Vince Marrow could have up to four NFL caliber tight ends in his meeting room come fall camp. That’s a bold statement. I guess in today’s world that could be considered a hot take.
Regardless, even while rehabilitating an injury, CJ Conrad would have been drafted this year if he had decided to forego his last year of eligibility. He’s back and joined by Justin Rigg to go along with a pair of highly talented freshmen: Keaton Upshaw and Brenden Bates.
Let’s take a look:
Greg Hart | 6’5, 245 | Graduated Senior
-Transfer from Nebraska
-Played in 25 games with 2017. Caught 9 passes for 57-yards, and 1 touchdown.
-Solid blocker as a fullback/H-back.
-Traveled to Ethiopa on a service/educational trip. Graduated with a marketing degree and is currently working on a second degree in communications.
-Excellent teammate and leader. Hart will prosper in whatever post-UK endeavors he encounters. Respect.
CJ Conrad | 6’5, 250 | Senior
-All-SEC performer, 2-time Mackey Award Watch List. Should again be on several preseason honors lists.
-Opponents bracketed Conrad in 2017 after catching 2 TD passes in the team’s first two games. Excellent blocker, considered by some analysts as the most complete TE in the Southeastern Conference.
-Suffered a season-ending injury vs. Georgia. Had surgery on November 21st.
-Averaged 17.9 yards per catch in 2017.
-Has 9 career TD receptions.
-Career: 50 catches, 697-yards, 9 TD’s.
-Career day vs. New Mexico State: 5 receptions, 133-yards, and 1 TD.
-Led all SEC freshman TE’s with 15 catches in 2015. Named 3rd Team Freshman All American. All SEC Freshman Team.
Justin Rigg | 6’6, 250 | Junior
-2 catches for 34-yards vs. Northwestern in Music City Bowl. Averaged 17-yards per catch.
-2017: 3 catches, 40-yards.
-Excels in on line-of-scrimmage or blocking from fullback position.
Brenden Bates | 6’5, 245 | Freshman
-Bigger yet similar version of CJ Conrad coming out of high school.
-Class of 2018 Top 20 TE in the nation.
-Caught 22 passes for 303-yards, and 5 touchdowns as a senior at Archbishop Moeller.
-Has the skill and physical demeanor to compete for immediate playing time. Accomplished blocker and H-back/slot receiver.
Keaton Upshaw | 6’6, 250 | Freshman
-Rated as nation’s 25th best TE in the Class of 2018.
-Bigger version of Brenden Bates.
-1st Team All-Northwest Ohio, 2nd Team All-State.
-Caught 48 passes for 758-yards, and 4 touchdowns as a senior.
-Excellent basketball player.
-Has preferred measurables for an SEC tight end. Should compete for immediate playing time. Like most freshmen, playbook familiarity as well as strength and conditioning gains will be necessary. There are high ceilings, then there’s Keaton Upshaw’s potential. His career possibilities are somewhat unlimited.
What does all this mean?
In typical Marrow fashion; all four tight ends are from the state of Ohio. Pound for pound, this collection could be the second most talented position group on Mark Stoops’ team falling behind the four combined linebacker spots. However, Kentucky will need to develop an over-top receiver and an additional home run hitting running back in order to loosen coverage. This should free up the tight ends in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
The Cat’s offense features its tight ends in the position’s traditional role, as a H-Back, slot receiver, and fullback. UK TE’s combined for 22 catches for 351-yards. However, the group tied the WR’s with 5 touchdown receptions. Telling on both accounts. Understandably, the lack of Conrad touches frustrated the Big Blue Nation. Stephen Johnson and CJ Conrad experienced difficulties connecting over the past two seasons. Also, TE is a position that can be successfully schemed against, especially within the RPO scheme. That happened quite often in 2017. Limiting CJ Conrad was a high objective for opposing defensive coordinators and limited the future pro to 16 catches on the season.
To go along with Conrad, Justin Rigg has also received rave reviews by TE coach Vince Marrow. Both are excellent blockers that have the potential to have a break-out season in relation to catches and touchdowns. Brenden Bates and Keaton Upshaw are two highly skilled athletes. I would not be surprised to see both make an immediate impact.
Remember, the freshmen don’t report until this summer. Therefore, depending on CJ Conrad’s availability, spring practice could get a little tricky with Justin Rigg being the only scholarship TE participating in spring practice. The smart play would be to continue Conrad’s rehabilitation and let the rising senior use the time to add quality weight/strength. He has very little to prove during spring ball.
Vince Marrow has stacked his meeting room with future pro talent. This group needs to ascend in the statistical category in order for Eddie Gran to ease the pressure on Benny Snell and for his offense to reach its full potential.