In recent years, the tight end position has become a big weapon in Utah’s offensive arsenal. 

Last season, the Utes’ leading receiver was tight end Dalton Kincaid, who caught 70 passes for 890 yards and eight touchdowns, highlighted by his memorable performance in a 43-42 victory over USC, where he finished with a game-high 16 receptions for a career-high 234 yards and a TD.

Kincaid was targeted 16 times and caught every ball thrown his way. He finished one reception shy of the single-game FBS record for a tight end; New Mexico’s Emilio Vallez had 17 catches against UTEP in 1967 and Northwestern’s Jon Harvey had 17 catches against Michigan in 1982.

“He’s an absolute athlete,” coach Kyle Whittingham said about Kincaid after the game. “He’s got to be one of the best tight ends in the country, without a doubt.”

Now, Kincaid is projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft later this month. Logan Kendall, who was used mostly as a blocker, has also moved on. 

Of course, despite the departure of Kincaid and Kendall, the tight end position is still in good hands.

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Returning this fall is Brant Kuithe, who suffered a season-ending injury in late September against Arizona State. 

In 51 career games, the 6-foot-2, 219-pound senior from Katy, Texas, has 148 receptions for 1,882 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s also rushed 17 times for 162 yards and four TDs during his career. 

A three-time All-Pac-12 performer, Kuithe earned second-team all-conference honors in 2019, 2020 and 2021. His 148 catches are the most by a Utah tight end since at least 1996. He ranks eighth overall in school history in receptions. 

“Obviously, Brant Kuithe has played a lot of good ball for us and has been a stellar player,” said tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham. “His knee is rehabbing nicely and I expect him to fill that role. I expect Thomas Yassmin to step up and be able to fill a role there.” 

Yassmin’s role increased last season after Kuithe’s injury. He finished with 13 catches for 301 yards and six touchdowns, including a key 60-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter against USC in the Pac-12 championship game. 

But there are other tight ends that are hoping to emerge this season. Defensive lineman Miki Suguturanga was moved to tight end, while wide receiver Noah Bennee, an Olympus High product, has switched to tight end as well. 

Utah’s Noah Bennee celebrates after Utes victory over USC in the Pac-12 championship game at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Bennee has moved from receiver to tight end and will provide the Utes depth at the position. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

“I also think we have some guys you haven’t heard of yet,” Freddie Whittingham said. “Noah Bennee is going to be a player for us if he continues on his path and his development.”

As for Suguturanga, he added, “The size and athleticism and as we watched his ball skills, it’s real natural. His physicality, his size … replacing Logan Kendall, (former Ute) Cole Fotheringham, that type of player. We really feel like we’re going to hit a home run on that one.”

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said Suguturanga can be a route runner in this offense, not just a blocker. 

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“Miki would be more of a threat than Logan was in the passing game and very similar to short and intermediate passes that we used Cole Fotheringham quite a bit on,” he said. 

Whittingham likes the depth he has at the tight end position. 

“We moved Noah Bennee from wide receiver to tight end and he really looks good. He’s done some really good things. We moved Miki Suguturanga from D-end to tight end and that looks like a good move for us,” he said. “He’s going to pick up some of the slack when Logan Kendall left. He’s a real physical, line-of-scrimmage tight end.

“We’ll get Brant back and that will give that thing a whole new look. We think we’ll be OK there. Obviously, Dalton Kincaid is one of the best players in the country — a first-round draft choice in my opinion. We’ll find out. He will be missed but that should still be a position of strength for us.”

Freddie Whittingham is also happy about Kincaid’s success. And he expects more success for his current crop of tight ends. 

“Dalton, in my opinion, is going to be a first-round draft pick. Now, we’ve got that momentum going,” he said. “I expect that assembly line to keep going with the tight ends with Brant Kuithe and Thomas Yassmin. Then the next guys up after that. That’s our expectation.”

Utah tight end Thomas Yassmin shakes off a USC tackler during the Pac-12 championship game at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Yassmin will be back for more this season. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News