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Albert Okwuegbunam shouldn’t have been a surprise at the NFL Combine

Okwuegbunam’s talent was never in question. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about his usage at Mizzou.

Missouri v Florida Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you already knew the name Albert Okwuegbunam prior to Thursday night’s NFL Combine. But for most of the country, especially NFL fans, the NFL Combine was a grand introduction.

Okwuegbunam put on a show in Indianapolis as he posted a blistering 4.49 in the 40-yard dash. The superlatives for just how impressive this feat is for a man his size are limitless.

According to NFL Research, Okwuegbunam’s 4.49 40-yard dash was the second fastest 40-time since 2003 among players that measured at least 6-foot-5 and 250+ pounds. Nike’s “speed score” ranks Okwuegbunam as the third fastest tight end in the last 20 years. NFL Next Gen Stats rated Okwuegbunam as the only tight end in the 2020 class to finish with an elite athleticism score.

None of this should come as a surprise. Not for Mizzou fans, at least.

Tigers fans have known for years Okwuegbunam is as talented as any tight end in the country. He burst on the scene in 2017 with 11 touchdown receptions. Two years later, he finished his career with a total of 23.

Talent was never the problem. Health, and usage? Those were issues.

Okwuegbunam was seemingly hurt as often as he was fully healthy. And for whatever reason, he was never targeted the way he probably should have been. It was frustrating, especially in the down times. So much so that earlier this season I went back and watched every play that started outside the red zone that targeted Okwuegbunam.

I found a common theme: He was rarely used in space.

Think about that statement for a moment. A 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end that ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was rarely used in space against college defenders to take advantage of his unique size and speed combination.

How does that happen?

I’m not sure. I know we’ll never hear a compelling explanation on why Derek Dooley struggled so mightily to get Okwuegbunam involved.

All I know is the player who is now the story of the NFL Combine is the same player who finished his final season at Missouri with a total of 17 receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns in seven SEC games.

A huge congrats to Okwuegbunam for showing out on what is considered to be the biggest stage for an NFL prospect. I just can’t help but wonder why he wasn’t given the opportunity to do it more often while he was still in a Tigers uniform.