Feeling Cocky? Ranking SEC's tight end depth charts for 2017
From the guys who catch the ball to the guys who sometimes catch the ball — and sometimes open up the run game or provide pass protection — the tight end has to be the jack of all trades.
A few SEC schools barely use them, but for others, it’s a key strength moving into 2017. We rank the depth charts of every SEC team. Again, we’re looking more at the players we know than guessing at ones we don’t, and we only considered the top two names on the depth chart.
14. Auburn: Jr. Jalen Harris, Sr. Caleb King
This ranking is not intended as a slight on these young men. But the bottom line is that Auburn rarely features a tight end at all. When they do, it will be Harris, a 6-4, 257-pound target who played in every game in 2016 and started five. Harris caught two passes all year, but both were touchdowns (16 total yards). He’s also a solid run blocker when needed. King, who played in two games, saw the most time behind Harris, but that’s a testimony to how little Auburn uses a tight end.
13. Texas A&M: Sr. Kalvin Cline, Sr. Tanner Schorp
Much as with Auburn, A&M just doesn’t mess with tight ends much. Cline is a Virginia Tech transfer who caught 26 passes for Tech back in 2013. Now a graduate transfer, he caught one pass for a 17-yard touchdown last year for A&M. He and Schorp (1 catch, 4 yards) played in every game, but didn’t play a ton in any of them. No reason to expect much to change this year.
12. LSU: Jr. Foster Moreau, Jr. Jacory Washington
LSU’s two main receiving threats at tight end, seniors Colin Jeter and DeSean Smith, are no longer on the Bayou. The top returning player is the 6-6, 250-pound Moreau, who started three games last year (6 catches-79 yards-1 touchdown). Washington was a top prep tight end in 2014, but hasn’t seen the field much at LSU. There is plenty of talent, but very little experience.
11. Ole Miss: Soph. Octavious Cooley, Fr. Gabe Angel
This is a hard group to assess, because for the past several seasons, Evan Engram (65-926-8) has been among the best tight ends in the nation, but he has moved on. In his place are two heralded, but untried, recruits. Cooley was a 4-star tight end, who played sparingly as a freshman, but bulked up his 6-3 frame to 246 pounds. Angel is leaner (6-3, 238), and might have a better future as a true receiving tight end, but he redshirted. Both will see the field in 2017, and while the end product may be brilliant, there’s little to go on.
10. Alabama: Soph. Miller Forristall, Jr. Hale Hentges
Bama had a great one in departing senior O.J. Howard (45-595-3), but he won’t be around in 2017. The guys behind him are talented, with Forristall (6-5, 225) the receiving threat (5-73-0 in 2016) and Hentges (6-5, 256) more the blocking tight end (3-10-0). While there is plenty of talent, it would take something amazing to replace the production of Howard.
9. Mississippi State: Soph. Farrod Green, Sr. Jordan Thomas
State has a nice 1-2 punch returning in Green, the slender, receiving threat (6-3, 232) who started eight games, (11-121-1) and Thomas, the beefier (6-5, 295) dual-threat tight end (9-48-1). Much like a couple of the other coaches in the West, Dan Mullen sometimes prefers to use extra receivers instead of tight ends, but he has a pair of solid weapons returning for the Bulldogs in 2017.
8. Kentucky: Jr. C.J. Conrad, Sr. Greg Hart
Kentucky has struggled at tight end since Jacob Tamme was there. Conrad, at 6-5, 245 pounds, is probably the best tight end UK has seen since. He struggled to catch many passes (19-262-4), but ended up fourth on the team in catches and yards, and tied for third in touchdowns. Hart, a transfer from Nebraska, is more of a blocker (6-5, 245), but can catch as well (6-32-0). Conrad will need to have a big season for Kentucky to continue its bowl-bound ways.
7. Arkansas: Soph. Austin Cantrell, Soph. Cheyenne O’Grady
Veteran star Jeremy Sprinkle (33-380-4) nabbed the headlines at this position, but even with his eligibility up, the cupboard isn’t bare for the Razorbacks. Cantrell, a 6-4, 269-pound target, started five games and also backed up Sprinkle well (13-120-2). Fellow freshman O’Grady (6-4, 251) played well down the stretch in 2016, catching two passes for 40 yards and a touchdown in Arkansas’ bowl loss, after Sprinkle was sidelined. Both players are still maturing, but will provide Arkansas with solid production in 2017.
6. Missouri: Jr. Kendall Blanton, Sr. Jason Reese
Leading tight end target Sean Culkin (24-282-0) was a senior, but in this offense, Drew Lock will need another big body to catch passes. Blanton (6-6, 250) emerged from lower on the depth chart (16-161-3), tying for second on the team in touchdown grabs (including this one-handed grab), and thus emerging as a red-zone threat.
Reese (8-97-2) played less than in 2015, when he caught 15 passes. But either player (or both) is a capable replacement for Culkin, and one (or both) will likely exceed his 2016 stats.
5. Tennessee: Sr. Ethan Wolf, Sr. Jakob Johnson
Tennessee lost senior Jason Croom (21-242-0) but kept his running mate, Wolf, a 6-6, 245-pound receiving threat (21-239-2). The second spot is basically up for grabs, as Johnson caught two passes last season. Tennessee has some talented recruits who could see time, but as things stand, Wolf will be among the league’s better tight ends.
4. Vanderbilt: Soph. Jared Pinkney, Sr. Nathan Marcus
Pinkney was injured in 2015 and missed almost the entire season. But when he got healthy, he enjoyed an impressive freshman campaign. The 6-4, 250-pound target tied for the team lead in touchdowns (22-274-2). Marcus has more experience, and is also solid (11-73-1). There’s no reason to expect Pinkney to not be among Vandy’s leading receivers this fall.
3. Georgia: Soph. Isaac Nauta, Sr. Jeb Blazevich
Over the past couple seasons, stars like Howard, Sprinkle and Engram have been among the best in the SEC. They’re all gone, but Nauta, (6-4, 246), who showed game-breaking receiving skills as a frosh (29-361-3), might fill one set of those shoes.
Blazevich, at 6-5, 242 pounds, is more of a blocking threat (6-69-0), but isn’t a bad pass-catcher himself. Georgia has talent and experience, and one of the best bookend sets of tight ends in the league and nation.
2. Florida: Sr. DeAndre Goolsby, Jr. C’yontai Lewis
Goolsby combines tight end size (6-4, 244) with receiver speed and ball skills, making him one of the best tight ends in the league (38-342-3). Lewis had played sparingly as a freshman, but as a sophomore, his relatively slender frame (6-4, 231) represented another threat, as he ranked fifth on the team in receptions (18-184-2).
Unlike many SEC teams, Florida sees the tight end as more of a receiving threat than a lead blocker, and the Gators have a fine tandem of big-play guys.
1. South Carolina: Jr. Hayden Hurst, Jr. K.C. Crosby
In two short years, Hurst went from a minor-league baseball player to a guy who was so good that he had to really consider being an early NFL Draft entrant. He declined the pros, and will be back torching linebackers (48-616-1). Hurst is the heir apparent to Evan Engram as the tight end most likely to end up among the SEC’s receiving leaders.
Similarly, Crosby (23-217-4) had an impressive season, starring as a red-zone threat while Hurst did most of his damage between the 20 yard lines. Hurst is stockier (6-5, 250), but Crosby uses his size well (6-1, 227) in small windows. These two are the best tight ends in the SEC, and if Jake Bentley can get them the ball, they will torment defenses all season long.