Top Tight Ends in NFL Draft: Albert Okwuegbunam
Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam, who burst onto the scene as a freshman, is our No. 5-ranked tight end.
Albert Okwuegbunam looked like the next big thing at tight end when he scored 11 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2017.
Okwuegbunam looked like the next big thing at the 2020 Scouting Combine, as well, when he ran his 40 in a dazzling 4.49 seconds. That made him the fourth-fastest tight end since 2003.
What happened in between is what NFL talent evaluators are wrestling with ahead of this year’s draft. Can Okwuegbunam be a devastating X-factor because of his combination of size (6-foot-5 1/2) and speed? Or will injuries make him nothing more than a perpetual tease?
Okwuegbunam had a relatively ho-hum final season with 26 catches for 306 yards and six touchdowns, his year derailed by a knee sprain that kept him to nine games. He had five touchdowns in a four-game span early in the season. As a sophomore, he was a finalist for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end, after recording 43 catches for 466 yards and six touchdowns despite being limited to nine games by a broken scapula.
In three seasons, he caught 98 passes for 1,187 yards and 23 touchdowns.
His full name is Albert Chukwueneka Okwuegbunam, though “Albert O” will suffice. The Nigerian translation of Okwuegbunam means “Evil cannot bring us down” while his middle name means “God has done wonderful for us.” His father, Albert Sr., immigrated to Springfield, Ill., from Nigeria when he was a teenager. He was a soccer goalie at Lincoln Land Community College who reluctantly agreed to let his son play the rough-and-tumble sport of football.
“It’s funny you said that because the first three sports I played, I was like 6-7 years old and I played soccer and baseball and basketball,” Okwuegbunam said at the Scouting Combine. “Out of those three, soccer was my favorite sport. I was a really good young player, but something just drew me to football. Just watching it on TV, playing in the backyard with my friends, I always had big aspirations for football and that is what I had big dreams about. When I was 9 years old, I begged my parents to let me play because I had friends playing and ever since then I never put the pigskin down. I have played ever since.”
What we like
The speed and touchdown ability are obvious. He caught 4-of-7 passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield in 2019. For his career, one out of every 4.26 receptions ended up in the end zone. And remember, that came against SEC competition. “Just my ability to create mismatches all over the field. Whether it is in the red zone and using my athleticism to get open or just be able to stretch the field with my speed, or just anywhere to pick up a first down. As well as my versatility and the balance to my game — being able to be used effectively in the run game as well.”
What we don’t like
Can Okwuegbunam stay healthy? The injuries have stunted his development as a route runner. Plus, his four drops gave him a drop rate of 11.8 percent – the worst of our top 17 tight ends – and a disappointing 31.3 percent success rate in contested-catch situations. At this point, he’s little more than a bundle of potential. But 4.49 speed is one heck of a starting point.