SEC haven for elite TEs. Can 2017 class add to that reputation?
The SEC was filled with talented pass catchers at the tight end spot in 2016.
Ole Miss senior Evan Engram had a prolific season, finishing fifth in the league with 926 receiving yards. With Engram, as well as fellow seniors like Alabama’s O.J. Howard and Arkansas’ Jeremy Sprinkle moving on, there is space for their replacements in the current crop of recruits.
As for last year’s class, outside of Georgia’s Isaac Nauta, there wasn’t much to write home about. Nauta hauled in 29 catches for 367 yards over the team’s final 10 games, including a breakout 83-yard performance against Tennessee. Nauta, the top-rated tight end in 2016 and the No. 12 overall player from his class, showed that he would be a staple in Georgia’s offense for years to come.
Due to the nature of the position, both in high school and college, it’s often hard to project how the tight end position will shake out outside of the elite few. The right tight end in the right offense, however, can create a matchup nightmare.
Here’s a look at the 5 best tight ends entering the SEC in 2017.
1. Jeremy Patton, Arkansas – No. 1 TE, No. 9 overall (JUCO)
You might want to put a safety over top 😉 pic.twitter.com/mTyDeRiHq6
— .JERM. (@JeremyPatton_11) February 4, 2017
The tight end heavy Razorbacks landed a home run in Jeremy Patton, who looks to be a natural fit to replace Jeremy Sprinkle in 2017. Patton is both the highest rated tight end in the class and the most likely to play next season – if not for one hiccup.
To the Razorback family.. Please Read 🐗🐗 pic.twitter.com/GFtIzteWJo
— .JERM. (@JeremyPatton_11) January 24, 2017
So essentially, he won’t be in Fayetteville until summer due to academics.
Whenever Patton finds his way into the Hogs’ offense, they will get a prototypical Arkansas tight end for Dan Enos’ effective pass attack.
He has pro size at 6-6, 230 pounds and does the little things well that will keep him on the field on every down. Different recruiting sites have him listed as big as 6-7 and as heavy as 248, but the consensus is that he’s both huge and skilled.
Even from the limited tape at Arizona Western College, it’s easy to see that Patton has soft hands, above average athleticism, and a willingness to run block on the edge. Though he is not a truly elite prospect like Nauta, Patton is head and shoulders above his classmates in 2017.
2. Major Tennison, Alabama – No. 9 TE, No. 309 overall
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) February 1, 2017
The large and polished Major Tennison could be an asset to an Alabama class that already has an embarrassment of riches in the receiver department.
The 6-6 Texas prospect was used in a multitude of ways in high school, catching deep routes, button hooks, screens, and being thrown in motion as a blocker. Based on his size and hands alone, he should be a versatile weapon for a Crimson Tide team that just lost O.J. Howard.
It’s often hard to tell how the speed and toughness for such a player will translate to the next level, however, as the vast majority of his blocking and deep threat highlights came against defenders who were comically smaller than him in high school.
Tennison might need a few years to adjust to the SEC, but he should be a factor at some point down the road.
3. Kenmore Gamble, Florida – No. 10 TE, No. 310 overall
— GatorsSRH (@GatorsSRH) February 1, 2017
Highlights: (skip to :24)
Kenmore Gamble is a converted wide receiver who could eventually add another vertical threat to the Gators’ passing game. He has the speed and ball skills of a wideout, while still developing the muscle and grit of a tight end on the line.
The 6-4 Gamble is learning the technique of blocking, not the mentality. He definitely enjoys contact, as his highlights as a defender would suggest. The biggest concern would be that he needs to bulk up, as he carries only 216 pounds.
Gamble has long, fast-striding legs, and his experience as a goal-line target will come in handy as he learns the position. Due to his verticality and playmaking ability, the former Miami commit out of South Florida could be used in gadget plays similar to Antonio Callaway.
4. Salvatore Cannella, Auburn – No. 2 TE, No. 18 overall (JUCO)
Salvatore Cannella is an intriguing prospect for many reasons.
He’s a JUCO product, so he will come out a bit more experienced than others in the class. He will be given the inside track to start at Auburn, but the usage of the tight end position varies from year to year in their offense.
At 6-6, he’s tall, but his vertical leaves a bit to be desired. He has a muscular physique but isn’t remarkably athletic. On some plays, he looks like an absolute natural pass catcher, on others he looks like he has some work to do.
In other words, there a ton of possible outcomes for Cannella in Gus Malzhan’s wild, wide-open offense. Especially because the quarterback spot is still a question mark.
At his best, Cannella will be reminiscent of Philip Lutzenkirchen, a big body on the goal line and a reliable downfield pass catcher.
At his worst, he’ll just be another JUCO prospect who couldn’t adjust to the SEC.
5. Will Register, South Carolina – No. 16 TE, No. 430 overall
— Will Register (@WRegister88) January 14, 2017
It's been real Chapin High 👍🏻 thank you to everyone for all of the support over the years! pic.twitter.com/HMYk0CE60J
— Will Register (@WRegister88) December 16, 2016
Given the amount of scarcity at the tight end position and the general weakness of this year’s class, there’s a decent drop in the hype and expectations between Nos. 4 and 5 on this list.
Of the remaining 3-stars, however, there’s a whole lot to like about Will Register. The in-state kid had a monster year during his senior season, which put him on the radar for many scouts. He registered 40 catches for 644 yards and earned himself an invite to the Shrine Bowl.
Register did so with a mix of deceptive big-guy speed, reliability, and a knack for making the right play. In the open field, the 6-4 Register is not only hard to bring down, but also crafty with playing angles to make defenders miss.
South Carolina has an established tight end in Hayden Hurst, giving Register plenty of time to develop.