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Expect tight ends Kenny Yeboah and Chase Rogers to play a pivotal role in Ole Miss’ 2020 offense

Two big-bodied athletes are ready to fill the void.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 07 Temple at USF Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ole Miss football has not had a tight end with more than 350 receiving yards since Evan Engram led the team with 926 in 2016. In the last two seasons, a tight end did not record more than 15 catches. With head coach Lane Kiffin in charge, that is sure to change.

Under the guidance of Matt Luke’s coaching staff, the underutilization of the tight end position was exasperating. Phil Longo’s neglect toward emerging NFL superstar Dawson Knox was criminal, and with Rich Rodriguez in charge, the offense was completely one-dimensional. As Bill Connelly put it when looking at his SP+ breakdowns, the 2019 Rebels “had random run explosions ... and almost nothing else.”

Bill Connelly

Putting the past in the past, the necessary offensive revisions are coming with Kiffin, and the tight end position is sure to play a crucial role in the new fast-paced, high-play count system.

The numbers speaks for themselves.

At Florida Atlantic in 2019, Harrison Bryant hauled in 65 catches for 1,004 yards and won the John Mackey Award as the top tight end in the nation. In his two seasons prior, the Samford offensive line commit turned Conference USA tight end had no less than 30 catches as a sophomore and junior.

Before his time in Boca Raton, Kiffin led Alabama tight end OJ Howard to be drafted No. 19 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft with two consecutive years of 38 catches or more. The last time a tight end did not get the ball more than 20 times in a season under Kiffin was 2014.

It is easy to point fingers and say that Howard and Bryant are better than Octavious Cooley and Jason Pellerin. That is true. And while personnel certainly dictates usage, the Rebel duo recorded 24 catches for less yards than Howard and Bryant’s single least productive seasons combined.

Entering the 2020 season, graduate transfer Kenny Yeboah is grabbing all the headlines as the heir to the Ole Miss tight end throne. However, the depth chart is yet to be set and Kiffin, offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley have three legitimate options at the position.

Finley, who was hired to the new staff in December, has been a rising star in the coaching world and most recently served in the same position under Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M. In the same position at Missouri, his tight end group led the nation in touchdown receptions in 2017. He will be working with a talented bunch in Oxford.

Yeboah, who spent his first four years at Temple, has elite size and experience. He stands 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and was impressive in the weight room before COVID-19 forced all athletic-related activities to shut down. The soon-to-be 22-year-old is a big-bodied athlete with soft hands.

It seems like a no-brainer to thrust him into the spotlight, but reservation, however, lies with on-field production. Yeboah’s best season at Temple saw 19 catches for 233 yards and 5 touchdowns. It was better than Ole Miss’ recent results, but nothing that flies off the page.

Should the former Owl not win the starting job outright, or if Kiffin and his offensive team turns to a two tight end rotation (Bryant’s counterpart at FAU recorded 38 catches in 2019), the roster provides two additional viable options.

Chase Rogers, a redshirt junior, transferred from Louisiana Lafayette in August of 2019 and sat out the season due to NCAA transfer rules and to recover from a foot injury. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Mississippi native nearly mirrors Yeboah in size, also brings with him starting experience at a group of five program, and is sporting a sweet mullet.

Though his eight catches in six games at ULL didn’t speak to his receiving threat ability either, Rogers’ production in high school was unlike had ever been seen. Literally.

On the receiving end of LSU starting quarterback Myles Brennan’s passes, Rogers finished his St. Stanislaus career as Mississippi’s all-time leader with 3,729 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns. As a senior, he was named a MaxPreps First-Team All-American after grabbing 61 balls for 1,042 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Gulf Coast kid has two years of eligibility remaining and could burst onto the scene in the right offense. Plumlee and Corral may not be as accurate or powerful as Brennan’s arm, but if they put the ball in Rogers’ direction, he isn’t one to shy away from making a play.

While the two transfer tight ends are the clear frontrunners for the starting spot(s), redshirt freshman Casey Kelly could find himself in the mix with a strong fall practice showing.

Casey, the younger brother of Chad, is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and has been touted as having that “it” factor. Presumably, that’s the swagger that comes with his family. He redshirted a year ago, but shows good leadership and athleticism.

COVID-19 has put a real damper on the 2020 college football season as a whole, and the jury is still out as to whether it can be played at all. For Kiffin and his first-year staff, it has caused a unique set of circumstance to change the approach to the depth chart and installing new playbooks on both sides of the ball.

When it comes to the depth chart, spring football was to determine the player most ready to step up and take over as the top dog. Yeboah and Rogers both bring physicality to the table at their position, and both are certain to be important pieces in the 2020 offense.

Gone are the days of Longo ball and Rodriguez reads, the tight end is back at Ole Miss.