PFF Gives Broncos' TE Albert Okwuegbunam Excellent Grade in Week 7
The start of the 2020 NFL season has not exactly gone according to plan for the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately, and much to the chagrin of Broncos Country, this season is quickly starting to look like the year before, the year before that, and the year before that.
The Broncos seem to have an above-average defense but the offense is simply not cutting it. To be fair to Denver's offense, the unit has gone up against some of the better defenses to start this season.
The unit also was likely highly impacted by a weird offseason with fewer practices and on the field time due to COVID-19 while trying to implement a scheme change under a new coordinator in Pat Shurmur. Furthermore, this Broncos’ offense is one of the youngest in the league.
It was always going to take time and (just like every other NFL team) the unit was going to live and die with just how good the player under center would show to be. Not to get too far down the Drew Lock rabbit hole (he still has 10 games left this season so let’s just see how it goes, please) what makes the Broncos equal parts exciting, and maddening, is the talented youth scattered across the offensive depth chart.
From the offensive line to the skill positions, GM John Elway has made a conscious effort over the last few drafts to inject more and more offensive talent onto the roster. The results have been mixed to date but with the lag time between a prospect being drafted to stabilizing into the player he will become for the majority of his career, the Broncos’ offensive future is bright.
Typically, it takes a few years for a rookie to learn the NFL game. Judging a rookie right out of the gate is a foolish endeavor. A player's development path vaires based on the position he plays (a running back is typically as good as they will ever be their rookie year while an offensive tackle could take three to four years to develop into what their career norms will be) but rookie growing pains should be expected no matter the player.
With that said, it does seem like the Broncos may have hit on another draft pick in the 2020 class in selecting tight Albert Okwuegbunam in the fourth round out of the University of Missouri. After excellent seasons in 2017 and 2018, Okwuegbunam struggled through the 2019 season after Lock departed for the NFL. After putting on a show running a 4.49-seocnd 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine at 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds, it was a bit of a surprise he fell to Day 3 of the draft.
There were concerns about Okwuegbunam’s ability to run routes to create separation beyond simply pulling away from players up the seam, digest a playbook, and block with any sort of consistency, so far he has been better than expected in those aspects of his play while also flashing that rare combination of speed and size.
Pro Football Focus was impressed after Okwuegbunam's Week 7 performance. Here's what PFF said.
Week 7 overall grade: 86.9
Of all the young receiving options within Denver’s offense, Albert Okwuegbunam was the team’s principal source of production this week. He led the team in targets (seven), receptions (seven) and receiving yards (60). Throwing his way generated a 102.4 passer rating for Drew Lock, who still finished the game with a lowly 57.7 rating. Okwuegbunam was largely fed the ball on short targets just to give Lock somewhere to go, and the average depth of his target was just 2.7 yards downfield, but he averaged almost 6 yards per reception after the catch and used his speed to make the most of those opportunities.
Okwuegbunam still has a ways to go in his development, as is true for almost all rookies coming into the NFL. However, the flashes he has shown in a very limited sample size are extremely promising.
There is no such thing as too many athletic mismatch weapons. While it is unlikely Okwuegbunam will surpass 2019 first-rounder Noah Fant, the thought of both together in the future is enough to get anyone excited. While the duo will likely never be Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez given that neither comes close to Gronk’s inline blocking ability, the tandem could cause some damage against AFC defenses.
It typically takes tight ends two to three seasons to get over their positional learning curve and develop into the player they will likely be for their career, making what Okwuegbunam impressive. Even more impressive, the odds of producing and finding a rookie at tight end to contribute like this Day 3 are low at best.
The Broncos’ offense has once again been rather painful to watch in 2020, but with exciting young emerging players like Okwuegbunam out there making plays and getting better, this unit deserves both your attention and your patience.