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Five big TE questions heading in to 2019 season

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Pro Football Focus is an invaluable resource to dive deeper into statistics when thinking about college football and the NFL Draft. Here is a breakdown of five tight ends heading into next season, what their numbers could mean down the road and the opinion of National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell.


Did Jared Pinkney make a smart choice?

Jared Pinkney
Jared Pinkney (AP Images)

Overview: So much discussion at the tight end position for the upcoming NFL Draft has centered on Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant and Alabama’s Irv Smith among others. Pinkley decided to return to Vanderbilt for his redshirt senior season or he might be in those discussions as well.

With 50 receptions last season, Pinkney had more catches than the three tight ends above and outdid Stanford’s Kaden Smith, Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger and pretty much every elite tight end in the draft except UCLA’s Caleb Wilson, who led the nation with 60 catches. With 50 catches for 770 yards and seven touchdowns last season, Pinkney could have emerged as a top tight end in this group. But he will return to Vandy next season and even without QB Kyle Shurmur, he could emerge as TE1 heading into the next draft.

Farrell’s take: Pinkney made the right choice for him, so that’s all that matters. Prospects choose Vanderbilt for many different academic reasons, so he probably wants to continue his education while contributing to the team for one more year. It’s pretty loaded at the top at tight end in this draft with three guys being talked about as possible first-rounders so he made the right decision for his career and will be one of the top tight ends in next year’s draft. He’ll be one to watch this season.

Does Brevin Jordan make that next step?

Brevin Jordan
Brevin Jordan (AP Images)

Overview: After an outstanding week at the Under Armour All-America Game, Jordan jumped to the second-best tight end in the 2018 class and one step away from a five-star ranking. But in his freshman season at Miami, Jordan finished second on the team with 32 catches but he only had 287 receiving yards and four touchdowns, averaging just under 24 receiving yards per outing.

The quarterback situation at Miami was a mess and that position might have stifled the Hurricanes’ chances to be far more competitive in the ACC title hunt. Ohio State transfer Tate Martell comes in and has immediate eligibility. Could Martell’s arrival and playmaking ability help Jordan become one of college football’s top tight ends as the former Las Vegas Bishop Gorman stars reunite?

Farrell’s take: Without a doubt Jordan takes the next step. Last year, he showed us flashes of his potential. He’s not the tallest tight end in the world, but he runs great routes and is a matchup problem because of his athleticism. He can stretch the field and be a huge part of the passing game. The chemistry between Jordan and Martell will only help the situation.

Will Penn State have a two-headed monster at tight end moving forward?

Pat Freiermuth
Pat Freiermuth (AP Images)

Overview: Zach Kuntz was two spots higher in the tight end rankings for the 2018 class but it was Pat Freiermuth who led the Nittany Lions with eight touchdown receptions in his freshman season even though he caught just 26 passes for 368 yards. The 6-foot-5, 262-pound target was exceptional in the red zone.

With Penn State transitioning away from Trace McSorley at quarterback and looking for another running back to emerge with the departure of Miles Sanders to the NFL, could Kuntz emerge as a top target in Penn State’s offense alongside Freiermuth or does the former four-star from Merrimac (Mass.) Brooks School continue to dominate at the position heading into his sophomore season?

Farrell’s take: You’ll see both tight ends contribute this season as Kuntz is too talented to be held back, but Freiemuth has established himself as the No. 1 option, especially in the red zone. But as Penn State transitions to a slightly different offense without McSorley, they could rely on the tight end even more this upcoming season. McSorley was exceptional at seeing the whole field, so it will be tough for the ball to be distributed more effectively, but it’s great to have the options.

Will Georgia utilize more tight ends?

Isaac Nauta
Isaac Nauta (AP Images)

Overview: Isaac Nauta was a five-star tight end coming out of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy who was ranked as the No. 23 prospect in the 2016 class. This past season as Georgia looked to run the ball with a bunch of talented running backs and throw more to its receivers, Nauta had only 35 targets all season.

To put that number in comparison, UCLA’s Wilson had 95 targets; Iowa’s Hockenson and Fant had a combined 124; Alabama’s Smith had 57. The only tight ends among the top 50 on Pro Football Focus that had fewer targets than Nauta last season were Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene (33), West Virginia’s Trevon Wesco (30) and LSU’s Foster Moreau (27), hardly any of them sniffing five-star potential. Even with top-ranked Luke Ford transferring to Illinois, Georgia still has an abundance of skilled tight ends to throw to, but will the Bulldogs dial that up in their offense?

Farrell’s take: I don’t think they will. If they didn’t target Nauta I can’t see them using Charlie Woerner even more. The Georgia offense is very balanced and Jake Fromm is continuing to develop but there is so much wide receiver talent there now and the running backs can catch the ball so well, I don’t think the tight end becomes a big part of the offense. I could be wrong, but Nauta was pretty good and was barely targeted and things went well, so I don’t see that changing a lot.

Who emerges from a loaded 2019 freshman class?

Brayden Liebrock
Brayden Liebrock (

Overview: The tight end group did not have a five-star prospect in 2019, but it had an incredible amount of depth and a lot of top prospects could emerge even in their freshman seasons to have a big year. In the end, Texas signee Brayden Liebrock finished as the No. 1 tight end in the class and there have been comparisons made to former Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki when it comes to the four-star standout.

Texas A&M signee Baylor Cupp could follow the path of former Aggies star Jace Sternberger, who led the nation among tight ends last season with 10 touchdown receptions. Clemson’s Jaelin Lay is an absolute physical specimen and then players Patrick Herbert and Hudson Henry have famous brothers, Justin and Hunter, respectively. It’s a loaded group and many top tight ends could emerge this coming season.

Farrell’s take: My first choice would be Cupp at Texas A&M because Jimbo Fisher likes to utilize the tight end and there is a chance for him to step right in. Liebrock and Henry could also contribute early for Texas and Arkansas while Lay and Herbert may take a little longer to impact. It wasn’t a top heavy tight end group, but there were a lot of guys who can work well in the passing game as they learn to block at the college level.