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Does Missouri Have a Shot at the #TightEndPassGame Throne?

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The Tigers have Albert Okwuegbunam, Kendall Blanton and others. Is that the best group in the nation?

Missouri v Arkansas
Hook it directly into my veins.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

So, this post is going to be very on brand for me.

Even with the unfortunate Messiah Swinson injury news, this is a beautiful time for Missouri observers who just happen to also be big fans of tight ends being used as integral parts of the pass game.

You know, Missouri observers like me.

The Tigers return Albert Okwuegbunam, the first-team preseason All-SEC selection who caught a touchdown every 3.82 targets last year. They’ve also got Kendall Blanton, he of the 23 yards a catch and 8.63 yards a target.

And they’ve also got 6-4/235 Brendan Scales and 6-6/245 Logan Christopherson in reserve. Joe Jon Finley must be a very happy man.

In all last year, Missouri tight ends caught 40 passes on 70 targets for 687 yards, with 15 touchdowns against two interceptions and a 204.58 rating when they were thrown to.

There are not enough hashtags in the world to convey how good that is. But what will they do for an encore?

And can they be the best in the country this year?

To try and answer that question, let’s go back to last year for a moment. I looked at all 64 Power-5 teams (plus Notre Dame) to see what proportion of each team’s catches, yards and touchdowns the tight ends took up.

Across those 65 teams, tight ends made up 12.2 percent of the catches, 11.9 percent of the yards and 16.1 percent of touchdowns.

Missouri’s tight ends clocked in at 16.2, 17.1 and 34.1 percent, which are 33, 44 and 112 percent better than the Power-5 averages and 19, 36 and 109 percent above the SEC averages (13.6, 12.6 and 16.3).

The Big Ten, as a conference, is the class of #TightEndPassGame, with 16.3 percent of the teams’ catches, 16.5 percent of the yards and 24.0 percent of the touchdowns.

(A short note here: I only counted tight end stats for players that were listed as tight ends on the indispensable CFBStats.com. So some slipped through the cracks. Northwestern, for instance, uses a “superback” H-back/tight end hybrid extensively in its pass game, but he was listed as a running back on the site...so I could not count him. I HAVE STANDARDS!!!)

Across the Power 5, Missouri’s tight ends ranked 24th among teams in tight end catch percentage, 20th in yard percentage and eighth in touchdown percentage.

Here were the teams ahead of them:

% Catches
Rutgers – 31.9
Wisconsin – 30.4
Michigan – 29.2
Iowa – 28.1
Stanford – 27.9
Arkansas – 26.0
Notre Dame – 24.7
Oklahoma – 23.3
Boston College – 23.2
UCLA – 21.9
Washington – 21.7
Miami – 21.6
Penn State – 21.6
South Carolina – 21.6
Mississippi St. – 20.4
Arizona – 19.7
Oregon St. – 18.7
North Carolina – 17.6
Wake Forest – 17.5
Louisville – 17.3
Tennessee – 16.7
Duke – 16.5
Minnesota – 16.4
24. Missouri – 16.2

% Yards
Iowa – 34.0
Michigan – 31.3
Rutgers – 29.7
Stanford – 28.1
Boston College – 27.3
Wisconsin – 25.4
Washington – 25.0
South Carolina – 23.0
Mississippi St. – 22.2
Oklahoma – 22.1
Oregon St. – 21.9
Purdue – 21.0
Illinois – 20.8
Notre Dame – 20.5
UCLA – 19.4
Arkansas – 18.9
Arizona – 17.7
Miami – 17.6
Oregon – 17.4
20. Missouri – 17.1

% TD
Michigan – 55.6
Stanford – 52.2
Iowa – 51.9
Kentucky – 50.0
Duke – 43.8
Illinois – 37.5
Penn State – 34.4
8. Missouri – 34.1

The only three teams ahead of Missouri in all three categories were: Iowa, Michigan and Stanford

Here’s how those three stack up with the Tigers, as far as who all is coming back:

Iowa (56 catches, 840 yards, 14 TD in 2017)
Sophomore Noah Fant and freshman T.J. Hockenson did most of the heavy lifting, combining for all but two of those catches for 26 yards. Both are back, as is starting quarterback Nate Stanley. So the Hawkeyes should be strong with the #TightEndPassGame yet again.

Michigan (54 catches, 697 yards, 5 TD)
Another tandem effort, with junior Zach Gentry and sophomore Sean McKeon combining for 604 yards and four touchdowns on 48 catches. And they have former Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson, who has been known to throw a pass or two. So Gentry and McKeon should get plenty of opportunities again.

Stanford (58 catches, 733 yards, 12 TD)
Another tandem effort, with sophomore Kaden Smith and senior Dalton Schultz combining for 45 catches, 626 yards and eight scores. Schultz has graduated, but 6-7/240-pound Kolby Parkinson had 10 catches for 97 yards as a freshman last year and could easily step into that role. Starting quarterback K.J. Costello is also back.

Missouri (40 catches, 687 yards, 15 TD)
Jason Reese is gone, but we’ve already discussed who’s coming back. Oh, and Heisman contender Drew Lock, who loves him some tight end seam route off a run-pass read...if, you know, Missouri’s still going to do that under Derek Dooley.

Here’s the work, if you wanted to take a look: