Albert Okwuegbunam Doesn't Sound Scared of Squaring Off with Noah Fant for Broncos' TE Reps

Chad Jensen

If I was surprised when the Denver Broncos' spent their fourth-round pick — No. 118 overall — on a tight end, imagine how the player himself felt. TE Albert Okwuegbunam, after running a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the Combine and producing at a high level for four seasons at Missouri, heard his name called on draft day but not necessarily by the team he expected. 

Okwuegbunam was surprised the Broncos drafted him, at least a little. The odds of him landing with his primary college QB — Drew Lock — seemed slim to Albert O. This we know thanks to a virtual sit-down Mike Klis of KUSA had with the Broncos' rookie TE. 

“A little bit surprised because I ended up with Drew,’’ Okwuegbunam told Klis. “One in 32 chance of that happening. A little surprised there."

Lock's presence on the roster wasn't the only reason Okweugbunam was surprised the Broncos picked him. The fact that Denver not only had an incumbent one year removed from being a first-round pick, on top of the littany of former draft picks on the TE depth chart, made it seem like slim odds he'd land in the Mile High City.  

"There’s already a lot of talent in that tight end room," Okwuegbunam told Klis. "I look forward to going against a talented player like Noah. Just competing against each other and making each other better.’’

What happens next for the Broncos? Don't miss out on any news and analysis! Take a second and sign up for our free newsletter and get breaking Broncos news delivered to your inbox daily!

I was surprised for all the same reasons — a veritable logjam at TE and the presence of Fant and the team's excitement for what he produced as a rookie in 2019. But the Broncos saw an opportunity to bolster a team strength not only because of Okwuegbunam's unique skill-set and athleticism but because of his bond and tie with Lock. 

In fact, before turning in the virtual draft card, as it were, GM John Elway picked up the phone and called Lock to get the 411 on his former college teammate. 

“With Albert O., we really felt—the first phone call we made today, Vic and I made—was to Drew to find out about Albert and see what he thought about him because he had a much better junior year when Drew was there than he had last year.," Elway said in his post-draft presser immediately following Day 3 of the draft. "We wanted to find out and get the inside on him. Drew really liked him and gave him really high praise and thought he was a guy that could come in here and help us and talked about how he could really, really run, but he had a poor year last year."

If you really want a window into the football logic Elway and the front-office brass had regarding Okwuegbunam, just listen to the rookie describe what makes him such a unique mismatch for opponents. 

“If you want to put a linebacker on me to match my size I’m faster than him,’’ Albert O. told Klis. “And if you want to put a DB on me to match my speed then I’m going to be bigger than him. So I feel like with my mentality in the red zone, when the ball is in the air it’s mine. I’m going to come down with it. That mentality with my physical attributes, I just feel like I create an overall mismatch.’’

Lock and Okwuegbunam connected for many touchdowns, especially corner routes in the red zone, during their years together at Mizzou. Although the rookie has a long row to hoe before becoming a factor in the Broncos' offense, the team brass hope that the duo can rekindle that chemistry in the Orange and Blue. 

It is interesting to hear Okwuegbunam forecast his future competition with Fant, though. Fant ran a 4.50-second 40 and fans got to see that elite explosion (for a TE) and athleticism with the ball in his hands. Now imagine the Broncos with two of those types. 

It's an embarrassment of riches. And one that new OC Pat Shurmur will have to reckon with when the time comes. Shurmur's scheme traditionally only utilizes one TE on the field at a time, outside of specific short-yardage and red-zone situations. 

But if Okwuegbunam can develop quickly and at least get his blocking chops to a level where it's at least plausible that the Broncos might call a run when he's on the field, it might demand of Shurmur to find ways to get him on the field with Fant. 

There are suddenly a lot of mouths to feed on the Broncos' offense, though. Courtland Sutton is coming of a Pro Bowl and the Broncos just drafted Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, which caused ex-NFL star wideout Chad 'Ochocinco' Johnson to proclaim that Denver has 'three No. 1 receivers' — a sight the six-time Pro Bowler has never seen. 

Throw in a Pro Bowl duo at running back in Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon, and the touch share dwindles even further. It's not hard to catch the vision that Elway and Head Coach Vic Fangio have for this offense. 

The onus is on Shurmur and Lock to find a way to make as much hay as possible whilst the Football Gods send that offensive sunshine down on the Broncos' shoulders. It's going to be fun to see how it all takes shape. 

Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen and @MileHighHuddle.

Comments (41)
No. 1-19
Brew77
Brew77

Even though others on this site have said otherwise I can see Fant and Albert O on the field the same time a lot this season. Both are not your conventional TE’s in the aspect of their speed and agility like Albert said in the article put LB’s on these guys and watch em go. You can put one on the line and the other in the slot imagine having Sutton Jeudy on the outside with Fant at TE and Albert O or Hamler in the slot that is going to give opposing defenses fits. Lock should have wide open receivers to throw to I don’t see anyway all these guys can stay covered it’s just too talented of a group. It so good that in one year the TE room has gone from a worry to a room of riches I can’t wait to see these guys on the field it’s going to be fun to watch.

0range Crush
0range Crush

I'm telling ya Chad, every article I read about each player you discuss, I come away with the same first thought- How is anyone going to cover all of our guys now?
On paper it looks as though all Drew has to do is work his progressions and find the open guy.

Rcsodak
Rcsodak

They could have 9 guys running routes, but without pass protection, it won't matter

Broncosfan4life
Broncosfan4life

I do believe that Albert O will get his opportunities in two tightend sets and red zone play. Sutton, Jeudy, Hamler, Fant and Albert O are going to be monsters this year. And, with Lock and Albert's relationship I just don't see anyway that he isn't on the field. Defenses won't know who to double cover and zone won't work against these guys either. Lock has to feel like a kid in a candy store. This is not even counting what the run game will bring to the table. If Lock develops as expected we could see something special this year.

Broncosfan4life
Broncosfan4life

Rcsodak, you are correct, but I remember a young John Elway that didn't have good protection and had to rely on his legs and learn to make teams pay for constantly blitzing him. Lock has Glasgow, Risner and James for sure and possibly Cushenberry at center. That is a stout group and Bolles will be helped by that and Lock's athleticism and quick release. Gordon is also good at pass protection, so Bolles weaknesses will be minimized through scheme and upgraded talent around him.

SpokaneBronco
SpokaneBronco

What's the probability that James plays more than 8 games? My guess is less than 50%

Broncos61
Broncos61

Everybody assumes that, as in the past, OC Pat Shurmur will run mostly offense ( 3 WR) . He may very well surprise NFL and adopt lots of plays from Kyle Shanahan playbook which utilizes two TEs. He even hinted about adopting elements of 2019 offense. Pat Shurmurnever never had so many weapons …….

Dick Hanky
Dick Hanky

I really hope that Fort can get an honest shot this year. If he can block, no reason to keep Vannett, hate that signing. Fort seems to know where to sit down in the zone and works up high in the red zone. I guess they like the way he seals the backside. Pittsburgh didn't like Vannett. I read a Pittsburgh writer say his blocking was subpar and they're glad he's gone. Albert O. - 4.49/Fant - 4.5/Fort 4.56/Beck - 4.56. Vannett has some sand in the pants. He ran a 4.89 40 back in 2016, doubt he's got faster. Why?

Gandalf the orange
Gandalf the orange

When the defense puts their speed guys on the TEs, here comes Lindsey.

smilinassassin
smilinassassin

Fant is a stud and he played like it in college. The guy put up excellent production for a rookie tight end. Generally, we have all seen, the position takes a couple seasons to really master. He’s going to be a good one.

To expect Albert O. to be anything but a situational player at this stage in his career is really raising the bar too high. His 40 time does not translate to his actual game. That doesn’t mean he can’t still be effective. But to continually cite his combine 40 time as an actual threat when it never showed up on his game tape is a fool’s errand. He is not Noah Fant’s equal.

Denver_guy
Denver_guy

I really don’t expect much from Albert next season. A red zone threat would be nice. In 2-3 years though I can see him and fant being a lite version of gronk and Aaron

Denverkewl
Denverkewl

While Albert O needs to learn all the positions on the Offense...I think book work was one of his weaknesses - but Lock will kick his butt now [he owes him big time] or Butt will...frankly I think think Elway knew without OTAs etc, that Lock will have limited reps to work on timing...and nice to add more speed = so lets get a guy he already has timing/trust/scoring[17 TDs] with for the red zone - where we sucked last year. So we can use Albert O in certain packages. Lets see Sutton, Fant, Albert O, Gordon and Lindsay or Beck out there in the red zone...I think Shurmur mixes up a new offense with Fangio bustin his chops on how he'd beat him...

Jimrichard
Jimrichard

Not sure at all what the Broncos were thinking. Too many TE's even before the pick. This guy will really have to show something early to still be on the team. Seems like someone really shooting in the dark with the hope of hitting something. Could have should have used that pick on a different position where they had a need.

Pdf77
Pdf77

Remember what Shurmur did with Evan Ingram. A combine best 4.42 40, 10.5 broad jump but couldn’t block. Blocking is number one reason why rookie TEs struggle. Shurmur just put him in the slot. Of 243 plays, Ingram was in the slot 169 of them. Look for both Fant and Albert O to play in the slot this year.

Erick   Trickel
Erick Trickel

Editor

It's great that he isn't scared, but he isn't going to take reps away from Fant. He will see some reps in certain situations but doubt it is more than 10 on a per-game basis.

DKMI
DKMI

One name is like to bring up is Eric Ebron. Lions made him a top ten pick. Why? Because he’s a “matchup problem.” He sucked...matchup advantage or not. I’ll keep posting this until my hands turn blue: the enthusiasm here is out of control. It’s as if people thing other teams passed on great player and the Broncos were the recipients of greatness. If everything pans out as people here expect, this draft will go down as the greatest draft in history. Pro bowl players at every turn.

Paladin07
Paladin07

Keep in mind that receivers typically do not play every down. Even if it is only situational or spelling Fant with the same skill set, this is a good pick. As for his blocking, it is easy to work around by using him in situations where the other team knows we are going to pass. One of the reasons they Gordon in was to help with blitzes.

KeithCummings
KeithCummings

His relationship with Drew can only help his development. We all know 2 good tight ends are better than one!!

broncofan55555
broncofan55555

Then, what if Jake Butt finally delivers on his potential? A rejuvenated Butt plus Fant plus Albert O will give offenses quite a few headaches. I am not counting Butt out just yet.


News

FEATURED
COMMUNITY