The Dotted Line: Texas, Sarkisian need to improve production, talent at tight end
New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian built a high-octane offense while directing Alabama's offense to a national championship. A varied passing attack capable of big plays was one of the key components. And while the headlines went to wide receiver and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, the offense did utilize the tight ends effectively despite spreading the field.
Cade Brewer led Texas tight ends in 2020 with 15 receptions. Jared Wiley ended the year with nine catches, while Malcolm Epps had three and Brayden Liebrock caught two. Alabama tight ends Miller Farristall and Jahleel Billingsley combined for 41 catches last season. Sarkisian and his coaching staff must improve the tight end position in the 2022 cycle.
The Longhorns signed two 2021 players who project to tight end. Gunnar Helm is a three-star from Utah while Everman’s Juan Davis possesses the requisite frame at 6-4 and 217 pounds.
The state of the Texas tight ends:
FYI: Three stars, from Temple; ranked 692nd nationally, No. 31 tight end in 2019
Wiley was a high school quarterback with the perfect body to transition to tight end. He’s become an excellent edge blocker who has served as a sixth offensive lineman on running plays, which is valuable considering how often the Longhorns should run the football in 2021. In 2020, he caught nine passes for 166 yards and a touchdown, averaging one catch per game played. That's more production than any other returning tight end.
FYI: Four stars, from Spring Dekaney; ranked 227th nationally, No. 10 tight end in 2018
Epps started his college career at wide receiver before moving to tight end prior to the 2020 season. Despite his basketball frame at 6-6, Epps hasn’t shown the ability to add enough weight and strength to be a consistent in-line blocker. The new offensive staff needs to find a way to utilize him in the passing game as a tight end or a flex or even at wide receiver because his frame is a tough matchup for defensive backs. Two of his three catches in 2020 resulted in touchdowns.
FYI: Four stars, from Chandler, Ariz.; ranked 169th nationally, No. 5 tight end in 2019
Liebrock was a highly regarded tight end prospect in the 2019 cycle, choosing the Longhorns over a host of national offers. The Arizona native hasn’t cracked the two-deep in his first two seasons. He managed two catches for 11 yards in five games in 2020. He took a redshirt in 2019. Liebrock was a weapon as a receiver in high school, and Texas needs him to take the next step. He could benefit greatly from a fresh start under the new regime.
Texas has extended three offers to tight ends in the 2022 class, and two of those players are already committed to other programs:
Donovan Green, Dickinson
FYI: 6-4, 220; four stars; No. 3-ranked tight end
Green recently committed to Texas A&M alongside Dickinson teammate P.J. Williams. The Longhorns won’t give up on his recruitment, but it's smart for Texas to search elsewhere. Green is the only in-state tight end to hold a UT offer in a year that isn’t impressive at the position within the state.
Jaleel Skinner, Greer, S.C.
FYI: 6-5, 210; four stars; No. 2-ranked tight end
Skinner is the only uncommitted tight end with a Texas offer. Landing the South Carolina native is a longshot considering Clemson and South Carolina are in hot pursuit. He’s also high on Florida and Florida State. Oklahoma offered on Jan. 25. Texas followed suit a day later.
Holden Staes, Atlanta (Ga.) Westminster School
FYI: 6-4, 220; four stars; No. 6-ranked tight end
Staes is a Penn State commit. A lackluster 2020 season by Penn State might allow a school such as Texas to get back into his recruitment. He held an Alabama offer, so the new staff extended him one at Texas upon arrival. He’s a big, athletic tight end who can play with his hand in the dirt or as a flex receiver. He picked Penn State back in August.