COLUMBIA, Mo. – One of the biggest questions of the offseason for Missouri football was answered Thursday morning with tight end Albert Okwuegbunam’s announcement that he will play for the Tigers in 2019 instead of declaring early for the NFL Draft.
In a Twitter post that announced his decision, Okwuegbunam – who will be a redshirt junior next year – wrote, “These past 3 years at Mizzou have been the best years of my life. I’ve made many connections and met people that have positively changed my life forever. Playing with my brothers on the biggest stages in front of amazing fans has been an experience you truly can’t put a price on. I wouldn’t trade being a Mizzou Tiger for anything and I won’t. Can’t wait to get back to work, we’re coming for it all next season!”
Okwuegbunam was eligible to leave early after spending three seasons at Missouri, one of which was a redshirt year. He has two years of college eligibility remaining.
In his decision to stay, Okwuegbunam followed in the footsteps of quarterback Drew Lock and defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., who each elected to return for their senior seasons instead of leaving early a year ago.
Running back Damarea Crockett announced Monday that he was skipping his senior season at Missouri to declare for the 2019 draft.
At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, Okwuegbunam would have been a hot commodity for NFL teams this spring. WalterFootball.com and Drafttek each ranked him as the best tight end prospect in 2019, while CBS Sports ranked him second.
Most projections had Okwuegbunam going in the first two rounds of the 2019 draft. Rookie deals for NFL draft picks are four years, and the minimum contract for a first- or second-round pick last year was worth a total of $4.37 million.
Okwuegbunam should help ease the transition for quarterback Kelly Bryant’s arrival next season. In two years at Missouri, Okwuegbunam has 72 catches for 881 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He was a second-team All-Southeastern Conference pick as a redshirt freshman in 2017 by coaches and the media after recording 29 catches for 415 yards and 11 touchdowns. No other tight end in Division I had more receiving touchdowns that season.
The media named him first-team preseason all-SEC entering 2018. Okwuegbunam was more prolific through his first 7¼ games of 2018 than the entire year before, catching 43 passes for 466 yards and six touchdowns. He injured his shoulder in the first half against Florida on Nov. 3 and did not play for the rest of the season, missing four entire games (including the Liberty Bowl) and most of a fifth against the Gators.
Okwuegbunam’s return means the Tigers are set to return seven regular offensive starters from last year. Along with Okwuegbunam, Missouri will bring back running back Larry Rountree III, wide receivers Jalen Knox and Johnathon Johnson, and offensive linemen Trystan Colon-Castillo, Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms and Yasir Durant.