2019 Preseason Award Projections: Mackey Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2019 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2020 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

The Mackey Award is given to the top tight end in college football. I had a run where I correctly predicted the Mackey Award winner for five straight years. Three years ago, our prediction was Arkansas’ Hunter Henry, who won the award. The year before, we hit it, with Florida State’s Nick O’Leary bringing home the honor. That was the fourth year in a row we correctly predicted the Mackey Award winner after getting it right with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tyler Eifert, O’Leary, Henry, and Jake Butt. which made it five straight. The streak ended in 2018 when Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews won the award. We had Andrews as the dark horse selection, and our prediction of Troy Fumagalli winning the award being incorrect. Last year, we had the right program with Noah Fant of Iowa being our prediction, but his teammate T.J. Hockenson was the winner.

Mackey Award Winner:

Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri

Iowa tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were top-20 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, but if Albert Okwuegbunam had decided to skip his senior year, he could have gone in that same region, and some teams could have had Okwuegbunam as their top graded tight end. Since getting on the field at Missouri, Okwuegbunam has been one of the most dangerous and productive receiving tight ends in college football despite taking on the best competition in the nation.

Okwuegbunam was a dangerous red-zone weapon as a redshirt freshman in 2017, hauling in 11 touchdowns from Drew Lock, along with 29 receptions for 415 yards. Missouri opened up its offense with Lock in the back half of that season, using Okwuegbunam as one of is steady receiving threats. In 2018, he had 43 receptions for 466 yards with six touchdowns before missing the final four games with a shoulder injury.

As a receiver, Okwuegbunam is dynamic. He has the speed to get down the seam, and his size lets him wall off defenders or make catches over them when they are able to keep him from separating. Thus, Okwuegbunam is very difficult to cover, as safeties will struggle with his size while linebackers will have a hard time running with him. Okwuegbunam runs quality routes and is adept at finding the soft spot in zone coverage. He tracks the ball well and shows impressive hands to snatch passes out of the air. With his soft hands, Okwuegbunam does not have to body catch and is very calm to make receptions with defenders closing in on him. Even with breaking in a new quarterback, I think Okwuegbunam could be the best tight end in college football in 2019 and earn the Mackey Award.

Mackey Runner-Up:

Grant Calcaterra, Oklahoma

The Sooners have been a point-machine offense, with tight ends getting solid receiving production for them in Lincoln Riley’s offensive scheme. In 2018, he caught 26 passes for 396 yards and six touchdowns with a solid debut as a replacement for Mark Andrews. Calcaterra could definitely produce more now that he has a year of experience, and Oklahoma will have to use other players with the loss of Marquise Brown to the NFL. It would be surprising if Calcaterra did not produce good receiving totals in 2019 and earn some awards at the end of the season. He is a top candidate to win the Mackey Award.

Mackey Dark Horse:

Mitchell Wilcox, South Florida

Wilcox totaled 43 catches for 540 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. He made some big plays as a freshman in 2016, averaging a ridiculous 23.2 yards per reception. Wilcox could take on a bigger role in 2019 since the Bulls lost some receivers to the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder is athletic with mismatch receiving potential. He could be a dark horse candidate for the Mackey Award, which typically goes to players from bigger schools.

Honorable Mentions: BYU’s Matt Bushman, Oregon’s Jacob Breeland, Arkansas’ Cheyenne O’Grady, Georgia’s Charlie Woerner and Fresno State’s Jared Rice.

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