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Future of Rutgers football 2024: Tight ends

After losing talent such as former tight end Shawn Bowman, the Rutgers football team will now look for breakout performers at the position. – Photo by Evan Leong

The Rutgers football team is continuing its offseason work on the gridiron, with the spring game now less than three weeks away. In the fourth edition of Future of Rutgers Football, The Daily Targum previews the 2024 tight end room.

The tight end position for the Scarlet Knights is one of the main unknowns. There is no clear breakout top option, but there is plenty of youth among the players and even the position coach.

Andrew Aurich, who coached the unit in 2023, left to become the new head coach at Harvard. Scott Vallone now takes over as Rutgers' tight ends coach, receiving a promotion after serving as a quality control coach on the offensive side since 2021.

Vallone inherits a group with little Big Ten production but plenty of potential. After losing Johnny Langan and Shawn Bowman to graduation, someone must step up in the room and become a reliable target.

One of the contenders to be the top tight end is actually new to the position entirely, as junior tight end Kenny Fletcher, a former defensive lineman, has transitioned to the offensive side of the ball. Fletcher played in 24 games as a defensive end, recording four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

Fletcher also suited up at tight end in the Knights' Pinstripe Bowl win over Miami, mostly serving as an emergency option due to an injury to Langan. How Fletcher performs offensively remains to be seen, as he will likely require an adjustment period.

Another contender to take the top spot will be senior tight end Victor Konopka. Konopka boasts excellent athleticism as a former two-sport star at Blair Academy and Don Bosco Prep but has been hampered by injuries and inconsistency during his time with Rutgers.

Konopka was limited to only three games in 2022, and while he played in all 13 games in 2023, he did not record a reception and mostly played on special teams. Konopka's background and the lack of a difference-maker at the tight end spot gives him a chance to break out, but he will have to earn it first.

Junior tight end Mike Higgins represents another veteran in the room who has a chance at the top spot. Though, much like the other options, he also has little production or experience at tight end. Higgins has played in 10 games over his first two seasons and has yet to record a reception, but a strong spring and summer could catapult him up the depth chart as Vallone and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca search for a game-changer.

A potential young option who could break out is sophomore tight end Logan Blake. He did not see any game action in his freshman year but was the consensus top-ranked tight end in New Jersey coming out of The Hun School. Again, while he will likely be a depth option in his second season on the Banks, the coaching staff is looking for a breakout candidate and could find one in the team's youth.

Head coach Greg Schiano and his staff also brought in two freshmen, each with high ceilings.

Freshman tight end Matthew Ogunniyi, hailing from Springdale, Maryland, brings a higher level of receiving prowess to the position. Ogunniyi was rated as a three-star prospect but likely will not contribute much in his freshman season due to his skinnier frame. Ciarrocca prefers to use his tight ends as blockers in his offense, so Ogunniyi will have to bulk up before becoming a viable option on offense.

The other addition the Knights made is freshman tight end Monte Keener. Hailing from Linden, Michigan, Keener was rated a three-star. Due to his length and size, he likely has a higher probability of contributing early on than Ogunniyi. He also has the true willingness to be a hard-nosed blocker at tight end, which is exactly what Ciarrocca looks for. Alas, he will still likely just be a depth piece until he adjusts to Big Ten competition.

The tight end position for Rutgers is one of the true question marks, as the options currently on the roster have not separated themselves yet, and the coaching staff may still be looking for options in the transfer portal. If one or some of these options can solidify themselves before the season begins, it will go a long way to raising the team's ceiling in the passing and rushing game.

For more updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on X.

To view more of Alec Crouthamel's work, follow @aleccr12 on X.

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