As the dust settles on the Denver Broncos' 2020 draft haul, the general consensus is that it was a coming-out party for second-year QB Drew Lock. Last weekend's draft yield was clear evidence of GM John Elway’s commitment to the 23-year-old signal-caller.
The use of two early-round draft picks on game-breaking wide receivers like Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Penn State's speedster KJ Hamler (in back-to-back rounds), combined with the decision to add another explosive tight end in round four to complement Noah Fant, telegraphed Elway's mandate to upgrade the Broncos' skill positions.
Denver might have drafted TE Albert Okwuegbunam at pick 118 but it was still an ambitious move by Elway. Albert O.’s prodigious physical gifts make him an intriguing prospect, standing at 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds, but it’s his 4.49-speed that sets him apart as a unique weapon.
Elway’s commitment to his young QB has now been displayed in bright lights for all to see. If the picks themselves didn't telegraph that, the fact that Elway called Lock to get the final word on drafting Albert O. — his college teammate at Mizzou in 2017 and 2018 — certainly does.
“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."
The Broncos recognized the slight statistical drop-off in Albert O.'s final season at Mizzou. Juxtaposed against his prolific production in the two years he spent with Lock, Elway's instinct was to contact Lock to see if his suspicions were correct.
"We were really kind of going off his junior year," Elway said. "Then when Drew gave him the seal of approval, we were glad—he was our target in the fourth round and he was still there, and we got him. Plus, to put him on the other side from Noah, he's a 4.49 guy that can really run at 258 pounds., and so again was able—and a big target, good in the red zone. He’s another weapon with great speed that we could add.”
The friendship Lock and Albert O. established translated into success on the field at Missouri where the pair connected for 17 touchdowns over the two years they spent together, 11 of which came during the TE’s freshman campaign. The one year Albert O. played without Lock at Mizzou saw him catch just 26 passes for 306 yards and six touchdowns.
The Broncos are hoping that knack the two developed for combining on big scoring plays can be rekindled in the NFL when they both suit up in Orange and Blue this coming season. For his part, Albert O. is counting on the chemistry working once again.
“The confidence that we had in each other—off the field we’re brothers," Albert O. said during his virtual introductory presser on Saturday. "We get along great and I think that really just translated onto the field. Being with him in Missouri, I just felt like a lot of the times in tough situations, I was the guy that he always felt comfortable with just knowing that he always had an open throw in me, regardless of the situation."
Besides adding to the Broncos' ever-expanding arsenal of speedy targets, the selection of Lock’s collegiate wingman serves to provide further evidence that Elway is committed to nurturing his bonds with Lock, all specifically designed to put No. 3 in the best position to succeed.
Elway himself has past history to draw upon. During the formative years of his own playing career, he suffered from being under the command of a remote and rigid coach in Dan Reeves, who largely failed to throw his arm around the beleaguered star QB and help him through the ups and downs.
Only when Mike Shanahan arrived in Denver where he formed a personal relationship with Elway and surrounded the future Hall-of-Famer with an arsenal of weapons, did he fully flourish and mature as a player, which translated to the ultimate team success as the coach/QB duo hoisted back-to-back Lombardi Trophies. Elway understands now as a GM that he has a duty to help Lock at all stages of the QB's professional development.
Elway's strategy in the 2020 draft was to surround Lock with an abundance of speed and talent, while also providing him with a locker room full of supportive teammates. After all, no man is an island, so from now on, Lock will be able to count on his old college buddy to help him succeed, along with the new bonds he's forged in Denver as a pro.
Elway knows all too well from bitter experience the importance of a support system as a QB playing at the highest level there is. Lock will be thankful in the short term and quite possibly indebted long-term to his boss for drafting Albert O.