Vic Fangio Shares Evaluation of TE Albert Okwuegbunam's Up-and-Down Broncos Debut
Very few talking heads across the NFL saw the Denver Broncos rolling into Gillette Stadium and knocking off the New England Patriots 18-12. That includes the oddsmakers like SportsBetting.com who had the Patriots as nine-point favorites.
What many inside the Mile High City couldn't quite be sure of was whether the Broncos would finally take the shrink wrap off of rookie fourth-round tight end Albert Okwuegbunam with starter Noah Fant ruled out. However, for the first time this season, Okwuegbunam was active and what's more, he was a focal point of the Broncos' offense.
Out of the gates, the Broncos deployed Okwuegbunam in the passing game, giving him two end-zone targets in the first half alone. He would finish second on the team with six total targets, but only hauled in two catches for 45 yards.
Okwuegbunam's stat-line would have looked a lot healthier if he'd been able to haul in the two end-zone targets that QB Drew Lock perfectly placed. However, the use of Okwuegbunam in the offense and aggressive, un-scouted vertical attack the Broncos' deployed put the Patriots on their heels and discombobulated Bill Belichick.
On Monday, with the Broncos back home in Denver safe and sound and still savoring the big win, head coach Vic Fangio shared his impressions on Okwuegbunam's NFL debut.
“I was pleased with some of Albert’s play yesterday," Fangio said on Monday. "He made two nice catches and ran with it well after. I think it was a good first outing for him and is something that he can build upon."
The chemistry that Okwuegbunam and Lock had dating back to their college days together at the University of Missouri was palpable. The duo tried a couple of their old Mizzou tricks that had paid dividends for the Tigers but New England's stingy secondary and, frankly, Lock's and Okwuegbunam's relative rustiness foiled them.
Still, as Fangio said, Okwuegbunam was impressive out there, even though you'd like to see him come up with at least one of those three end-zone targets, one of which I'd classify as a drop and the other as a great play by the defensive back to pop the ball out.
"There are some other plays that he would like to have over," Fangio said. "I’d like to see him come up with one or two of those balls that were thrown his way, but we’re highly encouraged by him. I think it was a good start and hopefully we’ll be able to keep him active. We’ll see how it shakes out here.”
Okwuegbunam's obvious talent and connection with Lock made it clear that whatever blocking deficiencies the rookie tight end has — have been overblown by the coaches. Based on what was seen in Week 6, there's absolutely no reason to keep a playmaker of Okwuegbunam's magnitude off the field, even if Fant returns healthy for Week 7.
That doesn't portend well for Jake Butt, unfortunately, but that's the way this cookie has crumbled. Any game moving forward in which Okwuegbunam is not dressed and woven into the Broncos' game-plan is a game in which the team isn't giving itself the best possible chance to win with the most talented players at their disposal.
As for the blocking, that's what the Broncos paid Nick Vannett for and why Andrew Beck was kept on the 53-man roster. Let Okwuegbunam go be a playmaker in the Broncos' young offense — a unit still teeming with weapons even without Fant and No. 1 wideout Courtland Sutton.