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2020 Roster Outlook: Tight Ends

Our series previewing next year’s roster continues and now we move on to Vince Marrow’s position room. The Wildcats return every scholarship player from last season’s roster including a guy who was able to redshirt last season despite receiving some game reps. UK will enter the year with four scholarship players and this spot has proven to be an integral part of the offense despite not producing a ton of receptions.


Justin Rigg enters his redshirt senior season having played 41 games with 14 starts. He leads the tight end room with 18 career receptions. At 6-foot-6 and 263 pounds, the Springboro, Ohio and former three-star prospect in the class of 2016 provides some much needed size and a reliable target in the play-action pass game. He will be looking to get his first career touchdown in his final season in Lexington.

Keaton Upshaw redshirted his first season before seeing field last year and the jumbo athlete started two games while recording seven grabs for 78 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-6, 247-pound tight end from Lima, Ohio just looks different than the rest of UK’s tight ends and has a very high ceiling. He can spread out and be a tough matchup for defenders in space and this will be a very important spring for his development. He needs to become a better blocker so he can stay on the field more often, but there’s no denying the problems he can give defenses as a pass catcher.

Brenden Bates enters his redshirt sophomore season after mainly serving as a special teams player last year. He played in all 13 games in 2019, but rarely got reps at tight end. UK was able to redshirt true freshman Nik Ognenovic last season with the South Florida native only playing in two games. However, in a small sample size, he has shown some nice receiving ability and could be a guy that joins the rotation this fall. In a bit of a hybrid role, Drew Schlegel is back for his redshirt senior season and will be used as a lead blocker or sorts. UK will utilize the former walk-on as both a fullback and H-back in addition to his strong special teams contributions. He’s an important piece to what UK does.


After last season, Kentucky had no departures to deal with in Vince Marrow’s position room and therefore the Wildcats did not add a tight end in this most recent recruiting haul. Of Kentucky’s 22 signees, half were on the offensive side of the football. UK went big on the offensive line and wide receiver while adding two quarterbacks when you throw in the addition of Joey Gatewood via transfer. They decided to wait on tight end.

It is now time for the four players listed above to develop before UK reels in a tight end or two in the class of 2021.

Immediate Future

Kentucky returns 17 starters in 2020 and the tight end position is one of the most experienced on the football team. Justin Rigg has been a solid contributor in his career and will be the guy that leads the way in his redshirt senior season. Keaton Upshaw got his feet wet last season and would’ve had much bigger numbers if UK didn’t totally throw away the pass game. Both Brenden Bates and Nik Ognenovic each seem poised to breakthrough into the rotation this fall. Drew Schlegel provides nice versatility off the bench to give the offense a good blocker in short-yardage situations.

With Terry Wilson returning to the lineup, the passing game will be a bigger factor and that is where this group can make an impact. Justin Rigg has been a reliable option in the pass game whether it be a pop pass or when UK goes to the tight end middle screen. However, there is no denying the potential of Keaton Upshaw. He brings a skill set to the field that no other player has and his potential to line up wide at receiver could present a dilemma for opposing defenses in how they matchup with their personnel groupings. The production that UK gets from that redshirt sophomore will make or brake this position in 2020.

2020 Roster Outlook: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers

Article written by Adam Luckett

Twitter: @AdamLuckettKSR

7 Comments for 2020 Roster Outlook: Tight Ends

  1. zoupman
    4:08 pm February 10, 2020 Permalink

    Let’s get these guys the ball.

  2. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    4:13 pm February 10, 2020 Permalink

    If you take Kentucky’s offense from the end of the season and lay it over the offense up until Sawyer got hurt in the UF game I don’t see how any non elite defense can stop them from moving the ball. Factor in how good the question marks on the defensive side of the ball were and all of a sudden you have a team that is more than capable of playing in Atlanta for game 13.

    • ClutchCargo
      4:59 pm February 10, 2020 Permalink

      We have to develop the mentality of wanting to add on to a lead when we have the opportunity, and we showed signs of that late last year. But yeah, the talent is really close to being there, and might already be there. QB is the biggest question mark to me, as far as getting to the next level as a team.

    • Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
      8:23 pm February 10, 2020 Permalink

      That’s my big question, going down a list does Wilson come back at 100% or does the injury make him play at 80% or afraid to get hit, does Sawyer come out like he did against Florida if he has to play or does the injury linger and we get MSST Sawyer, does Gatewood get a waiver and play up to his potential or not at all, and if all else fails does one of the RSFr come in and some how make it click just enough for the run game to take over games. The last 2 are almost to far out to even worry about but in today’s game weirder has happened.

    • Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
      8:26 pm February 10, 2020 Permalink

      I don’t believe Wilson will be an issue but his first year after taking an SEC sized hit he started breaking off early instead of going all in for the 1st down. He was 100% then so it could be a parallel.

    • Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
      8:26 pm February 10, 2020 Permalink

      Wasn’t 100%*

  3. apocalypse
    6:44 am February 12, 2020 Permalink

    TE is such a valuable weapon to have at your disposal and I know Eddie wants to pass the ball more, but what is holding him back is our QB. If you do not have a QB that can be a threat to throw for 300+ a game, your offense will be one sided. This past season was a mirror of just that, and even with a very good running game, you HAVE to be able to pass the ball to win against top teams.

    Terry comes back 100% then Eddie should be able to scheme more passing plays for the TE’s to keep the safety in the middle, which will open the outside. I also think Smith will be better this season as a back up just from playing last season and understanding just what he’s playing against. Looking forward to the season, GO BB.