Texas Longhorns Football: Evaluating Tight Ends

Fourth in a position-by-position series on the 2022 Texas Longhorns after spring training.

who is back: Juan Davis, second year; Gunnar Helm, sophomore; Brayden Liebrock, junior; Ja’Tavion Sanders, second year.

Who has left: Cade Brewer, Jared Wiley.

Signatories 2022: Jahleel Billingsley (Alabama transfer).

What to expect: Ever since coach Steve Sarkisian landed in Austin with a bright national championship glow last January, he’s been adamant about the prevailing position in his offense. (King, of course, is the one handling the snaps.)

“I’ve said it many times, quarterback is the most important position in the sport, but the tight end of our offense is probably the second most important position because of everything we ask them to do. do,” Sarkisian said during spring training. . “Movement formations, from running game to passing game, from running, from protecting the pass. There’s a lot we put on these guys’ plates.

Given the paramount importance of the position, Sarkisian is probably right to be thrilled with Texas’ current crop of tight ends.

The Longhorns lost reliable veteran and locker room leader Cade Brewer to the NFL and senior Jared Wiley to TCU. But they brought back a diverse trio of sophomores — Juan Davis, Gunnar Helm and Ja’Tavion Sanders — and signed Alabama senior Jahleel Billingsley, who will reunite with former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Sarkisian.

It’s a solid quartet. And because of their varied skill sets, Sarkisian and tight ends coach Jeff Banks will be able to mix and match on one and two tight end sets.

Billingsley is a legitimate NFL prospect, the No. 4 tight prospect on Pro Football Focus‘ 2023 draft board. He’s also the only Texas tight end with more than two career receptions — Davis has one career catch and fourth-year junior Brayden Liebrock caught two assists in 2020 before missing the entire 2021 campaign due to surgery At the shoulder.

More of a nervous pass-catcher than a deadly blocker, the 6-foot-4, 216-pound Billingsley had 17 catches for 256 yards and three scores last season.

Sanders is dripping with talent. Once a two-way phenomenon at Denton Ryan, he spent last season training behind the guys who had specialized in the position for years. This will not be the case in 2022.

Sarkisian — really, anyone who saw the 6-foot-4, 253-pound ox gallop around the field — was thrilled with Sanders’ growth during winter conditioning and spring ball. He has soft, sucking hands and a powerful frame, and a potentially huge role awaits Sanders now that he understands the finer details of the position.

“JT is a great example,” Sarkisian said. “I think he had a very good spring for us. He has really evolved as a player. I think he’s a much more confident and comfortable blocker. And yes, he is definitely a weapon in the passing game.

Like Sanders, Helm was mostly relegated to the placement unit as a true freshman. He was also among the Longhorns’ biggest offseason lifters, another sophomore who earned accolades while moving into a bigger role.

Helm doesn’t have the same explosiveness as Sanders or Billingsley, but the second 6-5 is a towering red zone target and physical presence. He’s starting to hold blocks better and has enough good hands and feet to be considered in the short-to-medium passing game this season.

“I think Coach Banks did a very good job,” Sarkisian said. “None of them were comfortable when they got here blocking defensive ends and blocking in the ‘C’ gap area and shooting a counter and doing all those things, but they worked their profession.”

Three Texas tight ends caught a pass last season: Brewer, Wiley and… Davis.

The converted quarterback caught a scoreless pass against Arkansas. He also rushed once for three against Baylor.

Davis is still a bit green at the position even after more than a year with the program, which has him falling behind Sanders and Helm on the depth chart. Still, Davis’ athleticism could create all sorts of lag nightmares for opposing defenses if he’s able to earn a few snaps with a good summer performance.

Liebrock remains the band’s question mark after his second shoulder surgery. The skill is there — he had 65 receptions, 784 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns as a high school All-American and was widely hailed as a top-five during the 2019 recruiting cycle. But after missing out so much time and been surrounded by so much talent, Liebrock remains the odd man in a crowded room.

Depth Chart

Jahleel Billingsley
Ja’Tavion Sanders
Gunnar Helm
John Davis
Brayden Liebrock

Previous

May 3: Quarterbacks
May 4: Running backs
May 5: Wide Receivers

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