Albert Okwuegbunam is coming back to school.
Missouri’s star tight end announced Thursday morning on Twitter that he won’t declare early for the NFL Draft and instead will return for his junior season.
The return is huge for Missouri and coach Barry Odom, who regains some of the momentum his program had before the season-ending loss to Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl.
“I wouldn’t trade being a Mizzou Tiger for anything and I won’t,” Okwuegbunam said in his tweet. “Can’t wait to get back to work, we’re coming for it all next season!”
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Okwuegbunam had a lackluster sophomore season after taking the nation by storm as a redshirt freshman. The 6-foot-5 tight end had 43 catches for 466 yards and six touchdowns, but missed the last four games of the year because of a shoulder injury. Despite the injury, Okwuegbunam was still a finalist for the Mackey Award, which is given to the nation’s top tight end. In 2017, he had 11 touchdowns and 415 yards, and served as a major key to MU’s six-game winning streak. His 11 touchdowns in 2017 led the tight end position nationally.
Missouri lost tailback Damarea Crockett early to the NFL Draft on Monday and Okweugbunam’s return is huge for offensive coordinator Derek Dooley, who will return most of his top-20 offense to pair with former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant in August.
Had he declared for the NFL, Okwuegbunam would have faced an uphill battle as a prospect, after a number of underclassmen tight ends recently went pro, including Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger. NFL scouts recently told The Star that Okwuegbunam could help his draft stock by improving his blocking and route-running in the 2019 season.
Odom lost tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley to Texas A&M in December and has yet to name a replacement. Okwuegbunam’s return just made the job a lot more attractive.