There was some confidence in the Hall of Fame before the Denver Broncos swapped Noah Fant as part of Russell Wilson’s acquisition package. But after this tectonic trade, there are many concerns about the narrow end position, and many see it as a top priority to improve.
Albert Okuegbunam has been with the NFL for two years and the torch was handed over to him as a starter; then the Broncos chose Greg Dulcic in round 3. Now there is a battle for the starting position.
This is the battle of Okwugbunam Must wins, but if he does not, it will be troubling for his development. Let’s look at his past in hopes of predicting what lies ahead for “Albert O” in 2022.
Okwugbunam just turned 24 in April. In high school, he played the round receiver before moving on to the end of college. He went to high school in Springfield, Illinois, but went south to Missouri for college.
During his three-year collegiate career, Okwuegbunam was quite productive with 23 touchdowns. He was a weapon of inconsistency because of his size and speed, but he fought as a blocking and walking route.
Okwuegbunam’s first year in 2017 was his most productive season, as he achieved 11 of his 23 career results. He also raised 409 yards with 29 catches on 40 targets.
Okwuegbunam was relatively effective as a receiver. It was also his best year as a blocker, with a total of 300 blocking photos and was rated 81.7 overall for blocking by Professional football focus.
During Okwuegbunam’s career, there were some concerns about falling and forcing missed fights. He missed 12 passes, four in each of the three seasons.
As for forced missed fights, Okwuegbunam forced only 12 during college, with four in each season. One of his worries about leaving college was how easy it was to get fired.
Okwuegbunam ended his college career with 98 catches on 140 targets at 1,182 yards and 23 touchdowns. His ability to be a mismatch was obvious, but so were his problems with blocking his walking route.
In addition, as it is as high as Okwuegbunam, the level of the substrate in both phases was a significant concern and problematic. After the 2019 season, he announced himself for the NFL 2020 draft as a teenager with a red shirt.
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Without an invitation to the cup games before the draft, Okwugbunam had to show up at Combine. With a break of 40 yards in 4.49 seconds, he stood out among the narrow edges and attracted little attention. That time was in the 97th percentile for the narrow ends, so it was easy to see why it attracted attention.
This speed could be seen on the tape and at the size of the Okwuegbunam this was a big reason why it was such an inappropriate weapon. All this together was enough to raise him in the fourth round of the Broncos.
As a rookie, Okwuegbunam played just 86 shots in attack in four games while dealing with injuries before suffering an ACL rupture at the end of the season in Denver’s game against Atlanta. He caught 11 of 15 targets in 121 yards and one touchdown in the limited season. His problems as a blocker were still evident in his small action, with 29 photos in this department.
Okwuegbunam played in 14 games in Year 2, missing some due to injury, and he played well. While he was still struggling as a blocker, he showed some improvements, but most of his improvements proved to be running on the route. He caught 33 of 40 targets at 330 yards and two touchdowns.
One thing that remained constant was Okwuegbunam’s trouble breaking through. He doesn’t force many missed fights between the two years and you would like to see a few more with his size and athleticism. However, he showed enough to make the coaching staff and the front office feel comfortable exchanging Fant and not taking the tie-end more seriously until the draft.
The Broncos have indeed signed with midfielder Eric Tomlinson, but he is not a contender for the starting job in the tight end and is in his own battle, which you can read more about in Tomlinson’s profile.
There are still areas that Okwuegbunam needs to improve drastically to be the starter for the 2022 season. His block is at the top of the list and although he is showing steady improvement, he needs to make quite a significant leap.
While difficulties usually take time to develop, Dulcic comes to work. Okwuegbunam cannot give up if he wants to remain a starter. If Okwuegbunam wins the job, he may have a great season with Russell Wilson, but he must triumph in the race first.
Dulcich will not make things easier for Okwuegbunam, but hopefully they both use the competition to improve, and Denver may have two solid to good narrow ends at the top of the depth rankings.
As with all positional battles, let the best player win.
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