USC Football best-case, worst-case at tight end in 2017

Sep 10, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC Trojans tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (88) is defended by Utah State Aggies safety Jontrell Rocquemore (27) during a NCAA football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Utah State 45-7.
Sep 10, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC Trojans tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (88) is defended by Utah State Aggies safety Jontrell Rocquemore (27) during a NCAA football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Utah State 45-7. /

USC Football’s prospects at tight end in 2017 appear as solid as can be, despite some potential concerns on the blocking front.

After years spent rebuilding a decimated tight end group, USC Football is ready to field a potentially elite crop in 2017.

The Trojans boast two veteran figures and promising youth, but there are pitfalls to worry about as well.

Here’s a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for USC tight ends this year:

Best-case scenario

USC wins its second-ever Mackey Award.

Strong recruiting at tight end was always bound to pay off for the Trojans following a string of bad luck for the position.

Now USC has perhaps its most talent-laden group of tight ends this century, if not ever.

Daniel Imatorbhebhe was a revelation in 2016, his first year of eligibility after transferring from Florida.

He caught just one pass in USC’s first five games of the season, but soon took on a bigger role, accounting for 16 catches, 243 yards and four touchdowns in the final eight games of the year.

Building chemistry with quarterback Sam Darnold, Imatorbhebhe figures to be a major figure for the Trojans, especially given the need to rebuild the receiving corps in 2017.

SEE ALSO: USC’s Best-, Worst-Case Scenarios at Wide Receiver

A bigger role in the offense plus Imatorbhebhe’s clear talent could equal a challenge for the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.

USC hasn’t produced a Mackey winner since Fred Davis grabbed the program’s first in 2007. If Imatorbhebhe continues on his upward trajectory, he’ll be in the running for the second.

But Imatorbhebhe isn’t the only tight end the Trojans could see great things from in 2017. Tyler Petite is a bit of a forgotten man, but the former four-star is also a dangerous weapon in the passing game.

Deployed properly, the pair should pose major problems for opposing defenses.

The duo will be supplemented by redshirt freshman Cary Angeline, who Imatorbhebhe himself pegged as a future star for the Trojans. They wouldn’t need him to be the real deal just yet, but a cameo or two from the promising talent would help to whet the palate of USC fans looking ahead.

Worst-case scenario

Development stagnates and blocking becomes a problem as USC’s pass-catching options go to waste.

When it comes to sure things, USC appears to have them at tight end. That’s why it’s so difficult to conceive of a worst-case scenario outside of some terrible injury luck.

If Petite and Imatorbhebhe were lost to injury and the Trojans were forced to lean on Angeline and true freshmen Josh Falo and Erik Krommenhoek, that would be less-than ideal. But even that’s a problem USC has navigated fairly well in the past.

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Taking injuries off the table, there are some concerns which could bloom into full-blown problems during 2017. Most notably, the graduation of primary blocking tight end Taylor McNamara could upset the balance of the unit.

While Imatorbhebhe and Petite displayed passable blocking ability, they are most effective in the passing game. Without McNamara, their responsibilities as blockers will be more critical, which is an issue made even more important with a rebuilt offensive line still finding its feet.

As blocking ability, or lackthereof, becomes highlighted, USC could fall back into old habits of forgetting the tight ends as receiving threats. Given the considerable talent Imatorbhebhe and Petite bring to the table, neglecting them would be a shame.

Most-likely scenario

USC will have to come to grips with the reality that neither Imatorbhebhe or Petite figure to be as reliable a blocking option as McNamara was. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing the job as blockers.

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Both learned from McNamara’s example and have shown the willingness to put in the work in protection.

As pass catchers, both are proven options whose involvement will be determined by Darnold and offensive coordinator Tee Martin.

Based on Darnold’s willingness to find Imatorbhebhe, Petite and McNamara last year –the trio combined for 39 catches and seven touchdowns– the tight ends won’t be forgotten in 2017.

And while a Mackey Award may not be in the cards, odds are the Trojans will see their first All-Conference selection at tight end since Davis in 2007.