One of the more unique fits coming out of the 2020 NFL Draft class, Denver’s choice of Albert Okwuegbunam caught many draft pundits and Denver Broncos fans by surprise. Now Albert O will be looking to do some catching of his own as he pairs back up with his favorite college quarterback.
#85 Albert Okwuegbunam
Age 22 Height: 6’5” Weight: 258 lbs.
College: University of Missouri
Albert Okwuegbunam (Pronounced: O-coo-WAY-boo-nahm) left Mizzou after 3 seasons, wrapping up his college career with 27 games played, 98 receptions, 1,187 receiving yards, and 23 touchdowns. A big and fast target, Okwuegbunam thrived in the red zone in college, where he became very familiar with the Broncos 2nd year starting quarterback, Drew Lock.
From there it was on to the NFL Combine, where he posted a blazing-fast 4.49 40-yard dash.
Guys like Albert O are made for the red zone. Okwuegbunam combines strong hands with a height & catch radius combination that can make him a significant threat in traffic. He’s big and physical, and willing to use those traits to box defenders out with his body. With the aforementioned straight-line speed, he’s a player who follows the theme of the Broncos’ 2020 draft class: his presence has the potential to stress defenses. He’s more than just a receiver, though, as his physical traits make him a presence that has to be considered in the run game as well.
But it’s Okwuegbunam’s connection with Drew Lock that may be his biggest advantage as a rookie. In an offseason bent out of shape by world events, Okwuegbunam has arguably one of the best opportunities of any rookie to make an immediate impact by hitting the ground running. And if he and Lock can click early, its a potentially important step toward unlocking a Broncos’ red zone offense that’s been comatose for the last half decade.
Did I mention that he turned a ridiculous 23.5% of his college catches into touchdowns?
That said, there are some reasons that Okwuegbunam was still available in the 4th round as part of a pretty bad rookie tight end class. While he does have strong hands, he doesn’t always use them well: drops were a consistent issue for him at Mizzou. Similarly, while he has all the size and strength you could wish for in a blocking tight end, he struggled with some inconsistency in that area as well.
But the two largest negative factors for Okwuegbunam are his route running and his agility. At Mizzou he often seemed to rely on his physical gifts to win out over technique, and so he’s coming into the NFL as a pretty raw route runner. He also lacks agility during his routes and may struggle to separate from man coverage in the NFL. Route running can be fixed, as can drops, but lack of agility can probably only be mitigated. This puts a bit of a cap on Okwuegbunam’s upside.
Albert Okwuegbunam will make the Broncos’ 2020 roster. The main questions are where he’ll be on the depth chart and how much he’ll see the field. He has the potential to be a valuable asset for Drew Lock, but he has to realize that potential before he can profit from it. And having Noah Fant on the team to compete with will limit his opportunities.
If there’s a Broncos rookie tight end record I expect Okwuegbunam to challenge, it’s the receiving TD mark of 4. With so many other targets on the roster, and a rising young TE ahead of him, there’s an artificial ceiling on him somewhere below his full potential that will keep him distanced from the receptions and receiving yards marks. That said, if he can become a consistent and reliable blocker, he’s likely to enjoy a several year stint as the team’s replacement for Jeff Heuerman as TE2 in 2021 and beyond.