Lock-Okwuegbunam Connection Could Be X-Factor For Broncos

Photo: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend was big for Denver Broncos fans. Not only was their team able to take down the New England Patriots by a score of 18-12, but their starting quarterback Drew Lock also returned to action. Though his stat line wasn’t great, a win is a win, especially for an improving team and a young quarterback.

But it was also a big weekend for Missouri Tigers fans, as Lock had a familiar face in the lineup for the first time since they changed their colors from black and yellow to orange and blue.

The familiar face was tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (spelled it right on the first try). Okwuegbunam made his NFL debut this past weekend and saw six targets, hauling in two of them for 45 yards. But his day could have been a lot bigger than that when you watch the tape and see the different kinds of looks Okwuegbunam saw in the passing game with those six targets.

Lock was not holding back at all when it came to targeting Okwuegbunam in his first game of NFL action. The play above shows Okwuegbunam’s first target of the game, and it was a familiar one. In fact, a lot of the throws between Lock and Okwuegbunam were rooted in throws they had between one another in college.

Okwuegbunam had his most successful seasons while Lock was his quarterback—in touchdowns, total yards, and yards per reception.

Here’s a throw to the back of the end zone that had a good chance to be six points. It was one of four end zone targets Okwuegbunam saw on the day. Clearly, he’s going to be a player Lock looks to in the red zone moving forward, and that’s because of that chemistry they have when space gets tight dating back to a few years prior.

The clip directly above comes from Lock and Okwuegbunam’s days at Missouri. The alignment wasn’t exactly the same as it was this past Sunday, but the idea to get Okwuegbunam to blow past his man and catch a corner route to the back of the end zone is something these two have worked on and have had success with for years. Timing is crucial when space is limited.

Okwuegbunam’s bread and butter in college was being ridiculously fast in a straight line for a player of his size. His 4.49 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine put him in the 97th percentile for his position. Because of this, he was a big-time weapon over the middle of the field, something that showed up once again against the Patriots.

The Broncos ran a flanker drive concept with both Jerry Jeudy and Okwuegbunam running the same style of route, just one much deeper than the other. It was a great call against the Patriots’ man coverage call to guarantee one of them being open.

Lock and Okwuegbunam are very familiar with the idea of scoring big off a drive concept, as you can see in the clip above. With Okwuegbunam being as fast as he is, he’ll usually be able to create separation against a linebacker or strong safety against him in man coverage. With him being farther down the field, he’s the bigger payoff, and the one Lock looks to first.

I thought it was a very encouraging week for Lock and Okweugbunam’s continued connection. The biggest area where these two tore defenses up in the SEC was actually deep down the seam over the middle. When they start establishing themselves as a threat to the sidelines, they’ll start calling and hitting those seam routes against linebackers who can’t keep up. 

If Okwuegbunam keeps getting the looks he did this past weekend when Noah Fant returns from injury, this unit is going to be tough to stop up the middle and in the red zone.