Our Enduring Fixation on Tight Ends

By Ramzy Nasrallah on March 6, 2019 at 1:05 pm
Jan 1, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Rashod Berry (13) celebrates after making a catch for a touchdown in the first half against the Washington Huskies in the 2019 Rose Bowl at Rose Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
© Gary A. Vasquez | USAT Sports

It was a glorious October Saturday on the road against a ranked opponent.

Ohio State's tight end enthusiasts remember that fateful afternoon in 2011 with absolute clarity, one in which a beleaguered, scandal-plagued program under the guidance of an interim coach navigated its way through the infamous Champaign Wind Tunnel™ and safely reached the summit of Victory Mountain Plain long before time expired.

The Buckeyes won on a day in which the long-ignored, underutilized and under-appreciated tight end position was responsible for 100% of their completed passes. A perfect game! DeVier Posey, Philly Brown, Devin Smith and Chris Fields were collectively held without a single catch. That afternoon, in a winning effort, every pass was hauled in by Jake Stoneburner.

...which is to say he was the recipient of the Buckeyes' only completion. Stoney had all 17 receiving yards on the afternoon; a touchdown that gave Ohio State its final points in a 17-7 win which served as the unofficial beginning of the end for the Ron Zook era.

Stoneburner was the team's leading receiver that day, as a tight end. It hasn't happened since. Over the course of the century, spanning John Cooper, Jim Tressel, Luke Fickell and Urban Meyer (apologies to Ryan Day's three-game stint) tight end production has been remarkably consistent and consistently unremarkable.

2018 Parris Campbell 90 1063 Luke Farrell (9th) 20 205
2017 K.J. Hill 56 549 Marcus Baugh (4th) 28 304
2016 Curtis Samuel 74 865 Marcus Baugh (4th) 24 269
2015 Michael Thomas 56 781 Nick Vannett (6th) 19 162
2014 Michael Thomas 54 799 Nick Vannett (7th) 19 220
2013 Philly Brown 63 771 Jeff Heuerman (3rd) 26 466
2012 Philly Brown 60 669 Jake Stoneburner (3rd) 16 269
2011 Devin Smith & Philly Brown 14 294/205 Jake Stoneburner (T-1) 14 193
2010 Dane Sanzenbacher 55 948 Jake Stoneburner (4th) 21 222
2009 DeVier Posey 60 828 Jake Ballard (5th) 14 150
2008 Brian Robiskie 42 535 Brandon Smith (7th) 8 79
2007 Brian Robiskie 55 935 Rory Nichol (4th) 16 84
2006 Ted Ginn Jr 59 781 Rory Nichol (6th) 13 151
2005 Santonio Holmes 55 977 Ryan Hamby (6th) 9 85
2004 Santonio Holmes 55 769 Ryan Hamby (5th) 16 178
2003 Michael Jenkins 55 834 Ben Hartsock (2nd) 33 290
2002 Michael Jenkins 61 1076 Ben Hartsock (3rd) 17 137
2001 Michael Jenkins 41 836 Darnell Sanders (3rd) 13 141
2000 Ken-Yon Rambo 53 794 Darnell Sanders (2nd) 23 270


  • Ohio State tight ends are reliably the offense's 4th or 5th passing option.
  • Zone Six's abrupt emergence of options in 2018 overwhelmed TE production.
  • Only Ben Hartsock (2003) has caught more than 30 balls in a season.
  • Marcus Baugh (2017) owns the only 300-400 yard receiving season.
  • Jeff Heuerman (2013) owns the only 400+ yard receiving season.
  • Don't spend too much time looking at 2011 or you'll end up in a sanitarium.

By comparison, Iowa's T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant combined for 88 receptions and 1279 yards last season alone. Kirk Ferentz has a different offensive philosophy, to say the least - but his TE development and utilization gives some Ohio State position envy. Over the span charted above, Ohio State has 14 1st place finishes in the conference or its division. Iowa has two. False equivalence, sure. Personally I'm more envious of Iowa's above-average defense.

Spring ball begins today, which marks our annual rite of Wondering if This Will Be the Season Ohio State Throws to the Tight End. Last spring's TE preview:

 the tight ends still have the potential to provide a significant spark to Ohio State’s offense.

...should look a lot like the one we'll publish this time around, which looks like the same spring synopsis since John Cooper's tenure was winding down at the turn of the century. They'll always have the potential. The roster has never been short of towering, pass-catching gladiators who generally end up sealing off edges and running lanes for their smaller, faster teammates.

Rashod Berry is pictured at the top catching a touchdown in the Rose Bowl, his ninth and final grab of the season. He finished the game with one catch for one yard and that score. Berry returns along with Jeremy Ruckert, an imposing twosome with four soft hands that will present daunting matchup challenges for back sevens on paper, but whose primary contributions will end up being The Guy Behind The Guy - or in front of the guy depending on the play.

They're two veterans who will bolster an offensive line with a whole bunch of new starters. And that's exactly where you should want them to contribute, despite how enticing it may seem for them to abuse defenses in the seam.

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