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Ranking the top Texas tight ends in a deep 2018 class

Will one or more of these recruits help the Longhorns break a decade-long tight end curse?

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Mustapha Muhammad (Fort Bend Ridge Point) is the consensus top-rated 2018 tight end in Texas.
Student Sports

Yes, it’s time once again for my annual post on the top tight end prospects in the state of Texas’s upcoming senior class. I think I’ve written a piece (either here or on another site) analyzing at least the last five TE classes in the state, always hoping that in the next year’s edition I’ll be able to skip the obligatory paragraph about how the tight end position in Austin has been cursed since Jermichael Finley’s early departure for the NFL after the 2007 season and Blaine Irby’s career-altering injury early in 2008, and has become the Texas Longhorns’ rough equivalent to Hogwarts’ Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.

Alas, this isn’t that year. Since I last wrote about the subject 13 months ago, blue-collar stalwart Caleb Bluiett has exhausted his eligibility, the oft-injured Blake Whiteley (who never played in a game for Texas after signing as the top-rated Juco TE in 2014) has announced he plans to transfer after graduating in May, and UT’s Great Tight End Hope of the 2017 class, Major Tennison, de-committed from Texas last July and was an Alabama commit for most of the 2016 season, one that saw Alabama’s star tight end (and probable first round pick in this week’s NFL Draft) O.J. Howard catch 45 passes en route to the Crimson Tide reaching the CFP National Championship Game, while Texas finished 5-7 and got a mere six receptions from its tight ends.

Enter new Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman, whose offensive system at Houston made significantly greater use of its tight ends in the passing game than what was seen at Texas in Sterlin Gilbert’s one season as UT’s offensive coordinator (Cougar tight ends combined to make 27 catches for five touchdowns in 2016).

Herman and the new Texas staff seemed well on their way to righting the program’s tight end ship when they flipped highly-regarded 2017 tight end recruits Cade Brewer (Lake Travis) from SMU and Reese Leitao (Jenks, Oklahoma) from Nebraska in the final weeks of the last recruiting cycle. But Leitao - a talented two-way athlete who was named to Oklahoma all-state teams as both a tight end and defensive end in 2016 - was arrested by the campus police at his high school in late February, reportedly for being in possession of Xanax pills that he admitted he planned to sell. There’s still a chance he could end up enrolling this year, but his future at UT is very much in doubt.

Texas has since added former Syracuse TE Kendall Moore as a graduate transfer, a move that Moore announced earlier this month. Slated to join him are senior Andrew Beck, junior Garrett Gray, and redshirt freshman Peyton Aucoin, the only returning scholarship players at the position, and a trio with just 12 career catches between them (all by Beck), which is two less than the 14 receptions Moore caught in four seasons (one injury-shortened) at Syracuse.

Moore’s addition should help TE depth in the short term, and may allow Cade Brewer to redshirt this fall. Depth in 2018 and beyond will be a problem the staff needs to solve with the next recruiting class, a need even more dire if Leitao’s legal troubles keep him from enrolling in Austin.

Fortunately, the 2018 class may have the state of Texas’s deepest group of tight end recruits in several years, which should give UT some good options as far as potential targets go, though the staff will have no problem looking out of state if they miss on their top in-state targets.

I first wrote about the 2018 tight end class in March of last year, when I identified six Texas prospects to watch: (in alphabetical order) Byron Bolin (Leonard), Reggie Chaney (Frisco Liberty), Malcolm Epps (Spring Dekaney), Reese Moore (Seminole), Mustapha Muhammad (Fort Bend Ridge Point), and Joshua Sanders (Life School Waxahachie). Three of them will not be listed in this post.

Chaney, a highly-regarded basketball prospect, gave up football and transferred to Nevada basketball powerhouse Findlay Prep (whose alums include former Longhorns Avery Bradley, Cory Joseph, and Tristan Thompson) last summer. Moore, who committed to Texas on Sunday, remains a high school tight end but has been recruited almost exclusively as an offensive tackle. And Sanders seems to have become more widely seen as a defensive prospect.

According to a Rivals database search, the 2017 Texas class produced 17 tight ends that signed with Division I-FBS programs (although at least a couple of those are likely to end up playing other positions). The 2018 class has the potential to match that number and, might even exceed it by four or more. I’ll rank my ten favorites from the 2018 class below, and then mention ten others to watch this summer and fall.

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The Top Ten

1. Mustapha Muhammad (Fort Bend Ridge Point)

size: 6’3.5” 231 pounds (source: The Opening Regional Houston 2017 results)
2016 stats: 31 receptions for 438 yards and 5 touchdowns (source: Maxpreps)

I share the view of the recruiting industry that Muhammad is the state’s top TE prospect in the 2018 class, and easily the most well-rounded player at the position right now. He isn’t the prolific downfield receiving threat that 2016’s top-ranked TE Kaden Smith (Flower Mound Marcus/Stanford) was, or the ferocious blocker with the college-ready body that 2017’s top TE Brock Wright (Cy-Fair/Notre Dame signee) is, but his overall upside is at least in the same neighborhood as those two, and his floor is several levels higher than that of any other TEs listed below.

The 247Sports Composite ratings rank him as the nation’s #92 overall prospect and #4 tight end in the 2018 class, and according to his 247Sports profile, he has a late summer birthday and won’t even turn 17 until shortly before the start of his senior year, meaning he’s one of the very youngest members of his class.

He was a key cog in a balanced Ridge Point offense that averaged over 200 yards both through the air and on the ground in the 2016 season. The Panthers won their first 11 games while outscoring opponents by an average of 32 points, before their season ended with a 24-21 area round playoff loss to Houston Lamar.

He was a member of Ridge Point’s varsity basketball team as a freshman and sophomore but doesn’t seem to have played the sport this past season, which no doubt allowed him some quality time in the weight room and contributed to the 20 pounds or so he has added to his frame in the past year.

Muhammad told the Notre Dame Fansided site Slap The Sign in February, “I’m projected to be 6’6” when I get to college”, and said he wants to get his weight up to 240 pounds. If both of those things happen he’ll be an absolute monster.

Texas first offered him in late November 2015, and he attended UT’s Junior Day this past February. He plans to announce his top ten schools next month.


2. Malcolm Epps (Spring Dekaney)

size: 6’5.5” 218 pounds (The Opening Houston 2017)
2016 stats: 10 receptions for 129 yards (Maxpreps)

Epps was committed to Alabama for nearly a year before re-opening his recruitment in February. He didn’t have a good junior football season in terms of individual stats, team success, or postseason honors. A year after catching 21 passes and scoring 5 TDs for a team that went 5-5, he brought in only half as many catches for a team that went 5-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

What accounted for that drop-off, I don’t know, but Epps’s Hudl page contains less than three minutes’ worth of film from the 2016 season, and the coaches from district 16-6A voted him an all-district second team tight end, voting to the first team two seniors who went on to sign with a NCAA Division II school and a junior college, respectively. At February’s The Opening Regional Houston event he posted very unimpressive results in the forty-yard dash (5.17) and vertical jump (24.5”), and compiled a SPARQ score of 54.21, nearly forty points less than Mustapha Muhammad. Though, in fairness, Epps was still in the midst of basketball season (his team’s season didn’t end until a month later) and had played a game the night before that event, and he was probably far from being in offseason football shape.

He did shine on the basketball court during the 2016-17 season, averaging (according to Dekaney’s Maxpreps page) 14.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.4 steals for a Mustangs squad that finished 27-8 and advanced four rounds into the Class 6A playoffs. Epps earned first team all-district 16-6A honors for his efforts.

Despite his lack of production last fall, the limited amount of film on him from the 2016 season, and the very pedestrian The Opening results from February, I’m still ranking him as my #2 tight end in this group based on what he showed as a sophomore, along with my sense that he hasn’t simply gotten worse at football in the past year and will fill out his frame a lot more once he’s a full-time football player and not spending his offseasons on basketball anymore. He is currently the #7 tight end prospect in the class and the state’s #17 recruit, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Texas was included when he listed his top ten school choices last week.


3. Bralen Taylor (Cuero)

size: 6’7” 221 pounds (The Opening Houston 2017)
2016 stats: completed 10 of 27 pass attempts for 181 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT; 54 carries for 545 yards and 10 TDs; and 18 receptions for 377 yards and 4 TDs

Taylor has been one of the fastest-rising TEs in the class in recent weeks. The long and relatively thin south Texas athlete competed at The Opening Regional Houston camp on Saturday, February 4, and was measured - according to the event’s official results - at 6’8” and 221 pounds, and he owned the fastest forty time (4.91) of the eight tight ends whose times were listed. The next day he was offered by Houston and Oklahoma State. Baylor and UTSA followed the day after that, and by the end of that week he also held offers from Miami (FL), Oregon, and Toledo. TCU, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Georgia, Florida and Missouri have since thrown their hats into the ring for Taylor’s L.O.I. signature.

Lining up at wide receiver and occasionally as a run-first quarterback in 2016 for the Cuero Gobblers, Taylor used his length to out-jump opposing defensive backs and his long strides to pick up lots of yards in short bursts when he had the ball in his hands. He was a key member of a Cuero team that won its first 13 games before falling in the fourth round of the 4A Division II playoffs.

What little blocking is featured in his highlights consists of him out wide blocking defensive backs who are - this should not surprise you - a lot smaller than him. He’ll need to add quite a bit of muscle to his frame to produce at the FBS level, but at worst he looks like a future contributor as a flex tight end type. If in a few years he still runs as smoothly at 245+ pounds as he did at under 220 and can at least hold his own as an in-line blocker, he’ll be a very valuable weapon in some team’s offense.

The 247Sports Composite ranks him as the state’s #67 prospect and #23 tight end overall. He announced his top four schools in a Tweet yesterday, a group comprised of Texas (which isn’t known to have offered him yet), Baylor, Oregon, and Ole Miss.


4. Nic McTear (Frisco Heritage)

size: 6’5” 220 pounds (source: 13-5A all-district team)
2016 stats: 14 receptions for 250 yards and 4 TDs (SportsDay HS)

McTear is another tall pass-catcher likely to see his list of suitors increase in the coming months. When he committed to Oklahoma State on February 6, he held five other offers, only one of them from a P5 school (Iowa State). Since announcing his pledge to the Cowboys, he has added offers from Houston, Baylor, Miami (FL), Auburn, LSU and Colorado.

From watching his junior year highlights it’s easy to see why those schools would be high on him. He can be seen lining up as an attached tight end, an inside receiver, and H-back, and as a receiver he hurts defenses most by getting open up the seam and bringing in the ball with his hands, or catching passes off play action, often along or near the sideline. He isn’t seen blocking DEs one-on-one often but shows some ability to get low and maintain leverage against a shorter defender, and he blocks LBs from the flex or H-back spot (sometimes pulling across the line from the latter position) often enough and well enough that he has become effective at selling the “block” on play action and often finds himself uncovered when defenders bite or freeze on a fake handoff and allow McTear to run past them.

As a junior he earned first team honors in the very competitive district 13-5A, which is comprised of Frisco ISD’s (currently) 8 high schools. McTear will be among the players counted on this fall to help Heritage improve on its 2016 season, one in which the Coyotes won just two games despite averaging 40 points per game (their opponents averaged 55 per contest). Heritage’s two wins came by scores of 64-61 and 76-51, and among their losses were games in which they scored 60, 35, 39, and 49 points.

McTear could put up some big senior year stats if his team’s games regularly turn into track meets on turf again in 2017. He is the 247Sports Composite rankings’ #20 tight end nationally, and the state’s #64 prospect.


5. Brayden Willis (Arlington Martin)

size: 6’4” 215 pounds (height reported by The Opening Dallas; weight reported by Willis)
2016 stats: 27 receptions for 323 yards and 3 TDs (SportsDay HS)

This tall and versatile DFW athlete may be the state’s best tight end that nobody is really talking about. Despite possessing a good frame, having a very good junior season in which he earned first team All-District 4-6A honors, and playing for a school that has produced numerous FBS athletes in recent years, Willis had no offers as recently as the day before Valentine’s Day. Illinois State was the first to offer him, on February 14, and his offer list now includes Colorado State, Houston, Texas State, and Grambling State.

There’s a lot to like in Willis’s junior highlights. In various plays he lines up at wide receiver, inside receiver, and as an attached tight end, and he is seen playing on special teams as a member of Martin’s kickoff return unit and as a blocker with its field goal unit. He catches passes off a respectable variety of routes, holds on to the ball after taking a hit, and even shows a bit of elusiveness after the catch, as best seen in the play starting at the 2:24 mark, where he runs a short hitch route, makes the catch and spins away from a pair of Southlake Carroll defenders to pick up five more yards. He does his share of blocking from every spot he plays, and I suspect he’ll become stronger and more effective in that area as he fills out his frame. Martin has long been a team that emphasizes a physical running game, and skill position players probably don’t see the field there without being committed blockers.

Willis stands a full 6’4” and says he played his junior season at about 205 pounds, but he lost some of that weight during basketball season, and when he checked in at The Opening Dallas regional on March 5 (nine days after Martin’s basketball season ended in the second round of the playoffs) his weight was down to 199. He tells me he’s back up to the 215-218 range now and hopes to be 225 by the start of the 2017 season. Martin head coach Bob Wager, whose former pupils include Purdue tight end Jess Trussell (about whom I wrote in a November 2014 post) and a certain presumptive #1 pick in this week’s NFL Draft, believes Willis will carry 230 pounds easily, and points to his participation in multiple sports as the reason he has remained as lean as he is.

His forty time was not listed on the official results from The Opening Dallas, but out of the 14 tight ends who competed at the event, Willis recorded the 2nd-best shuttle time (4.30) and 2nd best vertical jump (34”). Were Willis to land at UT he might be joined on the 2018 roster by fellow Martin alum Michael Wilson, who was the school’s leading receiver in 2013 and is now a 6’4” 235-pound junior walk-on tight end at Texas.

247Sports ranks Willis as the #63 tight end nationally and the state’s #214 prospect (both are far too low, in my opinion).


6. Christoph Henle (Arlington Oakridge)

size: 6’5.5” 230 pounds (The Opening Dallas)
2016 stats: 41 receptions for 579 yards and 9 TDs (SportsDay HS)

A native of Austria who took up American football in his home country and moved to the U.S. before his sophomore year of high school, Henle is a really tall pass-catcher with good hands who is probably still a long way from filling out his frame. After spending his sophomore year at private school Fort Worth Southwest Christian, he transferred to The Oakridge School in Arlington, which competes in the Southwest Preparatory Conference (SPC). He was the Oakridge Owls’ second-leading receiver in 2016, catching 41 passes while lining up at both receiver and as an attached tight end.

He plays at a lower competition level than any of the five players listed before him, but he’s just under 6’6” and 230 pounds, and has only played against high school football competition in the U.S. for two years now. My guess is he’s a long way from reaching his ceiling.

As of this writing he is reported to have eight FBS offers, with four of those coming from in-state schools Houston, Rice, Texas State, and UTSA. He has yet to receive an offer from a P5 school. The 247Sports Composite ranks him as the class’s #59 tight end and the state’s #179 prospect.


7. David Priebe (Waco Midway)

size: 6’6” 212 pounds (The Opening Dallas)
2016 stats: 12 receptions for 143 yards (MaxPreps)

Priebe’s junior year stats may not jump out as those of a future Division I tight end (this will become a theme in this post), but his SPARQ score definitely does. At the March 5 The Opening Dallas Regional event, he ran a 4.76 forty, had a 4.20 shuttle time, and recorded a 40-foot kneeling powerball toss and 30.9” vertical jump, good for an overall SPARQ score of 104.31. Between the nine The Opening Regional events that have been held thus far, only five tight ends have recorded scores higher than Priebe’s.

After mostly playing the role of extra blocking surface at tight end and catching only one pass as a sophomore, Priebe lined up in multiple positions as a junior and caught 11 passes in Midway’s first season under former Mansfield High coach Jeff Hulme. Priebe’s receptions should increase this fall, as he’ll be catching passes from three-star senior QB Tanner Mordecai (the state’s #56 recruit, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings) and will be in his second season under Midway’s present offensive coaches, who’ll be much more familiar with him by then than they were going into the 2016 season.

He’s a credible blocker from the flex, H-back, and in-line tight end spots, but is probably at his best when playing attached and setting the edge against defensive ends. He showed a strength in this area even as a relatively thin sophomore. His speed, quickness, and length should make him a valuable target in short yardage routes versus zone coverage, and he already makes a lot of his catches off of play action when lining up attached or at H-back. He hasn’t shown the ability (in his highlights anyway) to make defenders miss after the catch, but a Midway assistant described him to me as “an incredible athlete” and “excellent worker”, and one who also “may be the most flexible guy we have”.

Central Florida, Baylor and Houston have all offered him within the past three months, and he has held Missouri and SMU offers since January. He is the class’s 44th-ranked tight end in the 247Sports Composite rankings, and the state’s 141st-ranked recruit.


8. Ben Sims (San Antonio Clark)

size: 6’5” 241 (The Opening Houston)
2016 stats: 30 receptions for 477 yards and 2 TDs (Maxpreps)
[Note: he is also listed as James Sims on some sites.]

Sims is a productive receiving tight end at the 6A level, an above average athlete for his size, and probably the San Antonio area’s best tight end prospect since Jace Amaro, the MacArthur High alum who earned All-America honors at Texas Tech and was taken with the 49th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Sims is already a big guy at 6’5” and 240-plus pounds, though he may have played a bit lighter last season. He catches the ball with his hands and shows the ability to get open running a decent variety of routes and looks equally comfortable lining up as an attached tight end and flex receiver. If I were only ranking these guys based on their receiving skills, Sims would be a few spots higher, but based on the blocking clips he includes in his highlights he has a long way to go before he’ll be ready to block FBS-level defenders. Despite being much bigger than most of the opponents he engages with when blocking, he can be seen in 2 or 3 clips simply throwing a shoulder at them instead of making any attempt at bending and getting leverage with his arms and feet, and in other clips where he does use his hands better he either plays way too high or doesn’t finish his block.

He posted a 84.96 SPARQ score at The Opening Houston Regional, clocking the second-fastest forty time (4.93), the second-fastest shuttle time (4.43), and the second-best kneeling powerball toss (37 feet) out of the nine tight ends who competed at the event. He’s a quality athlete, to be sure, and as of this writing he holds offers from Baylor, Bowling Green, Houston, SMU, Texas State, and UTSA.

The 247Sports Composite ranks him as the class’s #36 tight end, and the state’s #128 prospect.


9. Tyrick James (China Spring)
size: 6’1.5” 232 pounds (The Opening Dallas)
2016 stats: 55 receptions for 614 yards and 11 TDs

A versatile Central Texas athlete who has lined up at tight end, H-back, inside receiver, and running back, James may be the most Dimitri Flowers-esque player in the state’s 2018 class. While James isn’t quite the athlete that the Oklahoma Sooners’ senior fullback/tight end was coming out of San Antonio’s Churchill High School, he does a lot of the same things on the field and will likely find himself in a similar collegiate role.

James was a first team all-district inside receiver in 2016, and was the leading receiver on a China Spring team that won 13 games, knocked district rival and defending 4A Division I state champion Waco La Vega out of the playoffs, and took eventual 2016 4A Division I state champs Carthage to triple overtime in a 26-20 state semifinal loss.

James was an all-district tight end as a sophomore and has maintained his athleticism while gaining about 20 pounds in the past year. SMU offered him just over a year ago, and Texas State became the second team to offer him in February. James told Scout’s Gabe Brooks in March that Texas, Florida, and Syracuse had all shown interest in him as either an H-back or tight end, and said he had been in touch with new UT running backs coach Stan Drayton, who relayed that Texas liked him as a future H-back.

James is much closer to having a college-ready body than most of the recruits listed here, and if the Longhorns miss on one or both of Mustapha Muhammad and Malcolm Epps, he could be a guy they make a push for to fill a tight end/H-back spot in their class. The 247Sports Composite ranks him 62nd among the class’s tight ends, and at 195th among the state’s recruits.


10. Jaylin Brown (Longview)

size: 6’1.5” 202 pounds (The Opening Dallas)
2016 stats: 14 receptions for 374 yards and 9 TDs (Longview News-Journal)

Brown didn’t make a lot of catches for the Longview Lobos in 2016, but he made them count when he did, as he averaged nearly 27 yards per catch and reached the end zone on 9 of his 14 receptions. He also reportedly graded out at 90% on his blocking assignments and was credited with 22 pancake blocks. He was a unanimous first team all-District 11-6A pick at tight end, and earned third team All-State honors from the Texas Sports Writers Association.

He weighed in at a mere 202 pounds at The Opening Dallas on March 5, but that was less than 3 weeks after the end of his basketball season (he earned honorable mention all-district honors in that sport) and it’s quite possible he played at a higher weight during the 2016 football season. Both his forty time (4.90) and vertical jump (30.2”) were fourth-best among the 14 tight ends who competed at The Opening Dallas. He won’t win any sprints but he appears to play faster than his forty time, as slow guys aren’t known for scoring on 71-yard receptions against Tyler John Tyler’s defense, which Brown did in October (see: the first play of his highlights).

There is no information on him or his recruitment to be found on the major recruiting sites, and what interest he may have from college programs at this time, I do not know. He has not been graded by 247Sports, or any of the other major services.


Ten More 2018 Tight Ends to Watch

Each of these next ten prospects has a chance to play at the Division I-FBS level, though some are much better known to in-state colleges than others. Rather than rank them I’ll list them in alphabetical order by last name.

Byron Bolin (Leonard)

6’2.5” 226 pounds
2016 stats: 24 receptions for 445 yards and 6 TDs; 61 tackles, 7 tackles for loss and 3 sacks
Highlights

Earned first team All-District 6-3A Division II honors at both tight end and defensive end, and Class 3A All-State Third Team accolades from the Texas Sports Writers Association for his 2016 season. Last June he was ranked as the state’s #45 prospect in Geoff Ketchum’s initial Lone Star Recruiting 100 list for the 2018 class. He has shown some promising flashes but still doesn’t have a ton of tight end film on his Hudl page, and he has never made a full-season highlight video. A year ago, Leonard’s longtime head coach Shane Fletcher told BON that Bolin was “One of the most agile big men I have been around in a long time”, and said he was a more gifted athlete than Leonard’s only previous Division I-FBS player: defensive end Kail Krider, a 2006 North Texas signee.

Darrell Fields (Pampa)

6’3” 210 pounds
2016 stats: 91 receptions for 1,078 yards and 7 TDs; 8 carries for 42 yards and 3 TDs
2016 highlights

Fields was a unanimous first team All-District 1-4A Division I selection at tight end, and also earned Class 4A All-State first team honors from the TSWA at that position, despite playing far more as an inside receiver in a four-wide spread look than as an attached tight end. Regardless, I think tight end is likely to be where he plays in college once he’s bulked up a bit.

Barclay Ford (North Forney)

6’2” 218 pounds
2016 stats: 49 receptions for 779 yards and 3 TDs
2016 highlights

He’s another high school receiver who will likely make the switch to tight end at the next level. He led his team in receptions and receiving yards in 2016 and was named to the all-District 15-5A second team at wide receiver. He reportedly has an offer from Illinois State and attended Junior Days this spring at Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Tulsa.

Jay-Ton Franklin (San Antonio Saint Mary’s Hall)

6’1” 218 pounds
2016 stats: 28 receptions for 223 yards and 1 TD
2016 highlights

He goes to a private school that competes at the TAPPS Division II level, didn’t produce eye-catching stats in 2016, and was merely voted a second team all-district tight end, but he looks like a player with some skill with the ball in his hands. If his junior highlights are any indication, the words “hates contact” will never be a part of a scouting report on him. I see him as one of the more underrated prospects in the San Antonio area.

Jacob Kainer (Houston Cypress Woods)

6’4” 216 pounds
2016 stats: completed 106 of 205 passes for 1,606 yards, 14 TDs and 9 INTs; rushed 140 times for 506 yards and 10 TDs
2016 highlights

He’s a big quarterback who I think will make the switch to TE in college, ala 2015 SMU signee Hunter Herndon, Rice freshman Jonathan Sanchez, and former Oklahoma All-Big 12 tight end Joe Jon Finley, among others. As a sophomore in 2015, he backed up junior starting QB Bryson Powers (who signed with Tulsa as a safety this year), then he took over as the team’s starting QB in 2016 after Powers transferred to Klein Collins. Last fall he passed for 1,606 yards, 14 TDs and 9 interceptions while completing 51.7% of his pass attempts, and he also rushed 140 times for 506 yards and 10 TDs. He has worked out at QB at a number of camps but has also caught passes as a receiver in 7-on-7 competitions (see: below).

Jackson Lanam (Corpus Christi Calallen)

6’4” 215 pounds
2016 stats: 8 receptions for 154 yards and 3 TDs
2016 highlights

Note: His last name is spelled “Lanham” on some rosters and in news articles, but he spells it “Lanam” on his personal Twitter page and in his Hudl profile, so I’m going with that.

As a tight end in a wing-T offense that attempted less than ten passes per game, he didn’t get a lot of touches in the 2016 season, but he blocked for an offense that rushed for over 300 yards per game and helped Calallen to advance to the 5A Division II state championship game, where they fell to Aledo 24-16. Lanam was a unanimous selection as the first team tight end on the All-District 30-5A North Zone team. Whether he’s really the 6’4” 215 he’s listed at or not, he has the profile of a well-rounded athlete who should put on good weight easily at the next level. In addition to football, he plays for Calallen’s varsity basketball team and is one of his school’s top track athletes. He qualified for this week’s 5A Region IV track meet in three individual events: the 110 meter hurdles (top time: 14.94), the 300 meter hurdles (39.85), and the high jump (6’4”).

Jay Marshall (Fort Worth Christian)

6’2” 206 pounds
2016 stats: 8 receptions for 135 yards and 2 TDs
2016 highlights

Through the first nine Nike Football The Opening regional events, only ten tight ends had posted higher SPARQ scores than the 99.66 Marshall had at The Opening Dallas in March, at which he ran a 4.84 forty-yard dash, a 4.58 shuttle, and recorded a 35” vertical jump and 41-foot kneeling powerball toss. He was named to the TAPPS Division II All-State Second Team as a defensive lineman in 2016, but I think he could be a quality tight end at the next level. As a freshman playing on Fort Worth Christian’s varsity football team in 2014, he caught 17 passes (tied for third-best on the team), but he snagged only a combined 18 in the two seasons that followed. He’s another example of a quality triple-sport athlete; he earned All-State Second Team honors in basketball this spring, and finished in the top three in both shot put and discus at his district track meet earlier this month. He owns a personal record in the shot put of 48’4.5”, which got him third place at last year’s TAPPS 4A state track meet.

Cade Rathbone (Frisco Reedy)

6’3” 200 pounds
2016 stats: 6 receptions for 107 yards and 1 TD
2016 highlights

He’s another prospect who didn’t produce big stats as a junior, but it’s worth noting that he was playing tight end for the first time (he was primarily an offensive tackle for Reedy’s JV team as a sophomore), and his school was playing in its first varsity football season in 2016 and had an all-underclassmen roster. Despite making only 6 catches, he impressed the coaches of District 13-5A enough that he was voted a second team all-district tight end (the aforementioned Nic McTear made first team). He’ll need to get bigger, of course, but with another season of experience at the position and with his entire team returning this fall, he’s got a chance to have a good season and play his way into the D1 football ranks at one level or another.

Sloan Selmon (Houston Cypress Ridge)

6’3” 222 pounds
2016 stats: 3 receptions for 51 yards
2016 highlights

I’ll sound like I’m repeating myself by now, but in Selmon is yet another future college TE who plays in a high school offense that has so far made little use of his receiving skills. He caught just three passes in 2016 while playing for a team that attempted nearly three times as many runs as passes. He can actually be seen making five catches in his junior highlight video (penalties may have nullified some of them), only one of which was truly uncontested. He could be in line for more touches in 2017, as the players responsible for 60% of the team’s receptions last fall will have graduated. His paucity of receiving stats hasn’t stopped D1 teams from showing interest; he was invited to Houston’s Junior Day in February and Texas State’s spring game earlier this month, and his Twitter followers include the tight ends coaches at Oklahoma State, Colorado State, and Sam Houston State, plus several assistant coaches at Ivy League schools.

Spencer Wells (Pearland Dawson)

6’4” 220 pounds
2016 stats: 1 reception for 8 yards
2016 highlights

Wells, who is the son of Pearland Dawson head coach Eric Wells (but no relation to this writer), could end up as the Peyton Aucoin of the 2018 class in that he’ll get recruited (and perhaps heavily recruited) more for his blocking ability than his pass-catching skills. In fact, he has four times as many reported offers at this writing as the number of receptions he had last fall. Kansas State became the first school to offer him in February, and he has since added offers from Texas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Houston (who offered last week). His Twitter followers include tight ends coaches from Texas, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Purdue, and Louisiana-Monroe, among others, along with a few head coaches and Utah’s defensive coordinator and longtime Texas area recruiter Morgan Scalley. Worth noting: Dawson’s coaching staff includes former Longhorn offensive lineman Mike Garcia.

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Obviously, the Texas staff - and I think most fans who’ve followed the 2018 class - would love to see UT land one or both of Muhammad and Epps. Is there another in-state TE prospect mentioned here (or even one not mentioned here) who you would like to see Texas target if they miss on both of those two? Leave a comment and let us know.