How are the Broncos planning to utilize Albert Okwuegbunam and Noah Fant together?
The Denver Broncos saw a problem with the number of legitimate offensive weapons they had on their roster, and they killed that problem with fire in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Broncos used their top two selections on wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler before using a fourth-round pick on Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam.
The pick of Okwuegbunam was one that very few saw coming because the Broncos seemingly had plenty of depth at tight end going into the 2020 NFL Draft with 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant and a host of young players on the roster who could compete for playing time.
The Broncos had also signed veteran Nick Vannett in free agency to upgrade the depth at the position.
So why Okwuegbunam?
First and foremost, the Broncos liked Okwuegbunam’s connection with starting quarterback Drew Lock.
When Lock and Okwuegbunam were together at Missouri, Okwuegbunam caught 17 touchdown passes in two seasons. He still managed to catch six touchdown passes in 2019 even without Lock throwing him the ball, bringing his three-year total to 23.
In addition to his previous chemistry with Lock in college, the Broncos obviously felt like they had the luxury with 10 draft picks in 2020 to take a shot on the athleticism of Okwuegbunam in the fourth round, where he was a ridiculous value.
Okwuegbunam’s silly athletic profile
At 6-foot-5, nearly 260 pounds, not many athletes at the tight end position compare with Okwuegbunam, at least the way he tested. The Broncos already have one of the only other comparable players in the NFL in terms of size and athletic ability in Noah Fant.
Fant is 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, and ran a 4.5 flat at the 2019 Scouting Combine.
Just like Okwuegbunam, Fant was a touchdown machine in three seasons of college football at Iowa.
So what are the Broncos going to do with both of these guys, especially with all of the depth they already have at tight end?
Pat Shurmur licking his chops
New Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is going to be bringing a completely different style of football to Denver compared to what the team has been used to over the last few decades.
For the most part, the Broncos have been the Mike Shanahan version of the West Coast offense, an offense that uses the run to set up the pass, play-action, and a lot of the quarterback under center.
Shurmur is an Andy Reid disciple who prefers three receivers and 11 personnel with things spread out more.
The Broncos certainly have the personnel to consistently run three receivers, ideally with emerging star Courtland Sutton and their top two picks Hamler and Jeudy, but there will be opportunities for the Broncos to throw either Okwuegbunam or Fant into the “big slot” role or flex them out as wide receivers.
Both players should be on the field for packages during games, and both players will cause headaches for defenders with their combination of size, speed, and overall athleticism.
Fant proved a lot of doubters wrong in his rookie season with the Broncos by becoming one of the NFL’s top players after the catch.
Even though both Fant and Okwuegbunam have ability to make plays in space, there’s no doubt that they are different types of players before the catch, at the catch point, and after the catch.
Okwuegbunam uses his size to his advantage a little bit more than Fant, speaking in terms of his abilities at the catch point. He’s more aggressive when the ball is in the air than Fant typically is.
Fant, on the other hand, seems to move around and run routes a bit more naturally. Okwuegbunam can tend to round off some routes but he will find ways to catch just about everything thrown his way where Fant may struggle at the catch point a bit despite his size.
With these two players together, along with the rest of the receivers on the Broncos’ roster, Pat Shurmur has some unique opportunities in 12 personnel to throw two tight ends with 4.5 speed or better.
What are defenses supposed to do with that when players like Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Phillip Lindsay, KJ Hamler, Melvin Gordon, and others are also able to be on the field?
Whether they are on the field at the same time or individually, the Broncos have a couple of serious mismatch possibilities at every level of the field in Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam.