We continue our Conference USA preseason position reviews by looking at the tight end position. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”
To elaborate on the grades, "We'll See" means exactly what it means. We don’t know if that position is going to turn out to be a positive due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.
“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for improvement. Depth is probably decent at the position but an injury could be catastrophic.
“Great Shape” means all-conference performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth. You definitely want your team to be here.
Today we look at the tight end position. This position was a bit hard to evaluate. Spread offenses have really marginalized this position in the past decade. A few teams in the conference don’t have your traditional tight ends. Instead they utilize big targets at wide receiver. Only Marshall and Old Dominion truly have really good tight ends. I graded on a curve but there’s still a lot of teams who will appear in the “We’ll See” category. Time to throw darts.
1. Marshall: Ryan Yurachek is the best tight end in the conference and gives Chase Litton a great safety option. With the emergence of Brady Tyree in the spring, it’ll be interesting to see if Yurachek’s numbers improve this year as a deep threat should now keep defenses from keying on him.
2. Old Dominion: With the departure of Zach Pascal we could see Melvin Vaughn’s production increase in his final season in Norfolk. Melvin Vaughn had 22 catches for 233 yards and one touchdown in 2016. The former receiver has solid hands but Vaughn’s impact is really felt as a blocking tight end for the Monarchs where he’s helped pave the way for one of the best rushing attacks in the conference.
3. Southern Miss: Julian Allen was a starter last year and had 20 catches for 363 yards and one touchdown. Inexperienced quarterbacks tend to rely on their tight ends so Allen’s numbers could improve this season.
4. UTSA: Shaq Williams has nice size and when targeted last season the ball rarely hit the turf (72 percent catch rate). With another year in Frank Scelfo’s offense, Williams should improve last year’s numbers. Depth could be solid if newcomer Chance McLeod picks up the playbook fast.
5. FAU: With solid contributor Tyler Cameron gone, signs point to Nate Terry taking his place. For years FAU fans have been told of Terry’s potential as he’s had some great moments as an Owl with two career game-winning touchdown receptions. Lane Kiffin didn’t use Alabama’s tight ends as much as he could have as their offensive coordinator and Kendall Briles has normally opted for receiver sets. Terry’s lack of speed but great size (6’7, 210) could force FAU to keep him as a wide receiver or switch him back to tight end in his final season in Boca.
6. UTEP: The Miners’ inclusion here is based purely off of reputation as no other team in C-USA utilizes tight ends like UTEP. Hayden Plinke came out of nowhere last season to lead UTEP in receptions and touchdowns. This season former Boise State player David Lucero could have the same impact.
9. Louisiana Tech
10. Middle Tennessee
11. North Texas
14. Western Kentucky
Charlotte didn’t attempt a single pass to their tight ends last year but signed three tight ends in this year’s recruiting class. FIU lost Jonnu Smith to the NFL Draft and A.J. Branisel left the team in the offseason. Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and North Texas don’t feature tight ends in their offense. Western Kentucky has in the past, but under Mike Samford Jr. that could change. The Tops have no proven players at the position this season though. Rice moved a few wide receivers to tight end last year due to injuries but I don’t think that’ll stick this year now that players are healthy. The Blazers, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.