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Consulting the Chart: 2018 UW Tight Ends Review

It looks like 2019 will be a good year with Cade Otton and Hunter Bryant coming back

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Ohio State vs Washington Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2018 UW Tight Ends Receiving Stats

Player Receptions Targets 1st Downs Yards TDs Yds per Target Avg Targeted Air Yds Avg Yds After Catch Forced Missed Tackle % Drop %
Player Receptions Targets 1st Downs Yards TDs Yds per Target Avg Targeted Air Yds Avg Yds After Catch Forced Missed Tackle % Drop %
Drew Sample 25 36 16 252 3 7.00 7.75 3.12 4.00% 2.78%
Cade Otton 13 18 11 174 3 9.67 6.33 8.69 15.38% 5.56%
Hunter Bryant 11 15 8 238 1 15.87 15.42 7.63 9.09% 6.67%
Jacob Kizer 1 2 0 8 0 4.00 1.00 7 0.00% 0%

Drew Sample

I think Sample might have been the most underrated player on the Husky offense this season. He led all skill position players in snaps by a sizable margin with Aaron Fuller 2nd at almost 200 snaps behind Sample. His flexibility allowed Washington to have an extra blocker whenever they needed while having a legitimate intermediate receiving threat when that extra blocker wasn’t necessary.

It was clear that Sample was the high floor/low ceiling option of the Husky tight ends. As a redshirt senior he had a full 5 years in Coach Pete’s system and knew how to perform every role asked of a tight end in the offense. He rarely showed any ability to do much with the ball in his hands as he had only one catch all season with more than 10 yards after the catch and only broke one tackle. But he also had fairly sure hands as he caught 86% of potentially catch-able targets and I only credited him with one drop all season.

Given his role in the offense it’s somewhat difficult to assess Sample’s overall performance. Availability is the most important ability and Sample had the knowledge and stamina to be on the field for every snap in which he was needed. That definitely counts for something. But it’s clear from comparing Sample’s numbers with the other tight ends on the roster that there is room for improvement. Nonetheless, Sample had a solid career as a local 3-star recruit who will get a chance at the NFL next season.

Cade Otton

Another local 3-star recruit (although a tier above Sample in recruiting rankings), Otton took advantage of Hunter Bryant’s injury this season to establish himself as the #2 tight end on the roster. Both Otton and Sample are listed at essentially 6’5 and 250 pounds so in an ideal world they would play the same role in the offense as the blocking TE rather than the receiving threat.

But with Bryant’s absence Otton was used more than might’ve been expected for a redshirt freshman and did pretty darn well with his opportunities. Cade actually had more yards after the catch on average than Hunter Bryant. That included 5 gains of at least 14 YAC in the final 5 games. A contributing factor was that Otton broke a pair of tackles during that stretch which gave him the highest “forced missed tackle %” of any pass catcher on the team except for Aaron Fuller. Having that kind of athleticism out of your freshman blocking TE is pretty impressive.

I didn’t differentiate in my charting but there were also an increasing number of snaps as the year went on where Otton was essentially used as a fullback in the offense. Without Sample in there as a legitimate blocking tight end I don’t think we’ll see as much of Otton in that formation but it’s a nice wrinkle to have. Moving forward it certainly seems that Otton will pretty cleanly take over for Drew Sample and I don’t expect the Huskies to experience much of a drop off despite the senior’s experience in the offense.

Hunter Bryant

As I’ve alluded to above, Hunter Bryant was expected to be one of the featured players in this offense before he re-injured his knee in the offseason and ended up missing the first 9 games of the season. He started off slow as he was reintroduced to action but rounded into form over the last 3 games. In those contests he averaged 21.8 yards per catch including a 59-yard catch and run against Washington State in the Apple Cup to convert a 3rd and 16 on the first drive of the 2nd half. It was the longest passing play of the season. To a tight end. In the snow. Oh yeah, and then he caught a 22-yard TD on the next play.

Given his potential explosiveness I think most fans were disappointed that Bryant didn’t see more targets but he definitely did ok for himself. Bryant was thrown the ball on 22% of the passing play snaps for which he was on the field this season. Aaron Fuller led the team at 26.2% and Andre Baccellia was 3rd at 21%. While he was on the field Bryant was functionally the number 2 receiver. The problem was just that he wasn’t on the field all that often.

During those final 3 games, Bryant played 91 snaps. Meanwhile, Sample played 198 snaps and Otton played 122 snaps. It was fairly clear that Bryant was the 3rd tight end in the rotation. It’s reasonable to assume that part of that was not wanting to risk re-injury and part of it was trying to keep continuity with Sample/Otton who had held down the fort the majority of the year.

There was no denying that Bryant added a whole new dimension to the passing game. Sample and Otton both saw their average target between 6 and 8 yards downfield usually with them finding soft spots in a zone in the middle of the field. Bryant was officially a downfield weapon targeted on average 15 yards down field. That was the furthest downfield of any UW receiver including Ty Jones and Quentin Pounds. He was a legitimate intermediate and deep threat from the tight end position which gave the coaching staff enormous flexibility. Assuming that Bryant has an entirely healthy offseason (knock on wood) we can expect him to make another leap next year and challenge for the role of best UW pass catcher in 2019.

Jacob Kizer

There’s not a whole lot to say about Kizer given that he only had 2 targets and had fewer than 10 total receiving yards on the season. The Huskies ran the ball almost 75% of the time that he was in the game so there wasn’t much of a chance to find out whether he had serious pass catching chops or not.

2018 UW Tight End Success Rate Stats

Player Total Snaps Total Success Rate Pass Play Snaps Pass Play Success Rate Run Play Snaps Run Play Success Rate
Player Total Snaps Total Success Rate Pass Play Snaps Pass Play Success Rate Run Play Snaps Run Play Success Rate
Drew Sample 862 47.10% 405 45.93% 457 48.14%
Cade Otton 534 48.12% 160 44.38% 345 49.86%
Hunter Bryant 135 47.62% 66 48.48% 60 46.67%
Jacob Kizer 46 55.56% 12 66.67% 33 51.52%
Justiss Warren 23 52.17% 5 40.00% 18 55.56%
Michael Neal 2 50.00% 0 N/A 2 50.00%

It’s interesting that the three primary tight ends have almost identical success rate stats regardless of the run or pass. The big difference is if you only look at when they’re targeted on pass plays rather than merely when they’re on the field. The Huskies had a successful play on 2/3rds of targets to both Otton and Bryant while only on 53% of passes to Drew Sample. The highest mark among the three primary WRs was 54% so a throw to either Otton or Bryant was much more likely to result in success than to any of the wide receivers. That doesn’t automatically mean that every pass should go to a TE because with more targets it’s likely the efficiency would drop. But it’s at least reasonable to say that Otton should have been involved more than he was in the passing game before Bryant returned.

There isn’t a tremendous difference in the run blocking but, I think as most fans would expect, Hunter Bryant had the lowest mark and was the only tight end to play more pass snaps than run snaps. Justiss Warren had the best run play success rate but he almost always entered the game on obvious running downs as part of the heavy package so a “successful play” normally meant only needing to gain 1 or 2 yards. And the offense failed to pick up even a yard on half of the unsuccessful plays for which he was on the field. Interestingly enough, the Huskies gained 15 yards per carry putting in Warren at fullback with a 6th offensive lineman and no other tight ends (albeit on 5 attempts) which had to have been one of the more effective formations they used all season.

Kizer had the highest success rate on passing downs but that was only on 12 total snaps and 2 of them were with Haener at QB during the North Dakota game. I don’t think we can read into that very much.

The future looks bright for the tight end position at Washington. Drew Sample will be missed but there is still a lot of talent left in the room. Hunter Bryant will be an early entrant candidate for the NFL Draft next season and at the very least he seems like a future 1st-3rd round pick whether or not he plays his full 4 years. Every indication is that Cade Otton will follow in the footprints of Dissly and Sample and while he might not put up eye popping receiving numbers he’ll be a quality blocker and end up on an NFL roster eventually. Jacob Kizer is the likeliest candidate to serve as the #3 TE next season but barring injury I can’t see him moving up any higher on the depth chart. Devin Culp redshirted this year and while nothing was officially announced, he was not on the sideline for several games. If he is healthy and in good standing with the team next season then he appears to be the likely heir apparent for Hunter Bryant whenever he ends up departing. The TE position will require a new infusion of talent in the 2020 recruiting class but if everyone stays on the field there’s no reason to think that this group of tight ends won’t be great in 2019.

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