasn’t worried about what number he’d wear. He’ll don a number that hasn’t been worn by a Dolphins QB before, according to Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero.

Clowney ready for next step, open to Seahawks return - NFL.com

“I don’t know what people think, if I’m hurting because of what I went through, because of the core (injury) or previous years or what, I don’t know, but I just want to let people know I’m ready,” Clowney said. “I’ll be ready to go whenever the time comes, and whoever I sign with is going to get the best version of me.”

What Offensive Linemen Have to Do to Add, Maintain, and Lose Weight - The Ringer

The position doesn’t just require athletes to be muscular; it mandates that they are bigger than their bodies want to be. To maintain the size and weight required by the position, prospects and veterans are driven to adopt extreme eating habits. But once their careers are over, it’s not always easy to return to a healthy lifestyle.