First-year tight end Tanner Cowley was so excited to join the Virginia football program, he was the first member of the class of 2015 to fax in his letter of intent on National Signing Day.
Cowley was also one of the first incoming freshmen to commit to the Orange and Blue, announcing his intentions to join the Wahoos in the summer before his senior season. The six-foot-four, 225-pound Cowley played outside linebacker, defensive end, and tight end for Manasquan High School in New Jersey. Cowley earned several accolades for his play on defense in 2014, but the Garden State native will lineup on offense for UVa.
Cowley is one of two tight ends to join the Virginia program this summer, along with former Hickory High School standout Richard Burney. Both Cowley and Burney were accomplished defenders in high school, but the two incoming first-years will duke it out for playing time at tight end. The two rookies appear to balance each other out perfectly, with Burney being more of a receiving threat, and Cowley being a better blocker.
Cowley can catch the ball too, hauling in six touchdowns during his junior season. Though the practice film made available to the public is heavily edited and watered down, Cowley has made several nice catches for touchdowns during training camp this fall.
Let's take a closer look at this intriguing tight end prospect.
Name: Tanner Cowley
High School: Mansasquan High School (Manasquan NJ)
Ranking: ESPN/247 3-star, Rivals 2-star
Recognition: All Class A First-Team, Coast Star Defensive Player of the Year, Second-Team All-State, First-Team All-Zone.
Cowley brings a unique skill set to the tight end position. The freshman is big enough to play on the line of scrimmage, but is also athletic enough to be split out wide, or even shift into the backfield in certain situations. Cowley has excellent hands, and can use his basketball background to come up with jump balls in traffic.
Virginia will look to run a lot of two-tight end sets this season and beyond, and Cowley's ability to sustain his block will make him an attractive candidate for substantial playing time. Cowley has bulked up from 210 pounds to 225, and will need to continue to grow in order to be an effective blocker at the college level.
While most of Cowley's highlights display his hands and route running ability, he demonstrates excellent blocking technique in limited action. Having good instincts is a pivotal part of being an effective blocker, and Cowley can use his knowledge as a former linebacker to determine what the defense is going to do. Take a look at the 1:45 mark in the video above… Cowley recognizes where the rush is coming from, proceeds directly to the middle of the field, engages contact with the defender, and springs the running back for extra yardage.
While Cowley fills an obvious need, the tight end position looks a little better than it did on Signing Day. Virginia has since added graduate transfer Charlie Hopkins, and shifted former quarterback Brendan Marshall to tight end.
Cowley could still contribute as a freshman and he is likely ahead of Burney in the pecking order, but the New Jersey native will likely redshirt this fall. Cowley still needs to fill out his frame, and make the transition to playing solely tight end.
With his defensive background, it is not out of the question that he could shift back to the other side of the ball at some point during his UVa career, but Cowley has a chance to be an integral part of the offense down the road. WIth Hopkins and Rob Burns both graduating following this season, the Hoos will be left with just one upperclassman (Marshall) on the roster.
Whether he plays this season or not, look for Cowley's role to increase in 2016.