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Better Know a Freshman 2018: Zach Sheffer

Talented pass catcher could make early impact.

Richard Dickson is the greatest tight end in LSU history.

Now that your eyeballs have successfully rolled all the way back around, take a moment and genuinely consider it. Who is the all-time leader for tight ends in catches receiving yards and receiving touchdowns? It’s Richard Dickson.

Did you ever believe Richard Dickson was an expressly great player? He was never an All-American. Hell, he was never even first-team All-SEC. And he’s the best player at his position in school history.

Yet, there’s an oft-repeated chorus of “getting back to throwing to the tight end.” I suppose those fans are waxing for the offensive glory of 2008?

It’s strange you would think LSU is a very tight end school. A program that runs historically conservative offense with porous quarterback play and we can’t even generate a progeny of tight ends, the ultimate QB safety valve.

Can Zach Scheffer break the mold?

The Story

The tight end has been a work in progress role at LSU in recent history. Miles seemed to drift further and further away from actual passer catchers into more glorified extra tackles. When Canada arrived, he shifted all tight ends and fullbacks into the “F-back” position that relied upon being a frequent move piece in the offense in hopes to create defensive imbalances and confusion.

Now? LSU may be finally advancing into the post-modern era of college football and finally embracing spread principles, which often eschew the tight end. But, more and more spread offenses are finding creative ways to use athletic tight end to exploit offenses (see Andrews, Mark).

It’s a role they likely won’t target heavily, but if they find a player they like, it’s akin to adding a dynamic slot receiver or a change of pace running back. A nice to have, but not an essential. Sheffer fits that mold.

Sheffer gained acclaim during his Sophomore season, picking up offers from the likes of Duke, South Carolina, Michigan, Auburn and more. As a junior, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State came through with offers, along with LSU. Two months later, he was offered by Ohio State. More offers came. Auburn kept in pursuit. As did Ohio State. By the summer before his senior season, he narrowed his choices to a final decision between Ohio State and LSU, before picking LSU.

He took but one official visit, to LSU. Then signed during the early period and enrolled early.

The Numbers

110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has “can’t miss” talent.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

247 Composite Ranking: ***
247 Composite Rating: .8709

Sheffer stands at at 6-3 and 230 pounds, which is pretty solid size already for a college tight end. Assuming he can add another 20 pounds of muscle, he would have excellent size for the position.

I can’t find testing times for him anywhere. There’s not even anything written about camp performances. He seems to have risen up early in the recruiting process, as a Sophomore, and then somewhat leveled off? He didn’t do the camp circuits and didn’t make his recruiting process a circus, which may be why he never ascended above three-star status.

The Film

One thing that pops about Sheffer right away is that he’s a pure receiver. Catches the ball with his hands. Looks comfortable going up for contested passes. Knows how to use his body to shield defenders. Hell, he even flashes some pretty dynamic catching ability like just over 1 minute into the film, getting his body turned before extending his arms and plucking the ball from the air for a TD. Of late, when LSU does take a chance on receiving tight ends, it seems they are more the long, athletic types that need a lot of development as receivers. Sheffer isn’t that. He’s the type of guy that could make an impact in the passing game as a true freshman.

He’s also a willing and aggressive blocker. It’s easy to see why many projected him to the typical “H-back” role. I could definitely see him being a player like former Eagles tight end Brent Celek. Celek was never an elite tight end, but he could make a dent in the passing game and you could definitely leave him on the field in the run game as a blocker. I think that’s the path for Sheffer.

What I don’t see is an explosive athlete. He looks about average when it comes to speed, but I do see some change of direction, at least in short area. It’s not that he could hit a juke that will throw defenders 6 yards away, but I do think he’s got enough quickness to plant and get himself open in tight routes. Frankly, it’s a more useful skill. He’s athletic enough.

I really, really like his receiving ability though. I can’t stress that enough.

The Future

What type of offense we get from Ensminger remains to be seen. Scheffer is a player he liked and recruited before even being promoted. Where does Sheffer fit in that scheme? I do think he’s a quality “dirty work” type of player. You can line him up as a fullback and he could lead block, or you could put him in the slot and he could catch a contested jump ball down the sideline. That’s a pretty diverse and useful skillset.

It’s also a skillset LSU has frankly just never made use of. There’s no history. I can look at some of our WR recruits and say, “Well, he could be Jarvis or Odell.” Hell, I could even look at QBs and say he could be Mettenberger or Etling. But it’s hard to find some positive examples at tight end. He reminds me a bit of Dennis Pitta, the former BYU TE that became a high volume pass catcher for the Cougars.

There’s stuff to like here. Sheffer can really catch. He looks natural as a receiver. I think they can put him into the mix early. Frankly, only Foster Moreau is truly established at the tight end position and even he is just an okay player. I’m not saying Sheffer walks in and takes the starting job, but I think there’s a very real chance he can contribute based purely on the fact that he’s probably the best pure receiving TE on the roster today.

High End: Multi-year starter and high volume receiver.
Low End: Program lifer and back-up depth.
Realistic: Rotational player that catches some passes and shares tight end duties with others.