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Chigoziem Okonkwo is set to lead Maryland football’s tight end room

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Our football season preview series moves on to the tight end position.

Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Our summer profile series is back and we’re previewing Maryland football one position group at a time.

We’ve officially gone through all of the wide receivers on the roster, with Wes most recently examining some of the freshmen at the position, and now it’s time to take a look at the team’s tight ends.

Chigoziem Okonkwo

Height: 6’2
Weight: 244
Year: Junior
Hometown: Powder Springs, Ga.
High school: Hillgrove

2019 stats: 12 games; 19 rec, 201 yards, 2 TDs, 10.6 avg/c

Malik Jackson

Height: 6’3
Weight: 237
Year: Redshirt freshman
Hometown: Fort Meade, Md.
High school: Meade

2019 stats: Appeared in one game vs Nebraska

Expect a big season from Chigoziem Okonkwo

There’s no denying that Okonkwo is the top guy at the position for the Terps, and he’s on pace for a big season.

The 6’2, 244 pound, tight end has appeared in all 12 games through both of his years in College Park. He started three games last season, but had the second-most receptions (19) on the entire team and ranked third with 201 yards. Okonkwo also added two touchdowns, which tied for third among all receivers and tight ends.

With Mabry moving on to the NFL and only one other tight end on scholarship, Okonkwo will undoubtedly play a bigger role in his junior season. He has the size and strength to bully his way past defenders, as well as the speed to make explosive plays. And he worked a lot on his blocking ability last season, which adds much needed extra padding for the offense.

How will head coach Mike Locksley utilize his tight ends?

As the media prepared for Locksley’s first season last spring and summer, one of the things Testudo Times focused on was the emergence of the tight end group. While the program has produced NFL talent at the position such as Vernon Davis, tight ends were largely absent in Maryland’s offense in the years leading up to Locksley’s hire.

The team didn’t have a tight end with over 200 receiving yards in one season since 2013. In 2018, tight ends combined for just 82 receiving yards — amounting to 4.8 percent of the team’s total receiving output.

That certainly changed last season though. Okonkwo broke the 200-yard mark and Mabry was close behind with 155 yards. Under Locksley’s leadership, the Terps’ offense had its highest usage of tight ends since 2006, accounting for 29.4 percent of the team’s touchdowns, 17.2 percent of the team’s total receiving yards and 19.4 percent of the total receptions

Percentage of total receiving yards for tight ends

Year Percentage of receiving yards
Year Percentage of receiving yards
2019 17.2
2018 4.8
2017 0
2016 1.7
2015 7.4
2014 1
2013 6.3
2012 11.5
2011 16
2010 14.1
2009 9.3
2008 15.6
2007 10.6
2006 22.2
2005 34.7
2004 26.2

Though the vast depth the wide receiver position will make receptions harder to come by, Locksley made tight ends much more prominent in 2019 and is known for incorporating the position into his offenses. That should continue this season.

Having two skilled players certainly played a part in the large role tight ends played last season, but Okonkwo has the talent to carry that load and keep the position relevant.

There are additional players at the position

While only Okonkwo and Jackson are the only tight ends on scholarship, there are also two walk-ons in senior Zack Roski and freshman Conor Fagan.

Both present a unique size compared to Maryland’s other two tight ends, with Roski standing at 6’8 and Fagan at 6’7. Though the Terps haven’t often played a tight end of that height in recent years, it’s common in the NFL. Kyle Rudolph, Darren Waller and Jason Witten are all 6’6, while Jimmy Graham is 6’7.

Both have little experience as Roski hasn’t seen the field since joining the team as a sophomore in 2018 and Fagan is a freshman, so these guys shouldn’t be seeing a whole lot of snaps.

It is important to note, however, that Locksley utilized three tight ends last season. Tyler Mabry and Okonkwo were the two main staples, but Noah Barnes appeared in all 12 games.

Editor’s note: Shortly after this article was published, Okonkwo was named to the John Mackey Award list. The honor is given to the best tight end in the country.

Due to a reporting error, the article originally said the 2019 usage of tight ends was the highest since 2004. It was 2006 and this has been corrected. All stats used are from official records from the football team.