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Kansas State Football: 2021 Tight End Preview

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Can the tight ends be a strength in the passing game? Well, they have to stay healthy first.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, we received a brief glimpse of what the Kansas State offense looks like with a legit pass catching tight end, and right when it was getting good, it was extinguished by the Skylar Thompson injury. Briley Moore moved on to try his luck in the NFL (undrafted, currently on the Titans injured reserved with a torn ACL, so not great luck thus far) but Skylar is back and ready to toss the pill over the middle to an old newcomer and an intriguing cast of up-and-comers the coaching staff has collected over the last few seasons.

The Old Man

Daniel Imatorbhebhe - RS-Med RS-Covid-Senior

Imatorbhebhe (guys, I’m going with Daniel until I have a better nickname), has taken the most circuitous route possible to Manhattan. It’s rare that I get to write about a peer but few 40 year old guys get to play college football (joking, he’s 24). To put that in perspective he signed with Florida the same year Alex Delton signed with Kansas State. I’ll skip over his resume, because I covered it in-depth in late January, but he’s had an interesting college football career, to say the least.

Consider him the 2021 version of Briley Moore, in fact, athletically, he’s probably an upgrade. Thus far, he’s received rave reviews from the coaching staff. Talent has never been a question with Daniel, it’s all about his ability to stay on the field. At 6’4”, 240 he looks like a tight end, but runs like a wide receiver. If the other team is running a 2-deep zone, expect Coach Messingham to send send him straight between hash marks, because he has enough speed split the safeties.

The only question he needs to answer is his ability to block like a tight end. He’ll receive plenty of opportunities to prove his blocking chops, but even if he isn’t a dominant blocking tight end, he’ll get plenty of run in the passing game. He needs to be serviceable enough as a blocker to not tip the play (basically, you don’t want the defense to point at him an yell “pass, pass” when he’s on the field). That’s about it. I have him penciled in as a starter, and think he could be a dark horse All-Big 12 tight end (*all statements regarding Daniel come with an implied “if he can stay healthy”.)

The Oldish Man

Nick Lenners - RS-Covid-Senior

Lenners is the inverse of Daniel, at 6’5”, 253, he’s a full back (which he also plays) with a tight end designation. Don’t forget, in 2019, Lenners was first team All-Big 12 according the coaches. He’s a dominant blocker who can leak out and make a catch. This is handy in short yardage downs when the defense stacks the box. Lenners is also an asset in the red zone, and his versatility allows the coaching staff to start him at tight end and motion him to fullback, or visa/versa.

Nick is the type of player that doesn’t get the press, but is crucial to fielding a winning team. He’s the perfect foil for Daniel, and the two should work well in tandem if the coaching staff decides to break out a two tight end set. Snap count wise, he’ll probably be second, in terms of tight ends.

The Injury Question Mark

Sammy Wheeler - RS-Covid-Sophomore

Sammy came to Kansas State as a quarterback, transitioned to tight end in 2019, showed enough potential for me to rave about him in an article, and promptly blew out his knee the next game. He returned in 2020, pulled down a 58 yard reception against Oklahoma State and promptly blew out his collar bone. You’ve got to hate it for the guy.

Hope springs eternal, and there is no reason Wheeler can’t be a valuable asset in 2021. First, he provides a security blanket for the coaching staff at receiving tight end for fellow oft injured Wildcat Daniel Imatorbhebhe. Between the two, I’m hopeful Skylar will have at least one pass catching tight end at his disposal every game. Wheeler has impressive long speed, mainly because three quarters of his body is legs. When he gets those flamingoesque appendages pumping he keeps adding speed long after shorter limbed defenders have topped out. He’s not exceptionally quick, but give him a clear track down the sidelines or seam and he has the ability to get open deep.

Outside of speed, he understands route concepts (probably due to his past life as a quarterback) and helps receivers get open when paired with him in a route. If his knee wasn’t a question mark, I’m not sure Kansas State invests a scholarship in another tight end (although I’m glad they did) because Wheeler has shown the ability to be a dynamic asset in the passing game. Unless Imatorbhebhe gets injured, I don’t see this as a break out year for Wheeler, but if he can stay healthy, things set up nicely for him in 2022.

The Young Guns

Konner Fox - RS - Covid - Freshman

Fox is a well rounded, traditional tight end in the mold of Briley Moore. At 6’4”, 245 he can block, but he’s athletic enough (in theory) to run routes as well. He put up 1,478 yards and 22 touchdowns over his last two years of high school ball and also lettered in basketball. He’s a solid athlete.

Fox doesn’t block as well as Lenners, and isn’t the receiving threat that Imatorbhebhe poses, but he’s a better receiver than Lenners and a better blocker than Imatorbhebhe (if that makes sense). Like Wheeler, I’ve got 2022 circled as the year Fox needs to make his move up the depth chart, but with the injury history ahead of him, it wouldn’t shock me to see him a good bit in 2021.

Will Swanson - Covid - Freshman

I put Swanson in the Lenners category until he shows more in the passing game. At 6’5”, 248, he’s a big boy capable of doling out punishment on the line of scrimmage, and is essentially an extra offensive linemen who is eligible to catch the ball. He hauled in 45 receptions for 542 yards and 3 touchdowns at La Vista South High School in Nebraska, doing most of that damage in his senior year (381 yards).

Much like Lenners, he should be useful in the redzone and short yardage. I can see his potential on the “I’m going to block you...Lol J/K...I’m open for the needed yardage” play every offensive coordinator has in their back pocket. If Lenners is good to go the entire season, I’m not sure you see much of Swanson, and if you do, it will be in the jumbo package. He looks to the heir apparent at blocking tight end to Lenners, which makes 2022 the year for him to step into the (tiny) spotlight as well.

Overall

Imatorbhebhe is the headliner of this group. He’s done all the right things, said all the right things, and most importantly, has remained healthy (as far as I know) during camp. If his play matches the hype and his body cooperates, tight end will be a position of strength in the passing game. Throw the salty war horse that is Nick Lenners into the mix for blocking and the tight end position is well stocked for 2021.