Byron Chamberlain was a tight end drafted by the Denver Broncos in the seventh round in 1995. In Denver, he played for Ring-of-Fame Head Coach Mike Shanahan for six seasons and won two Super Bowl championships.
Chamberlain went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings where he was a Pro Bowler in 2001, before concluding his career in Washington (2003).
In a conversation with former teammate Nick Ferguson and Cecil Lammey on 104.3 The FAN, Chamberlain explained the significance of the tight end in the modern offense.
“It’s definitely the most dangerous weapon in the NFL,” Chamberlain said on the Nick and Cecil show. “You’ve got to be versatile to play it. You’ve got these big guys who can run and get out in a pattern. Then, after they get the ball in their hands, they can get yards after the catch and punish smaller defensive backs.”
Within the last decade, NFL offenses have embraced the tight end position in various formations, utilizing them as larger wide receivers like Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, and Rob Gronkowski. The progenitors of these modern receiving tight ends were Hall-of-Famers like Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzales.
In order to account for these hybrid tight ends, defenses are forced to declare a linebacker or defensive back as the primary defender. As a result, defenders are either pushed around by these 250-pound receivers or exposed in coverage mismatches.
Due to their usage and prolific statistical production as receivers, tight end contracts are increasingly coming at a premium in the NFL. The current class of elite receiving tight ends includes San Francisco's George Kittle and the Kansas City's Travis Kelce.
But the tight end profiles of high-scoring fantasy football stars haven't always been the position they’ve evolved into, as Chamberlain pointed out.
“Before and when I was in the league, tight ends were used like an extra tackle,” Chamberlain said. “Then you had the guys like Shannon Sharpe emerge including myself, who were former wide receivers. So, we added that to our game. But they were still looking for guys that were balanced.
"If you can get an athletic tight end who can create mismatches, you’ve got something special on offense."
There are also high expectations for rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who was a college teammate at Missouri with Broncos QB Drew Lock. This past spring, GM John Elway selected the tight end nicknamed ‘Albert O’ in the fourth round of the draft.
In his three collegiate seasons, Albert O caught 98 passes for 1,187 yards and 23 touchdowns. Chamberlain explained why he feels Okwuegbunam will be a great fit for the Broncos.
“The thing that I see is that he’s so big and so fast," Chamberlain told Ferguson and Lammey. "He’s a guy that makes plays all over the field. I think of so many plays at Missouri where he’s scoring 60-yard touchdowns and was 40 or 50 yards down the field making plays.”
While Okwuegbunam may already possess natural play-making ability, there are other elements of his game that he must improve in Chamberlain's estimation.
“He was not the greatest blocker but he’s a willing blocker,” Chamberlain said. “I want to see if a guy is willing to block. If he’s willing to stick his nose in there and put his body in there, and he is. He’ll get coached up there in Denver the right way.”
Noah Fant, Denver's first-round pick a year ago, had an impressive rookie season. In 2019, he appeared in 16 games with 11 starts, totaling 40 receptions for 562 yards, three touchdowns, which included 23 first downs. Fant is expected to excel and mature in new OC Pat Shurmur’s spread offense.
But under circumstances that stem from the current pandemic, the reality is that it could take some time for the Broncos ffense to find its groove. Chamberlain hopes, “they can get it by the midpoint of the season.”
As a former pupil and teammate of Hall-of-Famer Shannon Sharpe, the former two-time Super Bowl-champion Chamberlain doubled down on his excitement for the Broncos young tight ends.
“These guys have as much ability as Kittle and Kelce have," Chamberlain said. "But, they’re young guys.”
If the Broncos can get even one of their recently-rafted tight ends to resemble a Pro Bowler like Kittle or Kelce, surely the 2020 offense would be firing on all cylinders
In addition to Chamberlain being a tight end and Missouri alumni, he shares a special bond with Lock and connection to his family.
“I played football with Drew Lock’s father Andy,” he said. “Andy was a captain my freshman year and I love the guy. He’s one of the guys that took interest in me and got to know me.”
It's a small world indeed for the former Tigers who now hang their hat in Broncos Country.
“I remember when he had his baby boy, and that’s Drew,” Chamberlain said. “I’ve known Drew his entire life, and I was so happy to see him get drafted by Denver.”
Check out Chamberlain's podcast Broncos Brawl, which he co-hosts.