Yes, another piece on tight ends. Longtime readers may wonder if I write about anything else at BON, as I've contributed what feels like 31 posts on either tight end recruiting or individual TE recruits over the past four years (actual number: eight). In this case, we're revisiting not just a familiar topic but some recruits who have been discussed here previously.
Just over one year ago, I wrote about four tight ends from the 2017 class (Kedrick James, Chance McLeod, Major Tennison, and Brock Wright) who had already made their mark on the gridiron at the varsity level and -- as they went into the spring of their sophomore year -- appeared to be well on their way to being highly-rated recruits. All four played very well in their junior season (2015) and proved that the acclaim they received as sophomores was more than warranted.
Wright and James both held at least one major offer at the time I wrote that post, and while McLeod was still a few months away from his first offer, he had been named a MaxPreps Sophomore All-American a few months earlier, so I can't claim credit for "discovering" any of those three. Tennison, however, was a virtual unknown at the time, and if memory serves I don't believe a single recruiting site had a profile on him yet, but he became a Texas commit seven months later.
Predictably, other future college tight ends who were not well-known names at this point a year ago have burst onto the radar through strong junior seasons that saw them earn postseason honors and offers from FBS programs. And with Texas looking to sign two TEs in the 2017 class (according to prospective recruits and parents), I thought it a good time to revisit the four 2017 TEs I previously wrote about and also mention four others in the class who you should see on FBS rosters in the coming years. I'll list them in the order in which I currently rank them.
1. Brock Wright (Houston Cy-Fair) - committed to Notre Dame
He's rated as a consensus four-star recruit and one of the top two tight ends in the country, with some sites ranking him No. 1. At a strong 6'5 and 246 pounds, he could probably suit up for a lot of D1 teams right now. He's a very strong blocker on the edge and a reliable receiver who's particularly productive catching passes off of play action and on screens. I'd rate 2016 Stanford signee Kaden Smith (pre-ACL injury) a bit higher than Wright, as I think he has more speed and more potential to be a difference-making field-stretcher, but Wright still has to be considered to be among the top 3-4 tight ends the state has produced in the past decade.
After catching 17 passes for 369 yards as a sophomore, he caught a team-best 21 passes for 290 yards (2nd on team) in 2015. He committed to Notre Dame last June, over offers from Texas and pretty much every other program of note. Other schools haven't given up on flipping him though. Wright's father, former Texas Tech offensive lineman Len Wright, tells me Charlie Strong is among a number of coaches who have "done a great job in staying in touch with Brock and have also been very professional and respectful of his decision."
By the standards of his age group, Wright uses social media very sparingly, and aside from one tweet announcing his Notre Dame commitment last June he has never used Twitter as a means of promoting or publicizing his own recruitment or the offers he has received. If you read through his Twitter page having no idea who he was beforehand, you'd never guess he might be the top recruit at his position in the nation. My guess is Notre Dame would have to drop football, fire its entire coaching staff, or perhaps switch from Roman Catholic to Episcopalian between now and February 2017 before Wright would sign with any other school.
2. Kedrick James (Waco La Vega) - committed to Baylor
Currently the No. 4 tight end on 247Sports's composite rankings, James committed to the hometown Baylor Bears in July of 2015, two months after Texas had offered him. His sophomore highlights crammed a few clips into a tantalizing 1:06 run time, and while he looked bigger and maybe a tad slower in his junior film, once he catches the ball he can still turn upfield and run like few other tight ends can. He's still young and in need of refining his route-running (who isn't at that age?), but that can be corrected with coaching and enough reps.
He checked in at 6'4.5 and 245 pounds at The Opening Dallas a year ago this month. Whatever size he is now, he clearly carries his weight well and could probably play in the 250-260 range in college with no problems. Like Brock Wright, he'll be more ready to play than a lot of freshman tight ends because he most often lines up attached with a hand on the ground, and also sometimes in a H-back or flex role.
I haven't seen his junior year stats posted anywhere but he was undoubtedly a big part of Waco La Vega's success in 2015, a season that ended with the school's first state football championship and an undefeated 16-0 record. He may have the highest ceiling of any TE in the state for 2017, and if Texas were to somehow flip him and pair him with Major Tennison in the coming years, the two could potentially be employed in a devastating 12 personnel package with powerful running back Chris Warren III and big receivers John Burt and Collin Johnson that would present all kinds of matchup problems for opponents.
Come to think of it, next time a Texas coach talks with James he should casually mention that between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Baylor tight ends had 11 fewer receptions than did UT's, despite the Bears having far superior quarterback play and attempting 238 more passes overall in that time.
[Esoteric stats alert!] 4.3% of Longhorn pass attempts over the past two seasons resulted in a catch by a player listed as a tight end, while the same could be said for only 2.0% of Baylor's pass attempts during the same period. So Texas can truthfully claim to have completed passes to its tight ends at over twice the rate as the Baylor Bears during Charlie Strong's two seasons in Austin! So they've got that going for them, and of course the scoreboard from December 5, 2015.
3. Major Tennison (Bullard) - committed to Texas
If you'd brought up his name to Longhorn recruiting aficionados or even close observers of east Texas high school football prior to March 2015, their answer would most likely have been, "Who?" When his name first appeared at BON on March 4, 2015, he was a virtual unknown on the recruiting front. Two weeks later, he got his first offer from Texas Tech. Then-new Texas Longhorn tight ends coach Jeff Traylor had coached against Tennison's Bullard team while he was head coach at Gilmer and he was well aware of him, so it didn't take long for UT to get in contact, and Tennison camped in Austin that summer. SMU and Oklahoma State offered him early in the 2015 season, then when Texas offered him on October 14, he committed almost immediately.
Tennison caught 24 passes for 541 yards and 7 touchdowns as a junior, earning Second Team All-State honors for Class 4A from the Texas Sports Writers Association. The TSWA all-state release listed him as 6'6" 240. If that weight is accurate he played his junior season carrying roughly 20 pounds more than he did as a sophomore.
Since the end of his junior season he has earned a four-star grade from Rivals and received offers from Alabama, Michigan, and Nebraska, and may yet pick up more offers from schools hoping to use the recently paltry production by Longhorn tight ends in an effort to flip him, a negative recruiting strategy new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will no doubt attempt to counter this fall.
As a freshman, he was his district's newcomer of the year in basketball and ran a sub-55 second split in the 4x400 meter relay during track season, so he had already established himself as a good athlete for his size early on in his high school career. On the gridiron, he lines up both out wide and attached, and he has the length and speed to potentially be a field-stretching weapon up the seam and on fade routes.
His junior highlights show him playing high when blocking at times, which will happen to 11th graders who are 6'5 or more, but that's an area he should improve in with time. His blocking highlights aren't as impressive on the whole as some other guys in this piece, though that's partly because he "only" had to block relatively undersized linebackers and DBs at the 4A level (not his fault), and not the bigger linemen and LBs in class 6A that guys like Brock Wright took on every week.
I don't think Tennison has the highest ceiling of the 2017 TEs, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up having the best collegiate career out of all of them, and he certainly has the size and raw skill-set to be the best TE to wear burnt orange in a decade.
4. Brian Polendey (Denton Guyer)
Polendey moved to Denton from Washington state after his freshman year, spent his sophomore year on Guyer's JV team, and was offered by Michigan in the spring of 2015, over three months before he would play his first varsity game for Guyer. I've got him ranked fourth here, but I could probably be talked into putting him as high as second. Again, I believe Kedrick James has the highest ceiling of the group, but I also think only Brock Wright has a higher floor than Polendey.
If his reported 6'5 240-pound listing is even close to accurate, he's definitely got good size for the tight end position, and he's a strong blocker when holding the edge against a DE or getting to the second level and blocking linebackers out of the play. And as a receiver he shows ability to attack the middle of the field whether running up the seam or sitting in soft spots against zone coverage.
The services report him holding offers from Arkansas, Colorado, Duke, Houston, and Michigan, among others. In a report from early January, he named Houston as his early leader. Polendey caught 9 passes for 117 yards and 2 TDs for a Guyer team that advanced four rounds into the playoffs in 2015, despite its junior QB Shawn Robinson (a TCU commit) struggling as a passer and completing less than 45% of his passes and throwing only three more touchdowns (11) than interceptions (8).
Polendey was only sixth on the team in receptions and eighth in receiving yards last season, and Guyer returns most of its skill position contributors in 2016, but if Robinson is all the way back from the illness that reportedly hampered his junior season and has a senior year that more closely resembles his breakout sophomore campaign of 2014 (60% completion percentage, 2,499 passing yards, 33 TDs and just 5 INTs), Polendey should be one of the receivers who reaps the benefits statistically.
Of all the uncommitted TEs in the state, Polendey is the one I'd most like to see Texas recruit with an eye toward further solidifying their TE depth long term, and possibly pairing with Major Tennison on some 12 personnel (one RB, two TE, 2 WR) packages.
5. Cade Brewer (Lake Travis)
Brewer had a very productive junior season for a Lake Travis team that advanced all the way to the 6A Division II state championship game before falling to a Katy team that may have been the nation's best in 2015 and which boasted a historically great defensive unit. Watching Brewer's junior highlights makes me want to see how David Thomas looked at the same age. (As it happens, junior-year David Thomas was catching passes from future Texas Longhorn-turned-Houston Cougar Kendal Briles, son of Art and currently Baylor's offensive coordinator.)
Thomas had a decorated Longhorn career, was a hero in the 2006 Rose Bowl victory that brought UT a national championship, checked in at 6'3 and 252 pounds at the 2006 NFL Draft Combine, played seven seasons in the NFL, and was a member of the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl XLII-winning team. But before all that, he was a star receiver and tight end at Wolfforth Frenship High School, and when he committed to Texas in the summer of 2001, reports at the time put his size at 6'3 and 208-215 pounds.
Like Thomas, the 6'3 218-pound Brewer doesn't project to be an in-line mauler, but he's an aggressive player who should be a serviceable blocker at worst if he can play at 230-240 pounds in college, and his receiving skills will make him a player defenses will have to account for whether he's attached, flexed out, or lined up as an H-back. In 2015, he caught 51 passes for 813 yards and 15 touchdowns, and last month he was named an all-state first team tight end for Class 6A by the Texas Sports Writers Association (TSWA).
Texas State became the first FBS team to offer him in mid-February, and within a two-day span later in the month he picked up offers from Bowling Green, SMU, and UTSA. Other offers should follow in the coming months, and Cal, Houston, and Northwestern are among the other programs that have shown strong interest and will be checking on him this spring
After playing baseball in previous years, Brewer declined to participate in the sport this spring in favor of putting on good weight and preparing for his senior football season. According to Lake Travis offensive coordinator Michael Wall, he has added ten pounds so far during the offseason, and he expects Brewer will play his senior year at 220-225 pounds. Wall, who played quarterback at Tulsa in the late 90s and later served as a graduate assistant for the Golden Hurricane, says Brewer reminds him of former Tulsa All-America tight end Garrett Mills, who broke the NCAA single-season record for receiving yardage by a tight end (1,285) as a senior in 2005 and was selected in the fourth round (#106 overall pick, twenty spots after the aforementioned David Thomas) of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Like Mills (who was 6'1") and Thomas (6'3"), Brewer won't blow anyone away with his length or physical upside, and though he's not slow, he has a reported 4.7 forty time and doesn't offer much in the way of long speed. But in the right system he can be a valuable contributor in a variety of ways, and I think his ceiling is that of a David Thomas. No UT fan who has watched the plight of the tight end position on the 40 Acres over the past 8 years would turn down another David Thomas, right?
In particular, Coach Wall praises Brewer's "great hands and ball skills", two attributes that are on full display in his junior highlights, which show him making a number of difficult catches, at least a few of which would get a college player featured on SportsCenter's Top Plays.
6. Chance McLeod (Victoria East)
The Coastal Bend pass-catcher followed up a 38-catch sophomore year with a junior season in which he caught 41 passes for 602 yards, and he showed signs of being a more well-rounded player in the process. As a sophomore, McLeod was used mostly as an inside receiver in four-wide sets, with occasional snaps as an attached TE or H-back, and he had a lot of work to do on his blocking technique.
A year later, he still got a lot of snaps at inside receiver, but could also be seen doing more work attached. He'll likely begin his college career having had far fewer reps as a traditional in-line TE than Wright, James, Tennison, and Polendey, but the few blocking clips in his junior year highlights show a guy who's understanding how to win battles with leverage and isn't playing as high while blocking as he did as a sophomore. Last month he was named a Class 5A All State Second Team tight end by the TSWA, and aside from his production as a receiver he reportedly graded out at 92% with his blocking assignments.
McLeod weighed in at The Opening Dallas in March of 2015 at 6'2.5 and 211 pounds, and his coach tells me he's up to about 6'4 and 230 now. Also last spring, he earned first team all-district honors in baseball and received his first D1 offer from Kansas. UTSA offered at their Junior Day last weekend, and he's on the radar of several other schools, including Texas, and he was in attendance at UT's Junior Day in late February. If nothing else, he's the best red-headed tight end recruit the state has produced since Jess Trussell (Arlington Martin/Purdue) in 2015.
7. Parker Eichenberger (Katy)
Katy ISD is good for at least one FBS-level tight end recruit in most years, and Eichenberger is the best of its 2017 group. He's a traditional in-line tight end who plays a big role in Katy's power running game, whether it's being asked to seal off defensive ends or get to the second level and block a safety or linebacker to clear the ball-carrier's path to the end zone. You don't get to play tight end at Katy without being able to run block, and though Eichenberger didn't produce a lot as a receiver (5 receptions for 78 yards and 1 TD) in 2015, he showed some ability to go up the seam or get first down yardage on short out routes.
He has good size at a listed 6'4 and 230 pounds, and though he doesn't appear to be exceptional in any one area, he also doesn't seem to have a glaring weakness, and he'll at least get playing time on a FBS team down the road. He's a better run blocker than receiver, and though he might not beat FBS-level safeties one-on-one when going out for a pass, he can hurt defenses if they sleep on him or leave him uncovered off of play-action. I see him as a high two-star/low three-star version of Brian Polendey.
His recruitment has picked up in the past month, with offers coming in from Houston, North Texas, UTSA, Texas State, New Mexico, and Illinois, and he has attended Junior Day events at Oklahoma State and Texas..
8. Jadon McConnell (La Porte)
He plays in an even more run-heavy offense than Eichenberger and was used even less as a receiving target in 2015 (4 receptions for 23 yards), but he's big enough to block for a D1 team and moves well enough that he could be a receiving option off play-action.
McConnell is listed at 6'4 and 260 pounds on La Porte's Maxpreps page, and while the weight listing is accurate (he has weighed in the low 260s during powerlifting season this year), I suspect his height is closer to 6'2. He is a good run-blocking tight end on outside zone plays, and at a lot of other high schools I think he'd be playing offensive tackle.
He appears to have at least decent hands, but he''ll get recruited at the next level more for his blocking than his receiving, and some schools use their TE or H-back as little more than an extra blocking surface anyway, a role in which he definitely offers some upside. I'm a fan.
Whether any school is recruiting him at this time, I don't know. None of the major recruiting sites have a profile for him, though his Twitter followers include coaches at Tulsa and UNLV.
Next week, I'll have a write-up on some of the state's top tight ends in the 2018 class, a group that absolutely oozes with upside and superstar potential.