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Countdown to Virginia Football: #44 Tanner Cowley

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With the move to a spread offense, Tanner Cowley was moved from TE to WR. That move could help him see the field sooner.

Virginia Media Relations

Position: WR
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 225
Year: RS Freshman
Hometown: Manasquan, NJTwitter: @tannercowley

As we discussed yesterday (and previously), the role of the TE is unknown in the new offense favored by Coach Mendenhall and Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae. It is for this reason that Tanner Cowley moved from TE to WR. Interestingly, Cowley was seen largely as a defensive player by the recruiting services. He played OLB in HS and was rated there by ESPN (3 stars) and at DE by 247 (3 stars) and Rivals (2 stars).

Other than Virginia, most of his offers were from FCS schools, though UCONN, Buffalo and Temple had also offered. Not exactly the cream of the college football crop. Still, his profile as a TE/WR is more promising than on defense. First of all, he’s very tall for a LB. Second of all, even if he were a bit bigger he wouldn’t fit as a 3-4 DE. So we can throw out the recruiting rankings.

Here is Tanner’s Hudl page, showing his senior year film. It’s about evenly distributed between offense and defense. The defensive highlights show a guy who doesn’t shy from contact. It shows a guy who could very easily be used on kick coverage right away, even if he isn’t going to see the field much as a WR yet. On offense, it shows a guy who can play either in-line or split out. It shows a guy who can go up and get a ball at its peak and has good hands. It also shows a guy who is a willing and competent blocker.

As a WR, Cowley is an interesting case. He’s big for a WR, but he doesn’t run all that well. The Hoos have bigger WRs that run well, such as Keeon Johnson. Cowley isn’t going to take over Johnson’s starting gig any time soon. But Cowley is bigger than Johnson. He’s bigger than any of the other WRs the Hoos have. He also has a big catch radius due to his height and long arms. His hands are good. He’s also an aggressive blocker, which could pay dividends on exterior run plays.

Even though the Hoos do not have a role for TEs, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for a converted-TE-turned-bigger-WR. Much like we discussed yesterday regarding Evan Butts is true for Cowley. In this offense, there likely isn’t a huge difference between WR and TE. There isn’t going to be an in-line TE used very often. So the big WR and big TE are going to have roughly the same role. Cowley could be used as a split end, and asked to run fade routes. Or he could be used on drag routes or slants, where he can use his size to shield his defender from the ball. Or, he could be used simply to draw a LB away from the middle of the field, opening up the potential for a big run play.