The Michigan Wolverines tight end room will be led by Colston Loveland and A.J. Barner in 2023 by the ways thing look as of now. But, it appeared like there were two clear frontrunners at the position last season with Erick All and Luke Schoonmaker, and Loveland snuck his way into some serious playing time as a true freshman.
This year, Deakon Tonielli is hoping for a similar run up the depth chart in what is a crowded tight end room. Will he be able to do it? Let’s take a look.
The story so far
Tonielli came in to Ann Arbor as the No. 20 tight end in the 2023 class and a four-star recruit. He has that big-body frame that Jim Harbaugh has loved at the position in his tenure standing at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. That’s a pretty ideal size for a guy that is only a true freshman.
The Oswego, Illinois product is already getting some love from his head coach who went on the In The Trenches Podcast with Jon Jansen and said that Tonielli is “darn-near identical” to Colston Loveland.
Jim Harbaugh says on the In The Trenches podcast that Deakon Tonielli is "darn-near identical" to Colston Loveland.— Clayton Sayfie (@CSayf23) December 22, 2022
The system he ran in high school saw him lining up in the slot and out wide, similar to how Michigan began using their tight ends over the past few seasons. He certainly has the size to be a good blocker in-line as well. If the Wolverines can find a way for him to be involved like Loveland last season, they could have an elite room of tight ends in 2023.
Outlook for 2023
The most likely outcome will be Tonielli redshirting this season. Loveland and Barner could be the best tight end tandem in the Big Ten in 2023. Then, behind them is Max Bredeson, who the coaching staff loves as a redshirt sophomore. Matthew Hibner, a redshirt junior could also see a decent amount of playing time this year as well.
The road to Tonielli seeing significant playing time is a long one, and he would have to hop quite a few veteran players who know this offensive system like the back of their hand. However, as Loveland proved last season, it’s not impossible. And, Tonielli is already drawing comparisons to the former freshman phenom.
I imagine he will play in blowouts at the beginning of the season and will get his chance to earn playing time over the course of the year if he excels.