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Albert Okwuegbunam brings connection to Lock to Broncos

Tight end aims to show Broncos 'got a steal' in draft
Posted at 4:12 PM, Jul 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-20 18:32:37-04

DENVER -- The name demands attention and practiced pronunciation.

The Broncos selected tight end Albert Okwuegbunam in the fourth round. His father is of Nigerian descent, and his last name translates to "Evil Cannot Bring Us Down."

It rolls off the tongue as Oh-Coo-Aye-Boo-Nom. There are 11 letters and one player looking to make an impact after falling in the draft.

"I definitely feel like Denver got a steal," Okwuegbunam said during his Denver7 Meet The Picks interview. "I am really excited to get out there. I am excited to get back on the field, start competing and start making a name for myself."

Broncos rookies report Wednesday, beginning the acclimation process. This training camp will be atypical. At most, there will be one preseason game, and possibly none. Making an impression begins and ends with practice sessions, no detail too small.

For Okwuegbunam, it helps he brings a past with Broncos starting quarterback Drew Lock. In his first two seasons at Missouri, Okwuegbunam caught 17 touchdowns from Lock.

They might not work much together early on, but their relationship could help microwave Okwuegbunam's development.

"It was really in practice (at Missouri). Going into 2017 season, our offense struggled a little bit and Drew leaned on me. We started a good connection," Okwuegbunam said. "We built that trust and chemistry and that’s what contributed to that. ... I mean, I feel like it’s pretty evident that the sky is limit for Drew. He was having fun, his personality came out. You just got a glimpse of what he can do.”

Lock and Albert O, as he is known, became friends off the field in college. Lock is known for being perceptive, and forming bonds with teammates. That translated onto the field.

"I think what makes Albert so special is how smart he is and how he finds open spots on the field. Really him in the red zone, you can find a lot of clips of us at Mizzou on corner routes, putting it up high to him and letting him go get it," Lock said. "He is a massive human being. When you guys finally get to see him in person, you’ll realize that. He is very athletic, can go up and get the ball and moves really well as we saw at the combine.”

Okwuegbunam became part of an unmistakable trend in the Broncos' draft. They felt more need for speed than Maverick and Goose in "Top Gun." Looking to redline an offense that averaged 17 points last season, the Broncos added receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in the first two rounds, and followed with Okwuegbunam in the fourth.

Okwuegbunam runs a 4.49 40-yard dash, making him a blur at tight end and a mismatch in the red zone at 6-foot-5.

Lock's endorsement made Okwuegbunam an easy pick.

“With Albert O., we really felt — the first phone call we made (on day he was drafted), Vic and I made — was to Drew to find out about Albert and see what he thought about him because he had a much better (sophomore) year when Drew was there than he had last year. We wanted to find out and get the (intel) on him. Drew really liked him and gave him really high praise and thought he was a guy that could come in here and help us and talked about how he could really, really run," Broncos general manager John Elway said. "We were really kind of going off his junior year. Then when Drew gave him the seal of approval, we were glad."

The Broncos boast a promising player at Okwuegbunam's position in Noah Fant, who set franchise records in receptions (40) and yards (562) for a rookie tight end. However, Okwuegbunam could provide another wrinkle if the two line up together. Remember, speed creates mismatches.

"You could see exactly how it was (in the draft). I am really excited to see what we are trying to do in Denver. I am excited to fly around and make big plays with Drew," Okwuegbunam said. "Obviously they have big plays for Drew. And I am excited to be part of it."

Okwuegbunam grew up wanting to be the next Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions legendary receiver. Then he grew up, literally. He added weight in college, morphing into a 255-pound tight end. He prides himself on knowing his position, and digests film on greats. He learned plenty from Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley, who coached Cowboys star Jason Witten.

"When Derek came to Missouri, he brought over Witten tape. We watched a lot of his tape, and I really liked a lot of things he did," Okwuegbunam said. "Obviously, I watched (Rob) Gronkowski because of how balanced he was. And Travis Kelce, and George Kittle. Just a combination of guys."

For Okwuegbunam, he understands the need to iron out all wrinkles. There's no replacement for studying, something Peyton Manning emphasized on a Zoom call with the rookies that left Okweugbunam convinced that Manning "is obsessed with the game." And conditioning cannot be an issue when trying to turn heads.

Address those issues, and Okwuegbunam can play big and fast. That was whole idea of the Broncos taking him in the draft.

"Really, I am just a playmaker. I am going to make plays when it counts. I have that mentality and take pride on being that guy that the team and fans can lean on to make big play," Okwuegbunam said. "As soon as I get my feet on the ground in Denver, I am going to be working."