In honor of National Tight End day, I’ve decided to shed light on an underrated aspect of UNC’s top 10 offense: tight end play.
Last season, UNC’s tight ends totaled 51 receptions for 567 yards and 9 touchdowns through 13 games.
Already through 7 games, they’ve combined for 40 receptions for 624 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Wow, what a transformation, am I right?
Now you might ask what prompted this increased use, or even why they were not utilized in this way before?
Well, first of all, there is a significant height difference between former UNC QB Sam Howell (6’1) and current QB Drake Maye (6’4), so the use might be a byproduct of Maye being able to see his tight ends while they are open, and therefore he targets them more.
Additionally, they were not a very large part of the receiving game plan in 2021, as any time the ball was in the air, 90% of the time it was going to Josh Downs, who was responsible for 101 of 237 total receptions from UNC receivers in 2021.
Partly due to inconsistent offense, UNC fell to 6-7 after being ranked #10 at the beginning of the season.
This year’s offense seems much more fluid, a priority of QB Drake Maye’s being to spread the ball around as much as he can. Maye has the ability to do that, with 8 receivers he can trust to make a play, 3 of them being tight ends:
16 receptions for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns
A popular red zone target, Senior Kamari Morales has the size, speed, and agility to be a threat to defenses. At 6’2 and 245, he is very difficult to bring down, and also cannot be chased down easily with his speed and long strides. Morales is very reminiscent of former UNC tight end Eric Ebron, and in fact just broke the record for touchdowns scored by a tight end in UNC history, with 10.
18 receptions for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns
What makes Nesbit such a dangerous weapon, is the fact that he is a hybrid of both a wide receiver and a tight end. He’s the best of both worlds, if I’m going to be honest. Being 6’5 and 230 lbs with his speed and elusiveness makes it very difficult for others to guard him in single coverage. He can not only get and stay open, but also has great blocking ability to gain an instrumental role in the rushing game. Only being a sophomore, he has a bright future ahead of him after a productive season thus far. Oh, and also, he was leading UNC in total yards receiving at one point in the season.
6 receptions for 143 yards
After scoring his first career touchdown in 2021 on his first career catch, Copenhaver finds himself with a much bigger role in the offense this season. He has contributed many long catches, such as his 39-yard grab against Virginia Tech, that has instilled confidence in the passing offense and allowed it to function well the rest of the game. He can both provide a valuable receiving option for his QB, and help him have time to find other receivers, great qualities that help an offense keep making plays.
It’s safe to say UNC’s offense would not be as successful as it is without the incredible tight end play. They can take the role of blockers, or leading the team in receptions and yards. This trio, arguably one of the best TE groups in the country, is rewriting the role of the tight end in UNC’s offense, with the help of their coach, John Lilly. If you get anything out of reading this article, I hope that it is to never sleep on tight ends.
Enjoy the rest of your Tight Ends Day 🙂