POSITIONAL AWARENESS 2020: TIGHT END

By Patrick Vint on October 12, 2020 at 3:10 pm
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© Bryon Houlgrave/The Register, Des Moines Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC
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Positional Awareness is our annual rundown of the Iowa depth chart, from the position where we are most confident in what Kirk Ferentz intends to do to, well, quarterback.

PREVIOUSLY: 

1. Wide Receiver
2. Running Back

Eligibility Remaining*    
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
42 Shaun Beyer SR 6-5/250 Tight End          
86 Tommy Kujawa JR 6-3/237 Tight End          
48 Bryce Schulte JR 6-3/240 Tight End          
84 Sam LaPorta SO 6-4/250 Tight End          
80 Josiah Miamen FR(RS) 6-4/240 Tight End          
88 Jackson Frericks FR(RS) 6-6/215 Tight End          
87 Elijah Yelverton FR 6-4/247 Tight End          
47 Andrew Wilson FR 6-3/220 Tight End          
85 Luke Lachey FR 6-6/237 Tight End          

* These are their current eligibility status, but the NCAA's decision to grant a blanket eligibility waiver to fall athletes (even those who compete this year... which is essentially just football players) mean that everyone here would also have a year of eligibility to use next year. We'll have to wait and see how that decision impacts things moving forward. 

SAFE HARBOR

SAM LAPORTA (#84, Sophomore, 6'4", 250 lbs, Highland, Highland, IL)

Welp, we didn't see that coming.

Sam LaPorta was the third-ranked tight end in his own recruiting class.  He held exactly three reported scholarship offers.  Not only were the other two not Power 5 programs, they were from a team that had gone 1-11 in the MAC (CMU) and a team that had gone 2-10 (BGSU).  Other than that, he could have gone to Yale.  LaPorta didn't come from the usual places in Illinois, but from the sleepy St. Louis exurb of Highland, a high school program with no obvious connection to Iowa beyond being a few miles down I-70 from A.J. Epenesa's high school.

He was, by all accounts, a redshirt waiting to happen.  And then he hit campus, and immediately found himself on special teams for the opener.  He was still playing special teams after four weeks, but was out due to injury for game five.  The audition was obviously complete, and the redshirt preserved. 

But then he came back against Penn State and Purdue.  He caught a pass against Northwestern for 41 yards.  He was an ostensible starter two weeks later at Wisconsin.  He caught at least one pass every week the rest of the way, leading the team in receiving yards in the regular season finale against Nebraska and catching a crucial 22-yard pass with 8 seconds left to set up the game-winning field goal.  And in late December, he was a reliable outlet for Nate Stanley against USC, setting career highs for receptions (6) and yards (44).  Iowa moved from using him on seams and outs to building entire plays around him; the play action pass against Wisconsin where Brian Ferentz sent him behind the stretch fake to the bootleg side of the field was a thing of beauty.  I'm not sure his blocking was anything special, but Iowa had guys for that.  It needed a pass-catcher, and LaPorta became that guy.

Iowa's offense has more weapons at its disposal than at any point in the last decade.  It has a bevy of receivers with size and speed and experience, and a halfback that can run the ball, catch out of the backfield and pick up a blitz.  But Iowa's offensive staff generally likes to use those guys to attack the edges.  Sure, Tyrone Tracy or Nico Ragaini can go over the middle on occasion, but they're not the security blanket that a six-foot-four tight end provides for a big, immobile quarterback.  That's what Iowa was missing in the first half of last season when its offense sputtered against Michigan and Penn State.  That's what it found in the second half of the season in LaPorta.  And that's what LaPorta will likely be for a new quarterback this year.

 

THE OLD HAND

SHAUN BEYER (#42, Senior, 6'5", 250 lbs, Kennedy H.S. (Cedar Rapids), Shellsburg, IA)

After two years of mostly special teams duty, Beyer started last season sharing the top line of the depth chart at tight end with Nate Wieting, the new replacements for two tight ends who had just been drafted in the first round.  Wieting would be the experienced blocker.  Beyer would be the pass-catching athlete.  It was a big step up for a guy who hadn't caught a pass yet.

As it turned out, making Beyer the pass-catcher in that group was probably a bit premature.  He ended up with seven catches for 117 yards on the season, with about half of that production against Miami (Ohio) and Middle Tennessee State.  Officially, he ended the season with eight starts, but two of those were in games where Iowa officially started three tight ends.  I suppose that hints at what Beyer became last year, and what we should probably expect this year: A capable second tight end when two tight ends are needed, especially in running downs and short yardage.  He wasn't bad, by any means, and he continued to see action through the season (he got starts in the final two games of the season).  He just wasn't what Iowa needed in a first tight end, an athlete capable of cracking open the middle of the field like Hockenson or torching linebackers like Fant.

There is still ample room in Iowa's offense for a second, or third, tight end.  The offense is still built on a running play that, in its finest incarnation, sends a halfback around the shoulders of a tight end sealing a defensive end or outside linebacker.  That spot is obviously Beyer's unless and until someone takes it from him, and the rest of the roster looks too young or too walk-on for that to be a significant consideration.  Expect much of the same from Beyer in 2020 that we saw in 2019: A line on the depth chart, an occasional catch, and an otherwise quiet season of blocking defensive ends and outside linebackers on stretch plays.

 

 

WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS

JOSIAH MIAMEN (#80, Freshman (RS), 6'4", 240 lbs, Dunlap, Peoria, IL)

Miamen redshirted last year while his classmate played, but it certainly feels like he could still be the Next Big Thing at tight end for the Hawkeyes.  Iowa beat out Michigan, MSU, Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin for his services, and he added 15 pounds during his redshirt year.  Beyer probably gets more snaps this year, as the lack of spring practice and much of a fall camp is going to put a premium on experience, but Maimen could well be a fixture of the Iowa offense by midseason, and will almost certainly feature prominently in 2021.

BRYCE SCHULTE (#48, Junior, 6'3", 240 lbs, Xavier, Cedar Rapids, IA)
TOMMY KUJAWA (#86, Junior, 6'3", 237 lbs, Greendale, Greendale, WI)
JACKSON FRERICKS (#88, Freshman (RS), 6'6", 215 lbs., Cedar Falls, Cedar Falls, IA)

Iowa hasn't exactly shied away from taking "frame guys" -- kids over 6'1" and 215 pounds -- as preferred walk-ons, then making them into potential tight ends.  All three of these guys fall into that category.  In a combined seven years in the program, the three of them have one appearance: Schulte, in the 2018 opener against Northern Illinois.  They're probably in the "break in case of fire" box, but the depth chart at tight end isn't exactly stacked with experienced dudes at the moment, so Schulte and Kujawa could see the field on occasion.

 

THEY WERE ONLY FRESHMEN

ELIJAH YELVERTON (#87, Freshman, 6'4", 247 lbs, Trinity Christian, Royse City, TX)
LUKE LACHEY (#85, Freshman, 6'6", 237 lbs, Grandview, Columbus, OH)

Both Yelverton and Lachey were national top 25 tight end recruits with offer sheets to match; Lachey held offers from LSU, Wisconsin and Michigan State, among a host of others, while Yelverton had 26 Power 5 offers in hand.  Both have already added weight, though Lachey might still be a bit skinny by Iowa's standards.  We saw last year that the Ferentzes will pull a redshirt from a tight end if the player is ready and needed.  Both of these guys might be ready, but this isn't August 2019, and even if they are, there might not be an opening for playing time.

 

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