The Rebels return senior tight ends Evan Engram and Jeremy Liggins for the 2016 season, along with redshirt freshman Willie Hibbler. However, the 2016 signing class also loaded up the tight end position for the coming season. The Rebels signed three four-star tight ends according to Scout.com: Jacob Mathis, Gabe Angel, and Octavious Cooley.
Octavious Cooley: Cooley, who committed to the Rebels in January 2015, was one of the more overlooked prospects that the Rebels inked last Wednesday. The Laurel native was rated as the number two prospect in the state of Mississippi. Cooley comes in at six foot two inches and 240 pounds, giving the Rebels a physical target at the tight end position. He possesses good speed for a tight end and will cause matchup issues for outside linebackers and safeties. Cooley had reported offers from Mississippi State University, the University of Georgia and University of Tennessee. Cooley will compete immediately for playing time for the Rebels.
Jacob Mathis: Mathis, from Tampa, Fla., came to Oxford on the last recruiting weekend and decided to sign with the Rebels over offers from Florida, Georgia, and Michigan. At six foot five inches, Mathis provides the Rebels and Chad Kelly another tall target, especially in the red zone. Mathis has commendable athleticism and will be able to put pressure on opposing defensive backs, which should give him a shot at early playing time.
Gabe Angel: As an early-enrollee, Angel has an advantage over the other new tight ends. Angel, from Cookeville, Tenn., committed to the Rebels in November 2014 and remained firm with his commitment throughout the process, despite reported offers from LSU, Mississippi State and the University of Tennessee, among others. Angel has the athleticism to play tight end or even switch sides to defense if need be.
The Rebels have been blessed with athletic tight ends throughout Hugh Freeze’s tenure, with players like Jamal Mosley and Evan Engram. The Rebels’ use of tight ends in the passing game puts pressure on opposing defensive coordinators from a schematic standpoint, since their tight ends are often being covered by linebackers or safeties— two positions that don’t match up with big, strong tight ends from either a speed standpoint or a physical standpoint. Hugh Freeze said on signing day that the staff decided to load up at tight end this year because of the depth in the 2016 class at the positions, and the Rebels definitely signed three solid ones.