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Florida State football preview: Tight Ends

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Will 2017 provide a step forward in receiving production for FSU’s tight ends?

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Florida State v Houston
FSU tight end Ryan Izzo
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Heading into the 2017 season, the Florida State football team’s tight end depth is in a desirable spot.

After all, the Seminoles lose just one tight end off last year’s team, Jeremy Kerr, who leaves FSU with one of the best career stat lines in program history (1 catch, 1 yard, 1 TD vs. Florida in 2015). Losing just one player at the position, the ’Noles return two consistent contributors from last year’s team. Behind them, there are three quality options off the bench who are still early in their collegiate careers.

The Starters

The first name mentioned must be Ryan Izzo. The redshirt junior is entering his third year as a starter for the Seminoles and continues to grow leaps and bounds in his game. He has developed into an impressive blocking tight end and has displayed strong receiving talent when called upon as a pass catcher while emerging as the veteran leader of the position group.

While Izzo’s receiving skills have been noticed, they have gone somewhat underutilized in his first two years as a starter. Across the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Izzo had a combined 437 receiving yards on 33 catches with three touchdowns. However, with a trio of veteran wide receivers gone after the 2016 season, Izzo may be called upon to take a bigger role in the passing game.

Next in line behind Izzo is junior Mavin Saunders. Saunders, who stands out physically at 6’5, 257 pounds, has taken some time to adapt to football after not beginning to play the game until he was in high school. Still, he finally pieced it together last season and the results were undeniable. In 12 games, Saunders caught 10 passes for 182 yards, often working alongside Izzo in two-tight-end sets.

What makes Saunders even more special is that his sizable frame is paired with athleticism far beyond what is expected. Saunders may stand above most players on the field to begin with, but he has also shown an ability to make extremely athletic catches, realizing the potential Jimbo Fisher saw when offering the inexperienced prospect in high school. As a blocker, Saunders has room for further improvement, but has grown significantly over the last 12 months, learning how to use his bulky frame to his advantage.

The Depth

The most tenured member of FSU’s tight end reserves is sophomore Naseir Upshur. Upshur, a four-star recruit out of Philadelphia, played on special teams exclusively as a freshman in 2016. He has definite upside in his game, but it’s quite possible that he has already been passed by a younger player.

The freshman more likely to have jumped Upshur in the depth chart is Tre’ McKitty. McKitty was a late addition to FSU’s 2017 recruiting class, committing to FSU less than a month before he enrolled in Tallahassee. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from showing out in practice early on, pushing for more reps behind his 6’4 frame, elite speed, blocking ability and athleticism. McKitty has left a positive impression early on at FSU. He may not get much playing time on offense this year, but expect him to be a special teams contributor and to push for playing time at tight end in the near future.

The other tight end in FSU’s 2017 recruiting class was Alexander Marshall, who was unable to early enroll and arrived at FSU over the summer. Marshall was receiving praise from FSU head coach Jimbo FIsher before suffering a finger injury which required surgery, knocking him out for the first few weeks of the regular season. Marshall was already a bit more raw than McKitty and his injury all but ensures that he will see limited playing time this year except for in a special teams role. Still, with Marshall’s impressive 6’7 stature and his ball skills, it’s easy to see that he along with either McKitty or Upshur have a good chance to be FSU’s next Izzo/Saunders duo.

There’s a lot to like about this year’s tight end group. It provides a healthy mix of returning experience and young potential who could turn into tomorrow’s stars. There may not be significant competition for playing time this year, but there’s still plenty to watch from this group for the future.