With all of the hype surrounding Bill O’Brien’s new offense that uses tight ends so effectively, the Penn State Nittany Lions have seen a massive improvement from years past at the tight end position.
So in O’Brien’s offense it would be pretty hard for a tight end to fly under the radar, right?
With redshirt freshman Kyle Carter getting all of the media attention, another young tight end in Happy Valley has been able to continue to develop.
True freshman tight end Jesse James has had a relatively quiet season off the field.
I say relatively because James just so happens to have more touchdowns than Carter, who is on the John Mackey Award watch list.
James is tied with fellow tight end Matt Lehman for second on the team in touchdown receptions.
In eight games this year James has nine receptions for 123 yards and three touchdowns.
Although these stats don’t exactly have “future star” written all over them, James still has serious potential.
For starters, let's look at O’Brien’s offense that is obviously tight end friendly.
O’Brien does the same types of things with tight ends at Penn State as he did in New England, in terms of formations and getting them involved. Everyone knows who Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are because O’Brien has an offense that allowed their talents to blossom.
At Penn State, James is starting to fit perfectly into this system with his soft hands and 6’8” frame.
Also, this is a multiple-tight end system, and both Gronkowski and Hernandez became stars in it.
Not to say Carter and James can be compared to NFL tight ends just yet, but it does mean that although Carter is getting recognition and playing time, he’s not the only tight end that’s going to be involved.
We must also look at the talent set that James has.
Out of South Allegheny High School, James was not exactly a “can’t miss” prospect. ESPN had him ranked as the 27th best tight end in the nation and ranked him as a 3-star prospect.
A key ingredient into why James is a future star is his intangibles—size and speed.
At almost seven feet tall you wouldn’t think speed would be a big part of this tight end’s game, but his 4.88 40-yard dash time might change your thinking.
Another key is James’ hands.
Some people speculated that James’ ultimate destination in Happy Valley would be the offensive line. With a big frame and time to add muscle and weight, it made sense to come to that conclusion.
But that was before this season, and now James has proved that he can catch and has serious potential.
So why does James have the potential to be a star?
Let’s look into the future a little bit.
Next year James will be a full year into O’Brien’s program. That means a year into the offense and a year in the gym.
Also top quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg, who has committed to Penn State, will be competing to fill Matt McGloin’s shoes.
If Hackenberg is able to live up to his potential, James will be able to do the same.
James has the potential and tools around him to become a star in an offense that will continue to evolve around Penn State’s young core of talented tight ends.