2016 Season Preview: Tight Ends

With all the talk of the offseason focused on quarterbacks, Dalvin Cook and the receivers, the tight end position has flown under the radar as we begin to discuss Florida State’s offense in 2016. Perhaps this is because the Seminoles have some clarity at this position, unlike every other position on the offense.

Last year, the Seminoles had to replace Nick O’Leary, perhaps the best tight end to ever suit up in the Garnet and Gold. They had recruited fairly well at the position, but all of the options at the position were underclassmen. Expectations were low for the position group and they did not accomplish much in 2015. The Seminoles found their starter in a then-redshirt freshman, but overall the tight ends did not make much of an impact last season.

In 2016, this group is poised to break out.

It starts with Ryan Izzo (81), the redshirt sophomore tight end who started all 13 games for the Seminoles last year. The 6-5, 245-pound sophomore caught 14 passes for 210 yards and two scores last year. Izzo was not included in the Seminoles’ passing attack much last season, but he is projected to have a bigger role this season. Izzo showed that he is a natural pass catcher and made the most of his opportunities when they came.

Perhaps an underrated aspect of Izzo’s game is his willingness and technique in the blocking game. The sophomore started off slow, but by the end of the season he was a very good run blocker for Dalvin Cook and the run game. With another year in the system, there is no question that Izzo’s blocking ability could be an X-factor for this offense moving forward.

Another redshirt sophomore on the roster, and Izzo’s likely backup, is Mavin Saunders (88). The 6-5, 257-pound tight end from the Bahamas came to Florida State with a lot of hype. A former basketball player, recruiting analysts raved about his athletic ability and high ceiling before he enrolled. However, he is still learning how to play the game of football and it certainly showed last year.

Saunders only had six catches for 52 yards in 2015, but still saw plenty of snaps. His blocking left much to be desired, which was reasonable for a player still learning the blocking schemes and pass routes. His role in 2016 will still be limited behind Izzo, but his size and athletic ability make him an interesting options in certain situations. Perhaps Jimbo Fisher will deploy him in the red zone, where he could use his basketball background to high point the football?

The final tight end who will likely see playing time in 2016 is redshirt junior Jeremy Kerr (85), the man who single-handily outscored the Florida Gators last year. Florida State fans will remember his amazing catch in the end zone from Sean Maguire, which put the Seminoles up 6-0 in their game against the Gators last year. This gave Kerr perhaps the best season stat line in college football with one catch for one yard and one touchdown (1-1-1).

Unfortunately, don’t expect Jimbo Fisher to split Kerr out wide at all this season. Kerr is strictly their blocking tight end. At 6-6, 270-pounds, Kerr has almost offensive line-like size at the tight end position. He is perhaps the most underrated player on offense and was very good as a blocker last year. Kerr will be a valuable member of the offense in 2016 as they lean on the ground game to ease in a new quarterback.

Last but not least, it is likely that true freshman Naseir Upshur (82) will redshirt this season. Upshur has a different skill set than the rest of the tight ends on the roster and is a smaller player at 6-2, 249-pounds. Perhaps in a year or two, he could develop into a Jordan Reed-type of player for this offense. But, for now, Upshur will likely redshirt as most tight ends in Florida State’s offense do as true freshman.

With an established starter in Ryan Izzo and dependable backups in Mavin Saunders and Jeremy Kerr, this position unit has a chance to greatly improve in 2016. Izzo should take a major step forward with more snaps under his belt and Saunders could make an impact in certain game situations. With all of the attention focused on Dalvin Cook and the receivers, the tight end position might be able to make a major impact in 2016.

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