STARTER: GEORGE KITTLE
BACK-UP: JAMEER OUTSEY
OTHERS: JON WISNIESKI, NATE VEJVODA
INCOMING: NOAH FANT, T.J. HOCKENSON, SHAUN BEYER
2015 GRADE: B+
ANALYSIS: The grade may have been an A+ had they had Jake Duzey at full health. He was a game changer for Iowa but could never reach 100 percent after tearing the patellar tendon. Unfortunately for Duzey, he tore the same patellar tendon in Pasadena during Rose Bowl practice.
There wasn't elite production from this position in 2015 but there was quality production, specifically from Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle. There wasn't a ton of catches from either one but combined, they did more than enough. Kittle didn't have a lot of receptions but he had a knack for finding the end zone. Krieger Coble didn't have a ton of receptions either but he was valuable on third down and came up with big catches in big moments. His big hands made him an easy target for C.J. Beathard.
They blocked extremely well, too. They were one of the cogs in the machine for the elite running game that Iowa possessed for most of the year. Like I said, with Jake Duzey at full health this is an elite unit. But they were pretty good without him.
OUTLOOK: What is there to replace? Krieger Coble and Duzey. Duzey didn't do much a year ago but you lose his senior leadership. Krieger Coble's senior leadership also disappears and his quality production in critical moments and on third down. That leaves one solid contributor returning in George Kittle.
Kittle's return can not be understated. He finds the end zone regularly and was an elite blocker this past season. He's a bit more slender than both Duzey and Krieger Coble but he's bit a lot more solid than he appears. He's also quicker than Krieger Coble. Krieger Coble is the bigger target but I like Kittle's athleticism a hair more. I think he has a huge season in 2016.
Who fills in behind him? That's the big mystery. I have to think they don't expect to get too much out of Wisnieski or else he wouldn't have been behind Jameer Outsey, who switched from linebacker. I think Outsey will have the first shot and he'll definitely get the reps during spring football.
They usually like to play at least three tight ends. The third could be an incoming freshman, actually. All three signees are elite in the passing game as receiving weapons. Fant and Hockenson probably have the bodies to compete right now unlike Beyer. They'll want someone big enough to be able to block at a pretty good level. Beyer may need a redshirt year to do that.
I think Hockenson or Fant play right away and it'll be a battle during Fall camp to see which one it is. It probably comes down to which one can adjust and transition into a pretty good blocker the soonest. Both have what it takes to run the routes and be dangerous in the passing game. Fant's athleticism is better but Hockenson is more of a natural in the receiving game. With blocking being the biggest roadblock, I'd lean towards Fant being the one that gets the reps in the Fall.
If you ask me now, I think the three tight ends that get the bulk of the playing time are Kittle, Outsey, and Fant. Outsey probably gets most of the secondary reps but watch for Fant battling him for that spot throughout the 2016 year.
"They're starting to live up to the expectation they set for themselves. It's an ambitious group. I know their best football is ahead of them." - Tight ends coach LeVar Woods
"I think George (Kittle) has played consistent up to this point. I look for the same in the future. He has a limitless ceiling. He has unbelievable potential as both a player and person." - Tight ends coach LeVar Woods
"There's young guys in the room that nobody has even heard of, yet. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the Spring. There's guys that could in as true freshmen that may be in the mix." - Tight ends coach LeVar Woods
"(Jameer Outsey) has a big offseason ahead of him, academically and on the field. He does things very naturally." - Tight ends coach LeVar Woods