Rob Malara

2014 Pac-12 Preview: Tight End

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Last year provided a multitude of options among stand-out players at the tight end position.  It’s unfair to think there should be another Austin Seferian-Jenkins in 2014, because players with his size and ability only come around so often.  But the Pac-12 also will no longer have the services of Chris Coyle, Jake Murphy, or Xavier Grimble (surprisingly) who all will be playing on Sunday this fall at one point or another.

This year both the Oregon schools rule the roost with both impact talent and depth in the ranks among each of their depth charts at the position.  But a sleeper could be waiting in the wings in Tempe with three players that could see a large amount of playing time, especially when you account for the propensity for Sun Devils offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to go with two tight end personnel.

1. Connor Hamlett, Oregon State (Senior)

2013 Season: 58 targets, 40 receptions, 364 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns

Oregon State is doing their best job to push Stanford off the stage (after a down year in Palo Alto) to grab the “Tight End U” label.  They played with an in-line and an H-back in a ton of base sets last year.  And Hamlett is far and away the best player at the position coming back.

He’s is a physical monster at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds combining surprising athletic ability for the frame with soft hands.  He’s also an effective blocker which makes him such a commodity at the position come May 2015.

He’s sure to get even more looks in 2014 with Brandin Cooks off to the NFL and his spot on the receiving depth chart still up for grabs.

2. John Mundt, Oregon (Sophomore)

2013 Stats: 20 targets, 16 receptions, 281 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns

Grabbed the attention of the national media with a breakout game against Tennessee early in the season catching 5 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns.  Getting thrown into the fire quickly after Colt Lyerla left the program, he now has the experience needed to become a trusted target of quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Much like Hamlett, he will be targeted early and often early on in 2014 as the Ducks break in an inexperienced receiving corps.  He is the best pass catcher among the Ducks tight ends, but he needs to show consistency to enter the national elite

3. Austin Hooper, Stanford (Freshman)

2013 Season: Redshirt

Stanford believes in the Carolina barbecue approach to developing their tight ends, always slow and low, with a redshirt a given to start a college career.  But the Cardinal suffered a down year in the production department at tight end thanks to the loss of stand-outs Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo to the NFL and didn’t have someone to shoulder the burden (just 10 catches by Stanford tight ends all year).

In steps Hooper who by all accounts has really stepped up in fall camp playing the Y-position for the Cardinal. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds he will be utilized as both a blocker and a downfield target in this offense splitting out wide on passing downs.

Hooper could very easily give Hamlett a run for his money as the best in show among the position as long as he maintains his focus as a blocker on early downs.

4. Randall Telfer, USC (Senior)

2013 Season: 16 targets, 6 receptions, 78 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

While Telfair only found the end zone once in 2013, he has ten career trips to paydirt.  Injuries have held him back since his breakout sophomore season in 2012.  But USC is hoping after arthroscopic surgery on his knee in the off-season he will once again be healthy in the fall.

We’ve seen what Sarkisian’s offense can produce with big body players like the 6-foot-4, 260 pound Telfer.  There’s no reason he can’t total half a dozen touchdown catches in his final year playing in this new up-tempo offense.

5. Pharaoh Brown, Oregon (Junior)

2013 Stats: 17 targets, 10 receptions, 123 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns

Ducks fans will remember him catching a touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota late in the game against Stanford to bring the score to within a touchdown.  But the Oregon defense just couldn’t give the Ducks offense another shot.  Hoping to follow a lineage of Ducks tight ends now playing in the NFL (David Paulson, Dante Rosario, and Ed Dickson.

He isn’t the pass catcher that Mundt is, but he is much more well-rounded player as an upperclassmen.

6. Caleb Smith, Oregon State (Junior)

2013 Season: 39 targets, 25 receptions, 343 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns

Another big bodied red zone friendly target for Sean Mannion, but he’s not just a big slow guy.  Much like Hamlett he is surprisingly nimble for his size (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) and was used all over the offense by Mike Riley last year.

Had a breakout game against Oregon in the Apple Cup last year catching five passes for 85 yards.

7. De’Marieya Nelson, ASU (Senior)

2013 Season: 15 targets, 7 receptions, 107 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns

What can’t Nelson do?  He starred on special teams last year, rushed the passer on defense, and when called upon took the ball as a running back in critical moments down the stretch for ASU when the injury bug hit the backfield.

Sun Devil fans can easily see that he oozes athleticism, so the expectations start with Chris Coyle’s 2012 season in Tempe.  In order to meet those lofty visions he’ll need to improve on his pass catching ability, mainly concentrating on catching the ball before breaking upfield.

How many snaps he takes on offense each game will be up for debate until Todd Graham solidifies his defense.  So it’s hard to predict upon a total output for Nelson as a pass catcher.  Thankfully ASU has complementary players at the position in Grant Martinez and Kody Kohl.

8. Westlee Tonga , Utah (Senior)

2013 Season: 4 targets, 2 receptions, 28 receiving yards, 0 receiving touchdowns

Returns to the Utes after playing just four games in 2013 due to injury. The senior is a more complete tight end, than his predecessor Jake Murphy and ranks as one of the best blockers in the conference when healthy.

9. Eric Cotton, Stanford (Sophomore)

2013 Season: N/A

Of Stanford’s new wave of tight ends, Cotton is probably the best route runner.  At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, he runs a sub 4.7-yard-dash.  Team that with a fantastic group of deep threat wide receivers and you can start to see why folks are so high on junior quarterback Kevin Hogan going into 2014.

 

Other Notables:

Kellen Clute, Oregon State (Junior)

Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, USC (Junior)

Michael Hartvigson, Washington (Senior)

Grant Martinez, Arizona State (Freshman)

 

Advanced stats provided by Bill Connelly of SBNation.  

About Rob Malara

Rob Malara

Rob Malara is a 2002 Sun Devil grad having spent the majority of his time in Tempe as a football, basketball, and baseball season ticket holder and front row inhabitant. A member of the Football Writers Association of America, he hosted the ASU Devils podcast and was its sub-optimal technical producer through its lifespan. Currently the president of the ASU Alumni Association's Northern Colorado Club, he is part of a family of maroon and gold residing in Fort Collins with his Sun Devil wife and nearby Sun Devil sister.

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