Saying the Michigan Wolverines are loaded at tight end is an understatement.
Heading into the 2017 season, no one knew what to expect at the position. All-American and Mackey Award-winner Jake Butt was gone, leaving behind a ton of uncertainty.
The players I expected to step up — Ian Bunting and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. — obviously did not, combining for four catches for 32 yards.
Instead, a former quarterback (Zach Gentry) and an unknown sophomore (Sean McKeon) stepped up instead — combining for 48 catches for 604 yards and five touchdowns.
These two were the catalysts of the offense for most of the season, and they very may well be again in 2018.
Starter: Zach Gentry, RS JR
Some of you may be surprised by this pick, but given his athleticism, height (6-foot-8!!!) and soft hands, Gentry is my dude heading into the new season.
I like McKeon, don’t get me wrong, but Gentry finished 2017 on a high note and appears hungry for more. Eight of his 17 receptions were during the final four games of the year, and more than 50 percent of his total receiving yards came in that same span, along with one touchdown against Maryland.
He has the size, speed, hands, everything you need in a tight end. Even his blocking improved as the year went on. He isn’t nearly the blocker McKeon is, but good enough to keep him on the field more often than not.
If I’m a Michigan quarterback, I’d hope Gentry is one of my first options. I expect to see him out there first against Notre Dame.
Second-string: Sean McKeon, JR
One of the lowest-rated recruits in the 2016 class, McKeon, along with Gentry, was one of the more consistent guys on offense last year.
McKeon recorded a catch in every game except one and surprised a lot of people, myself included, by coming out of nowhere. He really stepped up and and reliably gave Michigan quarterbacks something to work with, whether that be in the passing game or in the blocking game (McKeon was ranked the third-best run-blocker on the team last year, according to Pro Football Focus, behind Mason Cole and Michael Onwenu).
Plus, him sushing the home crowd was bad ass. I was so confused by this at the time, but looking back on it, it’s a pretty boss move.
He didn’t put on much muscle this offseason — just three pounds — but I have faith he can, once again, be a reliable weapon and fantastic blocker for the Wolverines’ offense.
Third-string: Nick Eubanks, JR
If you who have been following along with my content this offseason, you will know I am high on Eubanks, but I still don’t think he’s higher than third on the depth chart due to the experience and successes of Gentry and McKeon.
Eubanks lit up the Florida Gators’ secondary last season for 61 yards on just two catches. Unfortunately, those were the only catches and yards of the season for him, as he suffered an injury against Purdue and never played another snap.
But I still have a lot of hope for Eubanks now that he’s 100 percent healthy and ready to go. His 6-foot-5 and 252-pound frame will absolutely be utilized in a dangerously good way. He has the speed and athleticism to be an exceptional pass-catching tight end. Blocking is another story, but he won’t be called upon to do that very much, if at all, this year because of how far ahead McKeon and Gentry are.
Even after the first three tight ends, Michigan continues to have high-end talent.
If you don’t know the name “Mustapha Muhammad,” now may be a good time to remember it. He is more of the do-it-all tight end, much like McKeon. He’s big (6-foot-4, 245 pounds), has good route running and is a solid blocker, as shown in the first two plays below.
And that third play? Wowza. The athleticism this kid has is incredible.
Odds are Muhammad will contribute right away on special teams, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him snag eight-to-10 catches this year.
The other true freshman tight end is 6-foot-6 Luke Schoonmaker.
Yes, he was a low 3-star prospect, but a large portion of that is because his high school coach would not send tapes of him to any interested programs. His coach pretty much told those recruiters “if you want him and are interested in him, you’ll come watch him play.”
It was an interesting tactic, but the Wolverines noticed him, got him to sign on the dotted line and may have got another diamond in the rough, much like defensive end Kwity Paye in the previous recruiting cycle.
Schoonmaker reminds me of Gentry — he played quarterback a bit in high school, he’s a tall and lengthy athlete who needs to improve on the blocking aspect of the position. He’s got good route running and solid hands. If he can be properly taught the ins and outs of being a complete tight end, like I know Sherrone Moore can, Schoonmaker could be an absolute monster for the Wolverines in the future.
This position is loaded. So loaded it’s almost unfair. And just imagine if Gentry stays for the 2019 season. There will be talent galore for this unit for a long time. No need to worry about depth here.