How will the Broncos utilize rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam?

The Denver Broncos provided Drew Lock with one of his favorite weapons at Mizzou by drafting rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam in this year's draft.

Many media personalities were surprised when the Denver Broncos drafted a rookie tight end in the 2020 NFL draft. Last season, the Broncos selected tight end Noah Fant with their first-round pick. This season, they drafted Albert Okwuegbunam 118th overall with their fourth-round pick.

Denver has been searching for a tight end threat that can help improve the Broncos offense in certain areas of the field on third down and particularly in the red-zone. Converting only 47.6% of their red-zone attempts, good for 28th overall in the NFL.

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Personnel

Before we get started I would like to introduce readers to some technical points regarding offensive personnel that the Broncos will utilize in 2020 with Pat Shurmur as their offensive coordinator. 

11 personnel – this is the base offensive scheme that Shurmur likes to run. It refers to one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers. This will likely consist of Melvin Gordon, Noah Fant, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick being on the field.

12 personnel – this will involve the Broncos fielding one running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers. Depending on the situation and need, this is where Broncos fans will likely see Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam on the field together.

21 personnel – this refers to the Broncos offense using two running backs and one tight end with two receivers. Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon will both be on the field alongside Fant or Okwuegbunam.

Unlocking Albert Okwuegbunam

Broncos GM John Elway invested faith into his potential franchise quarterback by calling Lock before the Broncos were on the clock in the fourth round. Elway asked Lock about what type of teammate and human being Okwuegbunam is, and Lock’s response was good enough that the Broncos decided to draft him.

Okwuegbunam is a very interesting scheme fit for what Shurmur would like to do. Shurmur’s base offense revolves around 11 personnel which will primarily feature Noah Fant.

When Shurmur uses 12 personnel it will create more utilization for what Albert O. can do on offense. There will be times where you will see the Broncos line up in the pistol formation with Okwuegbunam off-set as a wing or H-back, and he’ll be used as a backside blocker kicking out the edge defender, and he’ll be leaked into the flats in passing situations.

When you reference Lock and Albert O. on the game tape together in 2017 and 2018, Mizzou often used the same play design out of various formations. It would help Lock and Okwuegbunam connect for a total of 17 touchdowns in two seasons. So what can football fans expect from the Broncos rookie tight end this season?

If Denver wants to use their speed, plan to see Okwuegbunam used as a flex player offensively alongside Fant, Jeudy and fellow rookie wide receiver KJ Hamler in a 12 personnel look. When the Broncos want to use their size and athleticism, you can expect to see Okwuegbunam lined up on Courtland Sutton’s side of the field.

Lock’s familiarity with Okwuegbunam will likely provide the offense with some already established chemistry before training camp happens next month at the UC Health Training Center in Englewood, Colorado.

Blocking

The Broncos offensive philosophy will require blocking by the skill position players as well as the offensive line. Okwuegbunam will find himself in situations where the team will ask him to block, but this is an area he has struggled with in terms of consistency using his strength to finish off blocks.

In comparison to Fant, Okwuegbunam will need to consistently work with the tight end group in everyday drills as well as work with the offensive line led by Mike Munchak. He has been widely praised for his work ethic and will be asked to improve on the block element of his game.

During his freshman season in 2017, Albert O. was bigger than he currently is and didn’t possess as much muscle tone. He was used as a primary blocker both flexed out as a wing and in-line as a tight end. Okwuegbunam demonstrated that he has the ability to be a good blocker if he truly focuses on it.

The biggest critique outside of finishing blocks is him keeping his hands inside the frame, breaking down, and maintaining the ability to step and move laterally. This is an area of his game that is easily fixable with consistently working technique and coaching.

Receiving

In both 2017 and 2018, Mizzou would run four to five straight plays in a row that required Okwuegbunam to block, and then would reward him in the passing game on quick pop passes, chip releases, and backside leak outs to the flats. This is what allowed him to demonstrate his RAC ability with Mizzou’s explosive offense that season.

As he developed more muscle tone and leaned out, he became much faster as a receiver. With a combination of his size at 6’5 and his 4.4 speed, he became a productive goal-line target. His ability to find the football against press coverage on goal-line fades made him an easy target to go to for Lock and Shawn Robinson.

The Broncos could line him up inside the slot, on the line, or even on the outside with his route running ability. He is a receiving threat that defenses will need to account for both on the first level of the field, across the middle, and vertically down the hash.

For the Broncos, Okwuegbunam has the potential to be a key player that will help transform an offense that was bottom-ranked (30th) on third-down conversions (31.7%) and in the red-zone (28th, 47.6%) into one that produces in these areas more consistently.

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