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2011 Big Sky position rankings: Tight ends
Finding quality tight ends in the Big Sky Conference on a year-in, year-out basis is about as easy as splitting the atom. For whatever reason, the league (of late) hasn’t really been a hotbed for this important yet underrated position.
NOTE: This is the fourth installment of a nine-part series in which we project the Top 10 players at each position in advance of the 2011 Big Sky Conference football season – summer transfers be damned!
The best TE in the Big Sky Conference is …
Who will be the next Julius Thomas?
But sometimes there are surprises. Take last year, for instance, when out of nowhere rose a star in Julius Thomas – a former basketball player who gave football a try at Portland State.
All Thomas went on to do was become a fourth-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in April, flashing brilliance as an athletic pass-catching/blocking combo.
Will there be a darkhorse like Thomas this year? That remains to be seen. But we hope so.
In the meantime, check out our tight end rankings for 2011:
TOP 10 TIGHT ENDS
1- Greg Hardy, Jr., Montana
Comment: Ready for prime time in spread-out offense.
2 - Brian Jankowski, Jr., Weber State
Comment: Was an All-Big Sky choice as a sophomore.
3 - Gage Loftin, Jr., Portland State
Comment: Earned All-Region 18 honors at Snow College in ‘10.
4 - Doug Steele, Jr., Northern Colorado
Comment: Big target caught 3 TDs last season.
5 - Josh Hill, Jr., Idaho State
Comment: One-time Boise State recruit keeps improving.
6 - Zack Gehring, Soph., Eastern Washington
Comment: Caught passes in 7 of EWU’s last 8 games.
7 - Shane Robison, Sr., Montana State
Comment: Averaged 14.6 yards a catch; should see more passes.
8 -D.J. Maciel, Soph., Sacramento State
Comment: Looks to get more involved in Hornets’ offense.
9 - Kavario Middleton, Sr., Montana
Comment: Will he make more of an impact this season?
10 - Brian Riley, Jr., Northern Arizona
Comment: Made all-conference two years ago; hopes to rebound.
A versatile threat, Greg Hardy can both line up outside the tackle or be split-out wide on passing plays. He had 17 catches for 176 yards a year ago. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder is a big target who can make leaping catches as well as snare balls over the middle. Hardy, a returning all-conference pick, will be a big factor for the Grizzlies as they try to improve their passing game. The headstrong Hardy also seems poised to become a leader among Montana pass-catchers … as well as the team.
Brian Jankowski started every game for Weber State last season, hauling in 17 passes for 89 yards, including a touchdown in the season finale at Texas Tech. Jankowski is big (255 pounds) and is ready to improve on his numbers.
A transfer from Snow College in Utah, Gage Loftin averaged better than 12 yards per catch and had three touchdowns in just eight games last season. Loftin looks to step into the large shoes Julius Thomas left at Portland State.
Doug Steele has to compete for catches with Northern Colorado receivers Jace Davis and Patrick Walker. But Steele is far more than just a dump-off option. Steele has very good hands and can also stretch the field, which is rare for a tight end of his size.
When you’re recruited to play for Boise State coach Chris Petersen, you’ve got good qualities. Alas, Josh Hill transfered to Idaho State last season, and will try to help new coach Mike Kramer establish a strong passing offense.
Zach Gehring came on during Eastern Washington’s run to the FCS title, and figures to benefit from the return of Bo Levi Mitchell at quarterback and Brandon Kaufman at wide receiver. … If Montana State can spread the ball around like they did last season, Shane Robison could see a spike in his production. Robison had just seven catches last year, but is an heir apparent to departed senior Kyle Begger. … It would be impossible for D.J. Maciel not to make a bigger impact if Sacramento State has the kind of offensive output it did last season. Maciel played in just seven games as a freshman, but caught a touchdown pass. He could see more balls with the graduations of WRs Ron Richardson and Dylan Lane. … Kavario Middleton dropped to Montana from the University of Washington, but never really reached his full potential as the Grizzlies’ passing game struggled at times. He had just six catches in 10 games, but should build on those numbers. … Brian Riley had a good 2009 season, but only played in three games last year.
By Greg Rachac, The Billings Gazette