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