2024 Scouting Combine: Six tight end prospects detail their favorite college plays

INDIANAPOLIS — Unless you are somehow able to gain access to one of the rooms in which NFL teams meet with draft prospects during the week of the scouting combine, there’s no way to know what’s really discussed. One thing that is almost always happens is a tape-watching expedition in which the NFL people will have play examples dialed up that hopefully show what the prospects can do.

Here at Touchdown Wire, we do not possess the required juice to crash those rooms, but we are able to ask these prospects during their combine media sessions which plays from their college careers best typify their potential.

Today, we asked six tight end prospects — Texas’ Ja’Tavion Sanders, Kansas State’s Ben Sinoutt, TCU’s Jared Wiley, Washington’s Jack Westover, Minnesota’s Brevyn Spann-Ford, and Penn State’s Theo Johnson for their favorite college plays. We’ve included the All-22 for all examples, and we hope you find their answers as enlightening as we did.

Ja'Tavion Sanders, Texas

(Syndication: Austin American-Statesman)
(Syndication: Austin American-Statesman)

The 2024 tight end class may start with Georgia’s Brock Bowers, but it certainly doesn’t end there. For many, Texas’ Ja’Tavion Sanders is the No. 2 man on the board at the position, and he showed up in 2023 with 45 catches on 67 targets for 682 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders’ favorite play was one of his 13 explosive plays last season; this was against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

“Probably that big play against Bama — it was a 50-yard gain,” he said.W”e had two deep posts on the outside, and we were running so many deep crosses with me just running. I sailed a deep crosser, put my foot in the ground, and took it high — we call that a thumb route.”

The deep posts helped to clear out Alabama’s Cover-3, and Sanders crashed through the middle of the defense to an open spot.

Ben Sinnott, Kansas State

(Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

Sinnott, who made Touchdown Wire’s All-Underrated Scouting Combine Team, said Thursday that he started playing hockey when he was three years old, and it was one of six sports he played in high school. Also in high school, he led his hockey team in both points and penalty minutes, which is a perfect encapsulation of his playing style — a style that allowed him to catch 48 passes last season on 73 targets for 669 yards and six touchdowns.

As for his favorite play, he cited multiple examples of one specific concept.

“We ran a little scissor concept to the boundary with my tight end and my wing. The tight end runs vertical, and we liked that against two-high or two-shell looks. And then I’m expanding as the F (H-back), pressing vertical,  coming off his butt, and running a post into that soft middle in the two-high look. I think that’s my favorite concept; it’s one I’ve been most successful on.”

One of Sinnott’s “F-Post” catches came against Texas with 14:20 left in overtime; this was a 19-yard gain that took the ball down to the Texas six-yard line,.. though Texas wound up winning the game, 33-30. Here, you can see Sinnott extending from the H-back spot, and running the post back inside.

“It’s just a play I love to draw up in front of teams, and it shows up all over our film,” Sinnott concluded.

Jared Wiley, TCU

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Wiley takes pride in his abilities as a run-blocker, and justifiably so, but our focus was on his big-play potential. Last season for the Horned Frogs, he caught 47 passes on 65 targets for 520 yards and eight touchdowns. His favorite pass play was also his most explosive.

“The top one is definitely the 80-yarder against Baylor [Wiley was shorting himself here; the play was actually an 81-yard touchdown]. That showed my speed off a little bit, and I don’t think people think I’m as fast as I am. Also a lot of the run-blocking stuff, especially later in the year. The national championship year, we were playing Kansas, and I got a couple guys in that game. A lot of our third-and-1, fourth-and-1 plays where I got the freedom to just, you get to run off the ball and go. There’s no ID we’re running; we used to call it “Tracks,” It was a full zone to the left, a full zone to the right, and you just get to go hit the crap out of somebody.”

Cool, but back to the big play.

“We would tag double slants away from the tight end, and with the tight end, we had what you would call a seam read — the outside guy just has a vertical route. They busted a coverage, and I was wide open. Shoutout to [receiver] Savion Williams for making that block; I don’t know if I score without him blocking that cornerback. It just so happened that they had busted a coverage, and I made the most of that opportunity.”

The 81-yarder against Baylor came with 5:38 left in the second quarter. The Bears were in Cover-4, and found it tough to defend TCU’s mirrored quick outs and verts up the numbers. As Wiley said, that left him wide open, and Williams did make a nice block against cornerback Caden Jenkins.

Jack Westover, Washington

(Craig Strobeck-USA TODAY Sports)
(Craig Strobeck-USA TODAY Sports)

Westover is a player who understands the nuances of the position, and that gave him a lot of credibility in the Huskies’ offense; a big reason they made it all the way to the national championship last season. Westover aided his comrades with 46 catches on 56 targets for 423 yards and four touchdowns, and as opposed to one play, he wanted to talk about his primary attributes overall.

“I think for me, my ability to run option routes and just get open underneath coverages. We ran a lot of them on third down, where I would run Indy Elephant, which was a one-word, go-fast play. It was a Magic concept, where I was just running the Z [position], and I would just run that little option route and sit down or break out. A lot of times when I did that, it was third down against man coverage, and you have to be patient. For me, that goes back to my basketball background, having that wiggle and that ability to cross over guys. That’s kinda what I like; that’s my strength as a player.”

This nine-yard catch against Oregon State was one example; it was third-and-4, and Oregon State was in Quarters coverage. Westover did a nice job of crossing linebacker Calvin Hart Jr.’s face to hit the open void underneath.

Brevyn Spann-Ford, Minnesota

(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)
(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)

Spann-Ford caught 25 passes on 46 targets for 239 yards and four touchdowns for the Golden Gophers last season, but there’s more to his game than mere statistics. That was certainly the case on the two plays he mentioned.

“I would say a hurdle I had against Penn State two years ago. Also, a goal-line run-blocking play I had, featuring [running back] Mohamed Ibrahim.”

When asked which run-blocking play, Spann-Ford replied, “Any of them.”

Alrighty then! Let’s start with the hurdle against Penn State, and you’ll understand why this stuck out in his mind. There was 10:21 left in the fourth quarter against the Nittany Lions in 2022, and Spann-Ford caught a little five-yard up against Cover-1. Then, it was off to the races for 23 more yards, with Spann-Ford jumping over Ji’Ayir Brown, who was selected in the third round of the 2023 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, and had an interception in Super Bowl LVIII. 

Not bad at all.

Theo Johnson, Penn State

(David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports)
(David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports)

Johnson was an estimable weapon all over the field last season for Penn State, catching 34 balls on 45 targets for 341 yards and seven touchdowns, and he wanted to talk about his ability to figure things out in every second of the pre- and post-snap process.

“Probably my touchdown against Michigan State. I ran a route that requires you to diagnose coverages not only pre-snap, but also post-snap, and make a high-level decision. I went full speed off the play, and I think that showcases my abilities not only mentally, but physically, as well.”

The play in question was a 21-yard touchdown with 12:34 left in the fourth quarter. The Spartans were in Quarters, and linebacker Jordan Hall appeared to be spying quarterback Drew Allar for a split second. That was all Johnson needed to hit the void behind Hall, and get into the end zone out of a crosser at the H-back position..

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire