Denver Broncos: Albert Okwuegbunam in line for sophomore leap?

Denver Broncos tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Denver Broncos tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

Denver Broncos tight end Albert Okwuegbunam played in four games as a rookie in 2020 before going down with a torn ACL. It was an unfortunate ending to a somewhat promising year for the former Missouri prospect.

From Weeks 6 through 9, Okwuegbunam caught 11 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. While that doesn’t amount to much on paper, it does show that the Denver Broncos and quarterback Drew Lock want to get Okwuegbunam involved. During the 2020 season, Okwuegbunam was behind Noah Fant and Nick Vannett.

Vannett is no longer on the roster. Neither are Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli. That puts Okwuegbunam in line to potentially have a big sophomore year, being the second tight end on the depth chart. That is unless guys like Austin Fort, Shaun Beyer or Eric Saubert impress during the preseason.

Okwuegbunam has quite a bit of an advantage over those three though, as he and quarterback Drew Lock were teammates at Missouri.

It might even be more beneficial to Okwuegbunam if Teddy Bridgewater ends up winning the quarterback competition. Many people have said that Bridgewater has taken the safe plays during training camp this year and the tight end position isn’t always a position that will generate big yardage plays.

Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 258 pounds, Okwuegbunam is a large target for any quarterback to throw to.

Asked how his training camp is going, Okwuegbunam gave an update on his knee.

"“It’s going really good. Honestly, I’m out there running around, I don’t even think about my knee. So it’s just been about, you know, knocking the dust off, getting out there and playing football again. Feeling that competitiveness and just getting into the swing of things. But it’s been really good.As far as the way my knee feels, it’s one-hundred percent. Obviously it’s not one-hundred percent as far as like, coming back and playing football. You know what I mean? It’s about getting into football shape. But definitely as far as a healing aspect, it’s a hundred percent.”— Denver Broncos tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (via Broncos PR)"

Okwuegbunam said on Friday that he loves the offense the team is running as far as how tight ends are being used. He emphasized that the players at the position are being used on the line of scrimmage as receiving tight ends and blocking tight ends, and even how they sometimes go out wide in a wide receiver role.

Despite Okwuegbunam only playing in four games in 2020, the second-year pro views his time on the field as a rookie as very beneficial. He said that being out there on the field as a rookie gave him a load of confidence and that should carry over into 2021, his sophomore season.

Okwuegbunam could most definitely be used in the red zone quite a bit, too. A big target such as him is a huge threat in the red zone. His lone touchdown in 2020 was from the 9-yard line.

He caught 3-of-7 passes inside the 20-yard line for 29 yards and a touchdown in 2020. He will most definitely get to see more targets his way in 2021 as second-fiddle to Fant.

In 2020, the Broncos ranked 27th in red zone scoring, scoring on 53.33 percent of red zone trips. That needs to change drastically in 2021. With Okwuegbunam and Fant, it very well could.

Nearly a year ago, Vannett—who was on the team at that time—said that he felt Okwuegbunam could be “one of the league’s best tight ends.”

Word out of training camp is that Okwuegbunam is improving on all aspects of his game—more notably his blocking, but can also help stretch the field. It will still take him some time to get back into the swing of things but that is what preseason games are for. Look for him to be a big contributor in 2021.