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Returning MAC Tight Ends + O-Line Groups of 2023, Ranked
Andreas Paaske comes back as EMU's leading tight end, and Brian Dooley's back to anchor down the right side of the Eagles' O-line.
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Top 10 Returning MAC Tight Ends
#1 Tanner Koziol, Ball State
2022 stats: 12 games, 35 rec., 373 yards, 7 TD
Ranking tight ends like wide receivers feels a little wrong. Tight ends sometimes have two jobs, catch and block. Some guys do both, some guys just do one or the other. At the end of the day, I looked at some blocking stats through PFF, but I definitely value receiving more than blocking for this list.
Koziol, according to PFF’s advanced stats, stands out in two major ways. First, he was 10 of 17 in the contested catch category last year, leading all returning tight ends. He was also targeted more than any other TE coming back to the MAC: 65 times last season. No, he doesn’t even lead his own team in receptions or yards at this position (he’s coming up next), but I’m going to value Koziol a little bit more here simply because he’s come away with more big catches in tight situations. Maybe Koziol didn’t have the most yards after the catch, but he usually made the difficult catches.
#2 Brady Hunt, Ball State
2022 stats: 12 games, 46 rec., 498 yards, 5 TD
Next up, we finally get to the guy who actually took home First Team All-MAC honors last year. The converted quarterback got some instant gratification to lead all tight ends in the league last year in receiving and it wouldn’t surprise anybody if he were to have a repeat season as he grows up through is redshirt-sophomore year. My nit-picky knock against him to put him second is in the weeds: He was 3 of 13 in contested catches.
#3 Harold Fannin Jr., Bowling Green
2022 stats: 12 games, 19 rec., 218 yards, 1 TD
Harold Fannin Jr. was a wide receiver and safety in high school, now he’s a 6’4, 230-pound sophomore tight end for Bowling Green. Fannin only made one start dude to Christian Sims playing in front of him, and Sims was also a converted wide receiver who is now on a rookie deal with the Los Angeles Rams. Not much was asked out of Fannin in 2022, but he posted good marks relative to his position (and league) — 3 of 4 in contested catches, PFF run block grade of 63, PFF pass block grade of 64.1, had 9.4 (!!!) yards after catch per reception, and averaged 1.46 receiving yards per route run. If that all sounds like Chinese to you, just know this — those averages are than what most tight ends post in the MAC.
#4 Tyler Foster, Ohio
2022 stats: 13 games, 13 rec., 185 yards, 4 TD
Ohio was plenty happy with the big-play production its wide receivers were able to have in the pass game last year, so it’s not like the Ohio tight ends were exactly needed in the same regard. Foster was another one of those tight ends that was asked to make a catch in tough spots (5 of 8 contested). Foster had just 13 catches on 25 targets, but didn’t have any drops — Koziol had three, Hunt and Fannin each had one last year.
#5 Jack Coldiron, Miami
Career stats: 21 games, 46 rec. 649 yards, 4 TD
Jack Coldiron has built up a respectable career so far at Miami, but can he elevate his game to being a difference-maker in how the MAC’s season plays out? I’m not totally sure what to make of his performance last year with QB Brett Gabbert on the ice for almost the entire season and QB2 finished with a completion percentage under 50%. If Miami’s going to knock Ohio off, it’s going to need guys like Coldiron to be one of the best athletes on the field at all times.
#6 Will Kacmarek, Ohio
2022 stats: 14 games, 20 rec., 264 yards
Will Kacmarek has one of the better (Y/RR) average of the tight ends on this list: 1.42. His straight-up average of yards per catch (13.2) is also second-highest on the list. Kacmarek sits right behind Foster, his teammate (14.2).
#7 Blake Bosma, Western Michigan
2022 stats: 9 games, 20 rec., 145 yards, 1 TD
Blake Bosma has the highest catch percentage of any of the returning tight ends on this list: 83% (24 targets, 20 catches).
#8 T.J. Banks, Akron
2022 stats: 13 games, 21 rec., 175 yards
T.J. Banks’ 321 routes ran last year is second-most among returning MAC tight ends, and was targeted just 29 times. The bigger task at hand for Banks was to transfer in from West Virginia and help break in this new offense led by head coach Joe Moorhead. Another year in the system and another year of Moorhead being able to add offensive weapons on the field should give Banks a leg-up in the offense heading into 2023, and he’ll be able to do more than just stand out there and run routes all day.
#9 Andreas Paaske, Eastern Michigan
2022 stats: 13 games, 10 rec., 206 yards, 2 TD
Finally the Eastern Michigan guy. Paaske had a breakout season in his own right. Thanks to a couple of big plays in the pass game, Paaske averaged 20.6 yards per reception — 10.8 yards (aka a full first down) after catch per reception — with over 200 receiving yards on just 14 targets.
A lot of Paaske’s yards come from a singular, 75-yard touchdown catch and run he had against Northern Illinois.
#10 Tristen Tewes, Northern Illinois
2022 stats: 8 games, 15 rec., 180 yards, 3 TD
Tewes scored three times in eight games and his receiving numbers are certainly respectable. The knock against him, of course, is in the contested catch category: Tewes had just a 20% success rate in 2023 (1 of 5).
Returning MAC O-Line Groups
#1 Northern Illinois
Starters return (2022 snaps): LT Evan Buss (656), LG John Champe (785), C Pete Nygra (758), RG Logan Zschernitz (693), RT Nolan Potter (679)
For as bad as NIU’s offense ended up performing last season, the Huskies might have the best group of returning talent to its offensive line room in 2023. Having all five starters back and a utility lineman in J.J. Lippe, who played at least 40 snaps at every spot along the O-line last year (492 total snaps) will certainly help in an elevator pitch, but the guys they have coming back are all really good at this, too. The 3-8 record looks bad, but here are some numbers that actually look good: NIU led the MAC in rushing average (4.78 yards/carry), the O-line ranked #3 in the MAC in pass blocking efficiency last year (89.0) with just seven sacks against (third-fewest) and 51 hurries allowed (second-fewest).
NIU OL coach Daryl Agpalsa deserves at on of credit here. NIU made him a key hire when Thomas Hammock took over for his alma mater, swiping him away from Lance Leipold’s staff at Buffalo. Agpalsa and Hammock first crossed paths in 2010 when Agpalsa came in as a graduate assistant for the offensive line when Hammock was in his fourth year as the Gophers’ running backs coach. Agpalsa later left to be Leipold’s OL coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater for two years before they all made the big move to Buffalo. Agpalsa helped engineer Buffalo’s offense to be top-10 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss allowed. He helped Buffalo get to a MAC title game in 2018, and NIU to one in 2021.
#2 Ball State
Starters return (2022 snaps): LT Corey Stewart (569), LG Damon Kaylor (886), C Ethan Crowe (924)
Let’s start with the popular stat that debunks my ranking of Ball State here. From Parker (aka: @statsowar) on Twitter: RB Carson Steele stood out as somebody who, according to this look, did a lot of work without a lot of help from his offensive line. Now, with UCLA, way on the right of the graph thanks to its offensive line’s help for Zach Charbonet, Steele’s bound to explode on the west coast.
My theory for what the above image told you about Ball State is this: it’s really easy for a defense to dial in on the run all game when Ball State had one of the worst QB season performances in a long time. Ball State was the second-most frequent passer in the MAC last year — probably because the OL kept John Paddock so clean for the season (14 sacks allowed, second-fewest in MAC) — but he threw the most incompletions (194, 16 drops per PFF) to have the second-lowest QB rating in the league (113.6). Ball State simply threw itself off the field way too many times last year. If defenses really only have to gameplan for Steele, then it makes sense that defenses were able to make contact with him so quickly. Hats off to Steele for making the most of the poor situation Ball State’s offense was in, but when I look at the actual returning starters for this O-line, I see a few guys who did their jobs at their respective positions better than most others across the MAC right now.
Starters return (2022 snaps): LT Jay Amburgey (634), LG Kurt Danneker (719), C Parker Titsworth (947), RT Shedrick Rhodes Jr. (804)
Ohio obviously had a ton of production through the air last year. The top four receivers last year all had season-long receptions of 48 or more yards, the tight ends had season-long receptions of 30+ yards, and even running backs Sieh Bangura and Nolan McCormick had catches for 25 and 35 yards, respectively. The Bobcats had a ton of success through the air which helped mask some mistakes through the trenches. Which, there weren’t many, but Ohio finished fourth in the MAC last year in sacks given up (25) and tackles for loss allowed (76).
Jay Amburgey enters 2023 as one of the top left tackles in the MAC, and fifth-year center Parker Titsworth should be a major player in this offensive line’s success this year.
#4 Miami OH
Starters return (2022 snaps): LT Will Jados (705), RG Kolby Borders (464), RT Reid Holskey (835)
Miami’s got two strong tackles to anchor down each side of its line, and a starting left guard that’s coming into his own as a junior. A full season of healthy and helpful quarterback play behind the line should help play into this team’s production in 2023.
Starters return (2022 snaps): LG Vinny Sciury (1,037), C Devan Rogers (829), RG Kendall Major (826), RT Nick Rosi (1,020)
Lots of bodies coming back, and Toledo should probably find some comfort in that. However, Toledo’s productivity up front is often masked by good QB play and multiple bodies circling through the RB position. This O-line had the most tackles for loss allowed last year (102) and fifth in sacks allowed (28, or 2 per game). Toledo made sure to patch up its holes this offseason with transfers in from the Power 5 level, which means some of these returners will end up being depth pieces on a championship roster. Nick Rosi, though, will probably stay on the field.
#6 Eastern Michigan
Starters return (2022 snaps): RG Alex Howie (509), RT Brian Dooley (924)
LG Sidy Sow was drafted in the fourth round by the New England Patriots, and LT Marcellus Johnson transferred to Missouri in the winter. C Dimitri Douglas, a former Michigan State transfer, is in line to start in place of Richard Bates Jr. (graduation). EMU grabbed Chris Mayo from West Virginia and Dan Sunderman from Central Missouri (D2) to help fill out the holes this season.
EMU fans should still feel good with Alex Howie and Brian Dooley’s return in 2023, but Howie did miss some time last year to injury, and if he went down again, then Dooley’s the last recognizable player from last year’s line. Dooley’s certainly better as a right tackle than some other returners mentioned here, but he’s just one guy on a five-man unit.
#7 Central Michigan
Starters return (2022 snaps): LT Davis Heinzen (872), LG/RG Deiyantei Powell-Woods (866), RT Brayden Swartout (845)
CMU’s QB play was regrettable and RB Lew Nichols’ overall production from 1,848+ rushing yards in 2022 to 616 the next was a dropoff that I’m sure the team wasn’t expecting last season. CMU did its best to keep its key players upright throughout the year, but there’s only so much the OL can do when the skilled players don’t do their part.
Deiyantei Powell-Woods has had some strong games in 2022, but will CMU have more talent around this senior guard?
Starters return (2022 snaps): LT Isaiah Wright (988), LG Gabe Wallace (1,001), RG Tyler Doty (668)
A ton of returning bodies for Buffalo, but the play up front last season was generally average to okay. Again, looking at simple raw stats here: Buffalo was 10th in the MAC in rushing average (3.4 yards/carry), sixth in sacks allowed (2.5/game), and eighth in tackles for loss allowed (6.5/game).
#9 Western Michigan
Starters return (2022 snaps): G/C Addison West (821), LT Adam Vandervest (372), LG Trevor Campbell (455), C Jacob Gideon (674), RT Jack Sherwin (725)
With over 3,000 snaps played by the guys listed above coming back, I hesitate putting them this low (maybe things will be better this year!), but it’s probably deserved during a coaching change. WMU was second-worst in the MAC last year in sack rate (3.5/game), TFL rate (7.7/game), and was fourth-worst in rushing average (3.5 yards/carry).
#10 Bowling Green
Starters return (2022 snaps): LT Kameren Stewart (467), RG Bronson Warner (846), RT Alex Wollschlaeger (803)
Some returning bodies, but I’m not sure how reliable the talent Bowling Green is. Last year’s team, which somehow made it to a bowl game, was second-worst in the MAC in rushing average (3.1 yards/carry), fourth-worst in sack rate (2.9/game) and TFL rate (7.2/game).
Starters return (2022 snaps): LT Ronan Chambers (208), C Tony Georges (722), RT Nate Williams (847)
Akron allowed way too many hits in its backfield last year (101 TFL, 56 sacks), and I’m willing to chalk up last season up to “growing pains”. Nate Williams could be one of the better, young right tackles in this conference.
#12 Kent State
Starters return (2022 snaps): none
Kent State’s offensive line was really productive last year, but the team lost everybody up front with the coaching change. This isn’t hyperbole. I’ve got nothing here for you. Blame the transfer portal or something, but the Flashes will basically be starting from the ground at this position.