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2021 Northwestern football position previews: Tight Ends

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Mangieri and co. have big shoes to fill.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 19 Big Ten Championship Game - Northwestern v Ohio State Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Overview:

Returning starters: Charlie Mangieri (Sr.)

Key losses: John Raine (Atlanta Falcons)

Returners: Jason Whittaker (Jr.), Trey Pugh (R-Sr.), Hunter Welcing (So.), Thomas Gordon (R-So.), Marshall Lang (So.)

While the Wildcat tight end corps retained their roles as key blockers in a run-heavy offense, they were finally able to showcase their receiving abilities as well. John Raine and co. pulled in nearly 300 yards receiving all while creating space and opportunity for backs Cam Porter, Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson. Nonetheless, Raine was the star of his position group, pulling in 24 of the tight-ends’ 30 total receptions and making a name for himself in his one and only year in Evanston.

That being said, Charlie Mangieri should be more than ready to take over Raine’s role from a leadership perspective as a senior. While only tallying 11 receptions in his past two seasons, he’s expected to make an impact on the field as well as set an example inside the position room alongside redshirt senior Trey Pugh. Sophomores Thomas Gordon and Marshall Lang will also likely get their chance at playing time in 2021, seeing that only Mangieri has solidified a spot within the offense.

And no, Jason Whittaker’s name up there is not a typo. The former three-star, 24th ranked quarterback in the class of 2018 who was buried on the QB depth chart has been converted to a tight end for this upcoming season. Seeing that Whittaker has the size for the position standing at 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds according to Northwestern’s team website, it’s an enticing position change at the very least.

Key Player:

Charlie Mangieri

While Raine generally pulled in most of the praise offered to the TE corps, Mangieri’s role as a blocker and successful decoy in the backfield did play a part in Northwestern’s offensive success last season. Though not boasting the impressive stat-line of his predecessor, the true senior still pulled in seven receptions for a total of 53 yards and 2 touchdowns in his junior showing, one of which came in the ‘Cats season-defining victory over Wisconsin.

The Illinois native has proven to be a consistent on-field presence, appearing in 33 games throughout his three-year career. After having been pushed to second string behind Raine, the 6-foot-4 veteran is poised to make an even bigger impact on the field, whether it be opening the field for Porter and Evan Hull or grabbing touchdowns off fake blocks in crunch time.

Big Question:

Who will rise up as a consistent number two?

Raine and Mangieri saw the most playing time last season as well as the most success on the field. But, with Raine gone and Mangieri stepping in as number one, there’s room for one or two of the five returners to step in and make a name for themselves. Gordon saw the most playing time of the five last season — though primarily being used as a blocker, the redshirt sophomore appeared consistently and looks to be Bajakian’s next best option for the time being.

However, question marks remain about veteran Pugh’s place on the roster. Pugh didn’t see the field in 2020 after an injury-riddled 2019 season, but the redshirt senior was once pegged to receive a major offensive role in replacing NU’s 2018 All-Big Ten honorable mention Cam Green. Should he pop back onto Bajakian’s radar during the offseason, it’s likely that ‘Cats fans will be hearing Pugh’s name much more as August rolls around.

Depth Chart:

2021 Tight End Depth Chart

Depth Chart Player
Depth Chart Player
1st String Charlie Mangieri
2nd String Trey Pugh
3rd String Thomas Gordon
Reserves Marshall Lang/Jason Whittaker/Hunter Welcing