Tight End Depth Chart - Week 1
Sammy Wheeler - 6’5”, 241 - Sr/3L - Lenexa, KS
Sammy Wheeler - 2021
At first glance, Wheeler didn’t get much work last year. I’m going to be bold and say that’s one of the reasons someone else is calling the plays this year. Wheeler, when healthy, has been a game changer for the Wildcats. I’ve talked a good bit about versatility this off-season, and Sammy Wheeler is one of the more versatile players on the field.
The bowl game against LSU provides a look at how Collin Klein will use Sammy in 2022. While he only had one grab for 12 yards, he was used elsewhere to create match-up issues. There were a few sequences where he lined up at tight end on a run play, the offense went tempo, and he was utilized as a wide receiver on the next play. That’s an important skill set for a team that often times lines up in a heavy run formation on first down. With Sammy in the game, Kansas State can transition from 12-personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) to 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) without having to take anyone off the field.
A defense running a 4-3 (four down linemen, three linebackers) on first down, now has to decide if they want to kick a linebacker outside to cover Sammy, bring a safety over to cover him, or play zone with three linebackers and let players run free in the space between the linebackers and the safeties. All this because Sammy can block a little and catch a good bit more.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see his production double, if not triple, this year if he stays healthy. He’s a long-strider with sneaky speed that seems to catch the defenders by surprise. It doesn’t look like he’s moving fast until he’s past you, and once he’s past you, his long legs eat up ground and make it hard to recover. He’s truly been a big-play tight end (when healthy) which is always nice to have on your roster.
I keep mentioning health, and that’s been the limiting factor for Sammy. Knee injuries ended his freshman and sophomore seasons right when it looked like he was taking off. Last season he navigated most of the campaign. Hopefully he puts in a full 13 games this year (14 or 15 would be preferable, but I’ll start with 13). If he does get dinged and has to miss time, there are several other options on the roster.
Ben Sinnott - 6’4”, 247 - So/1L - Waterloo, IA
Ben Sinnott - 2021
Sammy is the WR/TE of the group, and he’s balanced out by Ben Sinnott, who is the TE/FB of the tight end group. He’s another preferred walk-on, in the 2-deeps. That’s usually not great, unless you’re a Chris Klieman led team. Then you somehow manage to conjure up ballers like Sinnott and back up running back DJ Giddens out of thin air. Ben isn’t in the 2-deeps because K-State doesn’t have other options, he’s in the 2-deeps because he’s another athletic, versatile piece for Klein to deploy.
While Sammy lets you go from 12-personnel to 11-personnel without having to sub, Sinnott let’s you go from 12-personnel to 21-personnel (one running back, one fullback, one tight end, two receivers) without having to sub. If the two tight ends you start with are Sammy and Ben, you could go from 12-personnel to 20-personnel (two running backs, zero tight ends, three receivers) on the fly. Defensive coordinators do not like it when teams are able to change their personnel groupings without changing their players. That’s when you end up drawing too many men on the field penalties because you’ve got linebackers and safeties trying to figure out who is supposed to be in the game, or you draw favorable match-ups because they can’t get out of their base defense, even though you’re no longer in your base offense.
Ben is a better blocker than receiver at the moment, but that doesn’t mean he can’t catch the ball. He came to K-State as a tight end, moved to fullback, and is now playing both roles. He’s only a sophomore, and will continue to get bigger and stronger throughout his career. Look for him in more run heavy looks and in goal line packages this season.
Will Swanson - 6’5”, 244 - So/1L - Papillion, NE
We finally get to a tight end who was actually recruited to Kansas State to play tight end (Wheeler started at QB, Sinnott was a walk-on). Swanson is more of the prototypical blocking tight end. I’m not putting up his stats from last season, because he only played in four games as a freshman and was in those games to block.
While he was limited to blocking as a freshman, he was a capable receiver in high school, pulling down 33 receptions for 381 yards as a senior. That’s not earth shattering production, but having a guy capable of running 5 yard outs and picking up cheap first downs at tight ends is valuable. I don’t know exactly how Klein intends to deploy his three-headed tight end monster, but I think you’ll see a good bit of Swanson on the field playing a traditional tight end role, with either Wheeler or Sinnott come in for extra blocking or extra receiving in 21-personnel. I see him as the anchor that allows the other 2 to move around and exploit match-ups.
He might not put up the reception numbers of Wheeler, and he might not motion into the backfield and blow up a linebacker in the hole, but he will provide the steady presence that allows those two things to happen. Look for him at the end of the line in K-State’s 21 personnel grouping.
Konnor Fox - 6’5”, 263 - Jr - San Antonio, TX - Fox and Swanson are similar players. Fox has battled injuries throughout his career, and that has put him a little behind where he would like to be at this point in his career. His job this year is to stay healthy and block. If he does that, expect his role to expand as the season progresses. Look for him in goal line and short yardage packages where K-State goes to three tight ends.
Garrett Oakley - 6’4”, 219 - Fr. - Columbus, NE - Oakley is a true freshman cut from the Sammy Wheeler mold. He’s a catch first, block second tight end, and will need to get bigger to see consistent playing time. I doubt you’ll see him this year unless something happens to Sammy, at which point the coaching staff will have to decide if it’s worth burning his redshirt.
Brayden Loftin - 6’4” 224 - Fr. - Omaha, NE - Tall receiving tight ends were the focus of the 2021 recruiting class. Loftin, like Oakley, is a receiver first, blocker second tight end similar to Wheeler. He’s got a bit of a head start on Oakley in terms of gaining weight. Ideally, he’ll be in the 240s or higher when it’s time to play. This year is all about eating, lifting, and learning the offense. Like Oakley, a Wheeler injury could potentially change that equation, but for now, store him in the back of your brain. You’ll see him a little later down the road.
Coach Klieman and Coach Klein have managed to cobble together a solid tight end group out of what looked like spare parts. You’ve got a former 3* quarterback recruit in Sammy Wheeler who hit campus as a 218 pound quarterback, who is now up to 240 and is a legitimate down field receiving threat. You’ve got Ben Sinnott who hit campus as a 220 pound walk-on tight end, who was moved to fullback, and is now in the 240s and back to playing tight end. Finally you’ve got Will Swanson, who was actually recruited to play tight end, and is ready to make his mark as something other than strictly and extra offensive lineman.
What I like about this group is their versatility. It’s something you’re going to get tired of hearing about by the end of the season, but it’s going to be a key for success. Wheeler and Sinnott in particular give the coaching staff a plethora of personnel options, without having to change who is on the field. If you want to play faster, having guys like that on the roster is crucial. I’m looking for a big year out of this group.