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How much of a role will Virginia football’s tight ends play in 2023?

Analyzing a group without top-end talent, but which should be solid and reliable.

Syndication: The Courier-Journal Michael Clevenger/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

In 2021, Jelani Woods – who, despite his short career as a Hoo, qualifies for me as the most recent great Virginia Cavaliers tight end – racked up 44 catches for 598 yards and eight touchdowns before declaring for the NFL draft.

Entering 2023, the Virginia tight end room has a total of 34 catches, 320 yards, and two touchdowns. This position group isn’t going to be routinely making highlight-reel plays or moving the offensive needle. However, the leaders in the room are experienced veterans who can hopefully turn that experience into solid, dependable play.

First In Line

Sackett Wood Jr. and Grant Misch are the two veterans who are currently one and two on the team’s depth chart at tight end according to reporting by Zach Carey.

Wood, the presumptive starter, finished fourth on the team in receiving yards last season almost entirely due to his performance against North Carolina. With three of the team’s top receiving options out due to injury, Wood became a top target and hauled in six passes for 94 yards; he totaled just 71 receiving yards in the other nine games of the season.

Wood also nearly scored his first career touchdown in that UNC game: a third-down catch and run was originally ruled a TD, but called back to the 1-yard-line after a review. The veteran tight end is well-positioned to pick up his first career score this season, though, as he’s in line to handle the lion’s share of snaps as TE1.

Misch enters his sixth season as a Cavalier as one of the roster’s longest-tenured players, as he’s played a role ever since appearing in all 14 games as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and scoring a memorable TD against North Carolina.

There are signs Misch wants to contribute more in the passing game. His listed weight is down seven pounds (to 240 from 247), and offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Des Kitchings reported that Misch was “moving better” after dropping weight. In the past, he’s been a relative non-factor as a receiver, recording just 22 career receptions in 37 games.

Depth Pieces and Exciting Freshmen

The most exciting name outside of those two veteran players is freshman TeKai Kirby, the son of star Virginia running back Terry Kirby. It’s unlikely TeKai’s collegiate career will be quite as successful as his father’s, as Terry accumulated 3,348 rushing yards as a Hoo, the third-most in school history. However, TeKai was ranked as a 3-star recruit out of high school and certainly has plenty of potential – even if it’s unlikely he plays this year.

Hayden Rollison will also begin his career with the ‘Hoos, a freshman preferred walk-on from the Collegiate School in Richmond. He turned down offers from Wake Forest and Air Force, as well as a PWO spot at Virginia Tech, to commit to the Cavaliers.

Joshua Rawlings is a senior and probably the best blocking tight end available to the Cavaliers. He’s oversized for the position at 6-6 and 263 pounds. However, he appeared for just two snaps last season per PFF, so it’s not likely he plays a major role unless one of the top two tight ends goes down with an injury.

Henry Duke and Karson Gay are in the same boat, both juniors who offer depth in the event of an injury to Misch or Wood. Gay appeared in two games last season, but didn’t record any offensive stats (he did make a tackle against Miami). Duke did not appear in any games.