If there are two positions on the endangered species list on Big 12 rosters, those would be fullback and tight end.
Those old school spots have been largely phased out. The Big 12’s reputation as an offense first, last and always conference has put the skill position emphasis on quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs. The spread of the spread, no-huddle, up-tempo attacks has put an emphasis on speed and finesse over power.
Fullbacks are basically blocking backs who take the field on short yardage plays. Tight ends are mostly glorified offensive tackles who feel like it’s their birthday if the run a pass pattern… and like they’ve won the lottery if they’re targeted for a pass.
That said, though, here are five Big 12 tight ends who are worth noticing as we turn our attention to the 2017 season.
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Andrews, a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder, goes into his third season as a regular. He has started 12 of 26 games with the Sooners and in his first two seasons has been highly productive – 14 of his 50 career receptions have produced touchdowns.
Andrews’ success has coincided with Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield’s career in Norman. Mayfield has had top receivers like Sterling Shepard and Dede Westbrook the last two seasons, but his security blanket has been Andrews.
He has the mobility to split out and the size to line up close to an offensive tackle and either block for run plays or in pass protection.
New Texas coach Tom Herman, who while at Ohio State recruited Andrews, is a big fan.
“I remember recruiting Mark Andrews,” Herman said. “I thought he was the best tight end in the country coming out of high school. He’s 6-foot-5 or 6-6 with unbelievable athleticism.”
Andrew Beck, Texas
Speaking of the Longhorns and Herman … the new UT coach says that in his offense, tight end is more complicated than quarterback and just as crucial. Exactly how Herman develops that position in 2017 will be worth watching. He wants a versatile receiver who can line up at tight end or H-back and play a major role in his “smash-mouth spread” attack.
Senior Andrew Beck might get the first crack at winning the starting job. He has made 15 starts with 12 receptions and two touchdowns – both coming last season. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder was rarely targeted in the passing game in 2016, totaling just four receptions.
However, Beck might not be available for spring practice due to an injury. That could mean that freshmen Cade Brewer and Reese Leitao could wind up in the mix at tight end.
Jordan Feuerbacher, Baylor
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior provides extra beef on Baylor’s offensive line. What will be interesting is how the Bears’ offense changes in 2017 with new coach Matt Rhule.
Last year at Temple, the tight end was rarely used in the passing game. That was also the case at Baylor, which employed more of a spread, up-tempo than did Temple.
Feuerbacher finished with seven catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns last season. However, the Bears have to replace their two most productive receivers. That, plus a new offensive style, might mean more targets for Feuerbacher.
Cole Hunt, TCU
Hunt is another tight end disguised as an offensive tackle. At 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, he’s capable of making things happen as a blocker while also providing a big target as a receiver.
Last season, Hunt had just five receptions with one producing a touchdown. With Sonny Cumbie taking over as TCU’s main play caller in 2017, it will be interesting to see if he involves the tight end in more pass plays.
Hunt, whose older brother Joey was a two-time all-Big 12 selection as a center with the Frogs, transferred to TCU from Rice, where he started five games as a freshman.
Dayton Valentine, Kansas State
Valentine goes into his junior season hoping he gets more chances in the K-State passing game. The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder had just two catches for eight yards last season. Valentine’s strength is more suited to blocking in the running game, which was a highly successful part of the offense in 2016.
Kansas State has the most conservative, old-school offense in the Big 12 in that it does employ a fullback in the majority of its formations. When there’s an opportunity for a tight end type of seam route, coach Bill Snyder’s schemes usually call for the fullback to come out of the backfield for those routes.