Maryland football hasn’t had a ton of production from the tight end position in recent years, to put it lightly. Last season, Terps tight ends hauled in 10 passes for 82 yards, and in 2017, they didn’t catch a single pass. With the emergence of Chigoziem Okonkwo and the addition of Tyler Mabry, as well as the implementation of Mike Locksley’s offensive scheme, the position is expected to be more of a focal point this season offensively.
On defense, there will be changes as well. The two positions tasked with covering tight ends are linebacker and safety. The Terrapins’ stalwarts there, Tre Watson and Darnell Savage Jr., respectively, are on to greener pastures in the NFL. Now, it’ll take new leaders to lead the charge against tight ends and opposing playmakers as a whole.
With that being said, here are the opposing tight ends to watch out for this season.
Pat Freiermuth, Penn State (Sept. 27)
2018 stats: 26 catches, 368 yards, eight touchdowns
Freiermuth was just a freshman last season, but that didn’t stop him from making a huge impact. Trace McSorley led the offense under center, handing the ball off to Miles Sanders and throwing it to KJ Hamler. But Freiermuth proved to be more than just a safety blanket, averaging 14.2 yards per catch and attacking the seams often.
Most importantly, Freiermuth was a lethal red-zone target. With a unique blend of size (6’5, 262 pounds) and speed, he showed the ability to both box out defenders and run open behind them. His performance earned him comparisons to Rob Gronkowski; while that’s a monumental billing to live up to, they have similar frames and playing styles. Against Maryland last year, he had two catches for 27 yards and found the end zone.
Brycen Hopkins, Purdue (Oct. 12)
2018 stats: 34 catches, 583 yards, two touchdowns
Hopkins, unlike Freiermuth, has a ton of experience in the Big Ten. Now a redshirt senior, he has had three seasons of high productivity as a member of the Boilermakers. In 2016 and 2017, he combined for 35 receptions and 532 yards with seven scores. While his touchdown total was the lowest it’s been thus far, his workload last year was off the charts.
At 6’5 and weighing 245 pounds, Hopkins has above-average size but is a bit leaner than his counterparts. That allows him to set himself apart with speed, running a 4.63 40-yard dash time. The Terps haven’t faced Hopkins since 2016, when the defense held him in check to the tune of one catch for 14 yards in a 50-7 blowout.
Jack Stoll, Nebraska (Nov. 23)
2018 stats: 21 catches, 245 yards, three touchdowns
Stoll, like Hopkins, took a redshirt season to begin his collegiate career, but now in his fourth season with the program, he’s established himself as someone to be reckoned with in the Big Ten West. As a redshirt freshman, he managed just eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in a reserve role.
But with the introduction of Scott Frost’s explosive offense last season, Stoll stood out in a big way. He was placed on the 2018 John Mackey Award preseason watch list, and he followed that up with an 11.7 yards-per-catch average and a trio of touchdowns, becoming one of few bright spots in Lincoln. With a second season in the system and with the emergence of Adrian Martinez expected to continue, Stoll could be even better as a redshirt junior.
Urban Meyer may be out at Ohio State, but new head coach Ryan Day’s offensive system will be a familiar one. He’s been an offensive coordinator in Columbus since 2017, and Luke Farrell shined as a tight end in 2018. He tallied 20 catches for 205 yards and a touchdown last season, including four catches for 44 yards against the Terps.
When the Indiana Hoosiers come to town on October 19, Maryland will have to focus on a pair of Hendershots. Jake is a redshirt senior who transferred in from Illinois State, but it was Peyton who garnered attention last season. The then-redshirt freshman had 15 catches for 163 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he could be an even bigger factor this season.
Michigan State has made a habit of utilizing tight ends — former Spartans Garrett Celek, Dion Sims and Kellen Davis have all made an impact in the NFL. Matt Sokol is the latest graduate to land in the pros, signing on with the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent. His absence will leave a larger role for Matt Dotson, who caught 14 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown a season ago.