2021 Syracuse Football Positional Preview: Tight End
Syracuse finds itself with a new leader in the tight end’s room. Aaron Hackett, the de facto No. 1 tight end after his breakout 2019 season, transferred to Kent St. for his fifth-year. That leaves head coach Dino Babers with a gaping hole at a skill position, one the size tied for SU’s touchdown receptions by a tight end. Hackett was also placed on most special teams units on last year’s 1-10 team.
Luke Benson also recorded 63 receiving yards and served on special teams units to complement Hackett. Chris Elmore — nicknamed “The Rhino” — stepped in periodically as an eligible receiver. Now, TE coach Reno Ferri faces a room with two new players and that is returning just the receiving yards from Benson. Syracuse finished 2020 as the 110th passing offense in college football.
Here’s a preview of the Orange’s tight ends, a position that must step up to compliment a new quarterback (Garrett Shrader) and one of Pro Football Focus’s worst rated offensive lines in college football. It likely won’t be a position that accumulates receiving or touchdown statistics. The position accounted for just 4% of Syracuse’s offense in 2020. But aiding the run game and giving more time for Shrader to find open receivers might be the position’s biggest contribution to SU this season.
Luke Benson, Sophomore
The 6-foot-4, speedy tight end is primed to step into the No. 1 role to replace Hackett. Despite being in his third year — electing to accept the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility from COVID-19 — the sophomore is the most experienced tight end for the Orange. Benson burst onto the scene in his first season in 2019, totaling eight catches for 176 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Last year, with the rest of the SU receiving core, Benson saw his role, and his numbers, reduced.
With no Hackett, he’s the guy. But despite Babers saying the offensive line will look different and perform better than it did last season, Benson could still slide in to help out the running game or provide some added protection for Shrader or Tommy DeVito.
Maximilian Mang, Freshman
Mang’s most interesting attribute is that he played tight end and defensive end for the Berlin Rebels of the German Football League. Born in Germany, Mang became the No. 7 prospect from Germany in the Class of 2020. After enrolling in January 2020, he played in all 11 games on special teams, PATs and field goal units. Despite this, he’ll be one of just three tight ends with previous experience playing in college, complimenting his professional play overseas. Mang will most likely continue to see the bulk of the field during special teams plays. But being one of the tight ends who played last season could afford him opportunities to slot in behind Benson.
Steven Mahar Jr., Freshman
Mahar Jr. is another returning tight end who took the NCAA’s COVID-19 year, affording him and Mang the opportunity to “repeat” their freshman season. He played in nine games, all on special teams for Syracuse, and recorded one tackle. Despite coming out of high school as the No. 4 player in New York and the No. 26 tight end in the class of 2020 — according to 247Sports.com — he spent last season as a reserve tight end. Like Elmore and Mang, Mahar Jr. played defensive end in high school, but has slimmed down, limiting him to special teams and tight end. The Rochester, New York, native could find time in goal line or jumbo packages on offense, but he’ll likely spend most of 2021 with the special team’s unit.
Landon Morris, True Freshman
Morris committed to Syracuse as the No. 80 tight end in the 2021 class. The three-star prospect spent most of his time in high school as a wide receiver, drawing comparisons on 247Sports.com to Green Bay Packer Allen Lazard. But in order for Morris to transition to tight end at a Power 5 school, he gained 35 pounds, filling out his 6-foot-6 frame. His athleticism and ability to “track the ball in the air,” according to 247Sports.com’s Allen Trieu, should allow him to weave into special teams units this season. It may take a few years before Morris — who totaled 1,456 yards in high school as an outside receiver — finds consistent snaps at tight end.
Sam Weaver, True Freshman
Weaver rounds out the tight end room as a Class of 2021 preferred walk-on. He announced via Twitter in April that he’d committed to Syracuse at the end of his senior season at Corona del Mar High School in California. He enters SU as an unrated prospect, unable to be found on sites such as ESPN or 247Sports.com. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 250 lbs., Weaver may eventually see playing time in goal line sets, but may not see any of the field until 2022.