Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
Welcome back to our weekly installment of the Top Five Series, where we take a closer look at some of the most talented players or position groups that the Hoosiers will be facing this fall. So far we have made it through quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and the offensive line, leaving just one position on offense, tight ends. It was somewhat difficult to rank this position, because as you well know, a tight end’s offensive production is largely dependent upon what type of offense the team is running. For our ranking, their production in the passing game was heavily weighted as was potential to have a breakout season this fall. Here are the tight ends, all of whom were named to the John Mackey Award watch list last month, we believe could create the most trouble for the Hoosiers this fall.
1. Jonnu Smith
The first player on our countdown may not be a household name to many outside of Conference USA, but he certainly has the stats and accolades to back up his inclusion as number one on our list. Jonnu Smith caught 61 passes for 710 yards and 8 touchdowns, which were not only all team highs last fall, but were best among tight ends nationally. His efforts lead to his inclusion on the All-Conference USA First-Team and he was All-American honorable mention by Sports Illustrated.
Despite his outstanding season though, the junior from Ocala, Fl. by way of Philadelphia, was not even a semifinalist for the nation’s premiere tight end honor, the John Mackey Award. In fact, he gained 100 more yards and scored one more touchdown than the award winner, Florida State’s Nick O’Leary. The argument that was made was that Smith went up against inferior opponents. However, he was really the Panthers’ only consistent offensive weapon, as the team did not feature another player who eclipsed the 500 receiving yard mark, making it easier for opposing defenses to zero in on the talented tight end.
This fall looks to be another big one for Smith, as the Panthers still have question marks at wide receiver and Coach Ron Turner is feeling the heat down in Miami. As such, don’t be surprised if 6’3”, 230-pound tight end not only replicates his success from last fall, but exceeds it, as he will be targeted early and often by sophomore quarterback Alex McGiugh.
2. Josiah Price
The 6'4" 240 pound tight end could have very easily been number one on our list, but it was hard to argue with Smith's production. However, Josiah Price was certainly no slouch on offense, making 26 grabs for 374 yards and six touchdowns, which tied a single-season school record of touchdown catches by a tight end. When the 2014 season came to a close, Price was honorable mention All-Big Ten by the Coaches and Media and was named Second-Team All-Big Ten by both Athlon Sports and Phil Steele. He was also an honorable mention on CollegeFootballNews.com's All-Sophomore team.
The native of Greenwood, In. made the most of his homecoming when the Spartans traveled to Bloomington last fall, having one of the best games of his sophomore season. On the day he made three grabs for 83 yards and a score in the Spartans 56-17 lopsided victory over an undermanned Indiana squad. Price also showed up big for the team's biggest conference matchup of the season, making five grabs for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Buckeyes.
Now entering his junior season with the Spartans, expectations rise for Price as the team will be tasked with replacing its top two receivers from last fall, Tony Lippett and Kieth Mumphery. In fact, Price's six receiving touchdowns are most of any returning player on the Spartans, so expect his targets to go up as senior quarterback Connor Cook will likely increase his reliance on the big, talented athlete.
3. Cam Serigne
Another name most Big Ten fans won't be very familiar with is Wake Forest's Cam Serigne. The talented redshirt sophomore has been receiving plenty of preseason press after a freshman campaign in which he made 54 grabs for 531 yards and 5 touchdowns, all of which were team highs last fall. In fact, his 54 catches were the most all time by a Demon Deacons tight end. His accomplishments on the gridiron resulted in him receiving an honorable mention on the All-ACC Team while also earning second-team Freshman All-American honors.
The native of Virginia provided the Demon Deacons' freshman quarterback John Wolford with a consistent target throughout the season, but he shined brightest in the team's 6 to 3 victory over Virginia Tech when he made six catches for 74 yards. The 6'3", 245-pound Serigne utilized his size to overpower smaller defensive backs, but was able to get by the larger, less agile linebackers when they were matched up across from him. With the graduation of the team's second leading receiver in EJ Scott, expect Serigne's usage and targets to rise this fall.
4. Jake Butt
Another player poised to have a breakout season this fall is Michigan's Jake Butt. The tight end put up respectable numbers in the Wolverines offense last year, catching 21 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. The 6'6", 248-pound Butt ended his season on a high-note, making 11 of his catches in the team's final three games. Also, his two touchdown grabs are tied for most among returning players. As a redshirt freshman he made 20 catches for 235 yards and two scores and was placed on ESPN's All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
With the team bringing in Jim Harbaugh to lead his alma mater, the tight end position will likely become an even greater factor in the Wolverines passing attack this fall and Butt looks to be one of the main benefactors. Harbaugh has an extensive history of making great use of tight ends in his offense, Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener are just a couple of names that come to mind. Also, as the team looks to break in a new starter at quarterback, the value of having a reliable tight end to act as a security blanket if the pocket collapses cannot be overstated. All things considered, Butt could potentially give the Hoosiers undersized secondary fits when the Wolverines come to town for a mid November showdown.
5. Nick Vannett
The last player on our list could have very easily been Penn State's Kyle Carter or Iowa's Jake Duzey, however we decided that Ohio State's Nick Vannett was the better choice as he not only has the stats (19 recs., 220 yds., 5 tds), but he won't be coming off knee surgery like Duzey. Although it's worth mentioning that both Carter and Duzey are also on the John Mackey Award watch list.
However, back to the Ohio native, Vannett should benefit greatly from the graduation of the Buckeyes 2014 starting tight end, Jeff Heuermann. The 6'6", 260-pound fifth-year senior appeared in all 15 games for the Buckeyes last season during their run to a National Championship, scoring a touchdown in the team's finale against Oregon. Vannett can be used in a variety of ways and was lined up all over the field for Ohio State last fall, seeing action at H-Back, in the slot, and with his hand on the ground at the end of the offensive line. He was also brought in motion, so the Hoosiers coaching staff will have to keep an eye on this talented and versatile athlete. However, as the Buckeyes have more offensive weapons than they know what to do with, it will be interesting to see how many targets Vannett will receive, as the Ohio State quarterbacks have quite a few other mouths to feed.
Similar to the wide receiver position, there is no shortage of talent at the tight end spot set to face the Hoosiers this fall. It will take a total team effort to slowdown these versatile athletes. However, that does it for the offense, we begin taking a look at some of the top defensive units starting next week.