When the 2018 season came to an end, Michigan tight end Zach Gentry had a decision to make — stay in college for one more year or head to the NFL. Gentry probably made the right call and submitted his name into the NFL Draft, being picked by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round.
That decision left a starting role that needs to be filled. There are two real candidates this season, but tons of potential talent waiting their turn.
Let’s break down my depth chart prediction.
Starter — Sean McKeon, SR
No surprise here — McKeon is going to be the starter for Michigan in 2019.
After a breakout sophomore season in 2017, McKeon mustered just 14 catches, 122 yards and one touchdown last year. But he has been impressing coaches and teammates in camp this offseason.
“Sean McKeon had one of the best springs I’ve ever seen of a tight end,” Gattis told reporters during a media availability two weeks ago. “I was really excited about it. He was probably one of our top two offensive players in the spring. Just consistent in everything that he did.”
McKeon is known for his blocking ability, so taking his game to the next level would mean stretching the field and forcing defenders to hone in on him instead of his talented wide receiver teammates. And that would help Michigan’s offense as a whole immensely.
2nd String — Nick Eubanks, SR
If it doesn’t happen this year, it never will — Michigan HAS to utilize Eubank’s athleticism this year. He is too talented an athlete to let slip through the cracks again. At 6-foot-5 and 256 pounds, the dude just knows how to get open and make catches for big gains.
He only played in four games in 2017 due to injury, but after playing in all 13 games last year, he still only had eight catches for 157 yards and one touchdown. He never had more than two catches in a game 2018, but that will change this year IF Josh Gattis is able to put him in a good position to succeed.
The time is now for Michigan to realize how big a piece of the offense Eubanks could be.
3rd String — Luke Schoonmaker, SO
The first two guys were obvious, but now it gets to the point where the next guy in line could be anyone. But I am going with Schoonmaker just because of the in-game experience he had last year. Sure, it wasn’t anything crazy — playing reserve minutes against Rutgers — but it’s still more than the others had last year. And he was able to remain healthy his true freshman season, and we all know the old saying: “The best ability is availability.”
We haven’t heard specifics about any improvements Schoonmaker has made this offseason, if any at all, but I think he has a shot at making some sort of impact. But I certainly would not be surprised to see the others on this list ahead of him before the season began.
The Others — Erick All, FR; Mustapha Muhammad, RS FR
A true freshman early enrollee, All has received a decent amount of hype. He made a pretty nice catch in the spring game, and tight ends coach Sherrone Moore had good things to say about him in April.
“His mental makeup, man — the kid is extremely tough and he does some stuff for a freshman you don’t really expect,” Moore said. “He doesn’t care who he’s going against ... he wants to win and he’s gonna do everything he can to win. He’s as tough as nails, he’s physical. And he catches everything, he has like suction mitts for hands. He’s gonna be a really good player for us.”
It will be interesting to see how much playing time All gets in 2019, and if his redshirt gets burned. If the hype is real, I’d expect to see All on the field often.
Meanwhile, Muhammad was one of Michigan’s highest-rated players in the 2018 class. He did not play at all last season due to injury, forcing the Wolverines to redshirt him.
He was known as an all-around tight end in high school. He could block, he could catch, he could run crisp routes. Pretty much anything you asked him to do, he did at a high level.
Assuming he is healthy and good to go, I could definitely see Muhammad getting a lot of playing time this year and being the third-stringer.
This is a real unique group. McKeon and Eubanks will be gone after the season, so these younger, more unproven guys will have opportunities to show the coaches they deserve a starting job in 2020. It will be interesting to see who rises to the challenge and how much playing time the reserves get.