In our continuing series of Penn State previews leading up to the Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland, today we take a look at tight end Jesse James. In his first two seasons in Happy Valley, the talented tight end has been an important part of the offense. Although former head coach Bill O’Brien, who made a point to use the tight end position in the passing game, is gone, James should still flourish in 2014.
James came to Penn State at the perfect time for a big-bodied tight end, as O’Brien had a plan to transform the position from a blocker to a key part of the passing attack. As a freshman, James caught 15 passes for 276 yards and finished second on the team with five touchdowns. Last season, James finished second on the team behind star receiver Allen Robinson with 333 yards. His three touchdowns tied for second on the team.
Standing at six-foot-seven and 257 pounds, James presents a big target for his quarterback, especially in the red zone. He’s shown good hands and can be a difficult matchup for defenses in the middle of the field.
Unfortunately for James, while the talent is there, he’s not alone at the tight end position at Penn State. Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman, who had good chemistry with fellow freshman Christian Hackenberg at the end of last season, are both still around and will take playing time away from James. Brent Wilkerson, who impressed in spring practice a year ago before being lost for the season with an injury, will also be in the mix.
James is too talented not to be involved in the offensive game plan, but as mentioned, Penn State is loaded at tight end. While he won’t see a ton of balls thrown his way due to the crowded depth chart, expect James to have another productive season. His big body makes him a threat in the red zone, and that will inflate his touchdown numbers.
Something around 400 yards receiving and six touchdowns sounds reasonable.