As Kentucky leans more into a pro-style offense with the addition of new play-caller Rich Scangarello, the tight end position will become more essential. The Wildcats are recruiting like it’s very important and in 2022, Vince Marrow could have one of the best tight end position groups in college football.
KSR is continuing its dive into each positional group for Kentucky football as we prepare for spring football. After touching on quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers, we shift over to tight ends where Kentucky has depth, star power, and positional versatility. There is a lot to get excited about with this position group.
State of the room
Kentucky will have five scholarship players on the roster in 2022, and four of them will be participating in spring practice. As the Wildcats wait for the arrival of true freshman Josh Kattus, the team will return a big piece of the offense.
Keaton Upshaw is back for his redshirt senior season after missing all of 2021 with a torn pectoral. The Ohio native has six career starts with 23 receptions and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound tight end has NFL potential with the ability to split out wide into the boundary as a receiver. Upshaw appears to be a great fit for a pro-style attack, and Rich Scangarello will have a unique piece to play with that Liam Coen didn’t get to use in 2021.
Meanwhile, Izayah Cummings is entering his second season at tight end but will be going through his first spring practice at the new position. The junior out of Louisville (Ky.) Male played over 200 snaps while recording 14 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns. Mostly used as a hybrid tight end/wide receiver, Cummings could combine with Upshaw to give defenses a lot of matchup problems thanks to positional versatility.
Brenden Bates returns his redshirt senior season and is the best blocker of the group. The Cincinnati Moeller product has played in 34 career games with six starts. Jordan Dingle preserved his redshirt last season and the second-year player out of Bowling Green (Ky.) High has a chance to be very good.
Kentucky is a legit four-deep at tight end, and each player should contribute this season.
Most to prove
Without a doubt, the loss of Keaton Upshaw was one of the great what-ifs for Kentucky football in 2021. The Wildcats lost what could have been the clear No. 3 target behind Wan’Dale Robinson and Josh Ali. Therefore, the passing game did have some struggles when teams could eliminate Robinson.
The Wildcats must find another No. 1 this season, but Upshaw can be a top secondary option if he can fully recover from the upper-body injury.
In the spring, seeing if Upshaw is completely healthy will be one of the biggest things to watch out for. If the veteran is back to his normal self, that gives the Wildcats a potential All-SEC performer and bonafide NFL Draft prospect to use in multiple ways at tight end.
A 100 percent healthy Upshaw will raise the floor for a Kentucky offense that is already pretty high.
Jordan Dingle is an intriguing player, and the redshirt freshman has a bright future. However, enough snaps probably won’t be available to him in 2022. Therefore, Izayah Cummings is the player to watch this fall.
The junior has a world of potential and looked like a real fit as a flex tight end last year. With legitimate value as a blocker, Kentucky can use the 228-pound tight end in many ways. Another year at the position should help enhance some of the route running for Cummings, and that could make him a matchup nightmare when facing linebackers and safeties in space.
Cummings could be a top three or four target in this offense. The tight end position could become dangerous if the former three-star recruit takes a big jump forward in 2022.
Spring prediction: Tight end will be most praised positional group on offense
Rich Scangarello is set to take over, and the new offensive coordinator will start coaching on the field almost immediately. When going through the 15 spring practices, it will become clear that the tight end position will have a chance to be special for the Wildcats in 2022.
With the return of a potential star combined with two great complementary pieces, Kentucky should be an offense that heavily uses the tight end position with numerous 12 personnel — one running back, two tight ends — sets this season.
Expect this group to get talked about glowingly throughout the spring.