Key returners: Josiah Miamen (Jr., 6-4, 245 — 27 receptions for 242 yards and one touchdown, Jackson McDonald (R-Jr, 6-5, 230 — two receptions for 19 yards), Kamareon Williams (R-Sr. 6-3, 240 — zero statistics), Brandon Ravelo (R-Fr. 6-1, 235 — zero statistics), Joe Hocker (R-Soph. 6-5, 250 — zero statistics)
Key losses: Rivaldo Fairweather (transfer to Auburn)
Newcomers: Christian Pedersen (Transfer — Louisville), Braiden Staten (three-star recruit/Mount Juliet, TN), Rowdy Beers (three-star recruit/Littleton, CO)
Biggest unanswered question: Who will replace Rivaldo Fairweather?
The tight end position over the last two seasons for the Panthers has been defined by the unlimited potential of Rivaldo Fairweather. After a tantalizing 2020 true freshman season that saw the Broward County native show flashes of star potential in just five games, Fairweather’s usage dipped in his sophomore season.
Last season was Fairweather’s best statistically, finishing second on the team in receiving yards with 429, but that doesn’t tell the whole story — more to come in the ensuing sections. Now, with his departure to Auburn, a sizable hole in the pass-game production will need to be filled.
Iowa transfer Josiah Miamen had a solid debut season as a Panther, hauling in 27 receptions in his first extended playing time of his collegiate career. Former walk-on Jackson McDonald has continued to grow at the tight end spot and his natural athleticism earned him over 90 snaps on offense last year.
Behind them are former starter Kamareon Williams, who played in 17 games during his first two seasons but has appeared sparingly since 2021, former three-star recruit Joe Hocker, whose collegiate career has been snake-bitten by injuries and walk-on Brandon Ravelo.
As a whole, FIU tight ends combined for 57 receptions and 687 yards — totals that eclipsed the team’s leading wide receiver (Tyrese Chambers) last year.
Why 2023 production could be better: Honestly, it’s unclear if the production can be better than last season — but that’s not because of a lack of talent at the position. Offensive coordinator David Yost runs the bulk of his offense out of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end).
With that said, as the numbers from last year showed, multiple tight ends will see playing time — but it was rare to see “12” personnel last season (two tight ends) in 2022 — outside of the season-finale against MTSU.
Last year’s position coach in Joshua Eargle moves to the offensive line room, with former Duke offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Zac Roper taking over, as first reported by UDD.
FIU is moving TEs coach Joshua Eargle to offensive line, per a source. @EricCHenry_, who was first, is also reporting FIU is hiring Zac Roper as TEs coach.— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) February 22, 2023
Eargle had a big success last year developing Rivaldo Fairweather at TE.
Roper will have plenty of talents to work with in his position room.
A former three-star recruit, Miamen got off to a strong start to 2022 and has size and athleticism at 6-4, 245-pounds, plus he’s an adequate blocker in the run game.
Former Louisville Cardinal Christian Pedersen arrives in Miami as another sizable target, standing 6-5, 235 and was a former top-100 player coming out of Junipero Serra High in California during the 2021 cycle. The spring will serve crucial for Pedersen, who is high on talent, but hasn’t seen significant game action since his junior year of high school due to COVID wiping out his senior season and a redshirt year with the Cardinals.
As Fairweather proved in 2020, a true freshman can have an immediate impact at the position. A pair of freshmen in Rowdy Beers and Braiden Staten both stand at 6-4 or taller and should have opportunities to push for playing time as well.
The production comes down to how the position is deployed in 2022 and who is able to fill Fairweather’s shoes.
Why 2023 production could be worse: In the opening seconds of the introduction video that’s played at FIU Stadium prior to the Panthers taking the field, the words “the past is the past” are voiced.
Yes, Rivaldo Fairweather is now part of the Panthers’ past.
However, 6-5, 245-pound tight ends who run in the 4.5 40-yard-dash range don’t grow on trees — and they rarely find themselves at the Group of Five level.
Miamen and Pedersen are prior Power Five players who have more than enough talent to be the top tight end pairing in Conference USA, especially with Joshua Simon leaving Western Kentucky for South Carolina. Are Miamen and Pedersen capable of looking like the best player on the field, like Fairweather did in stretches against La Tech and Middle Tennessee?
Ideally, they won’t need to be. But it’s hard to envision losing a player of Fairweather’s talents, only to see production increase.
Overall outlook: Mike MacIntyre’s first season at FIU exceeded nearly all preseason prognostications and has earned praise accordingly. If there’s one major critique that could be leveled, it was the usage of the tight ends.
When down multiple receivers in the season-finale against Middle Tennessee, the offense was forced to use multiple tight ends at the same, by MacIntyre’s own admission.
“We felt like they hadn’t been working on (defending) 12 personnel a lot because we run a lot of 11 personnel,” said MacIntyre following the MTSU game. “With Tyrese (Chambers) and some of the other guys out, there were some opportunities and we knew that our tight ends were fast and athletic enough to make the plays.”
Using Fairweather more in the passing game almost certainly wouldn’t have changed whether or not he moves on to the Power Five — but it may have given the Panthers a chance at an additional win or two.
With Pedersen, Beers and Staten’s arrivals, FIU will have more than enough opportunities to use their size and ability to create mismatches against Conference USA defenses.