Name: Tanner Cowley
Hometown: Manasquan, NJ
24/7: 84, three stars; #59 WDE, NJ #30
ESPN: 73, three stars; #105 OLB, NJ #38, East #187
Rivals: 5.4, two stars; NJ #35
Scout: three stars; #123 DE
Other offers: Rutgers, UConn, Buffalo
A bit of a big deal was made last year over UVA whiffing so badly in the so-named DMV area in 2014, and rightfully so as it's essentially our front yard. But did you also know, the last prospects we pulled from New Jersey signed in 2012? It'll be three years, which is also quite a long time for a state that by my unofficial guess sends the most out-of-staters to UVA other than Maryland.
Here's the streak-breaker. Tanner Cowley is a somewhat lightly-recruited prospect from the Jersey Shore, who fits the mold of the type of player Mike London often aims for - that is, he doesn't fit any mold especially, being more of a generic athlete with ability on either side of the ball and a frame you can shape to your needs. The recruiting services can't seem to agree whether he's a linebacker or defensive end (IMO he plays too much pass coverage to be a DE) and he's apparently going to be neither at UVA. He's been slotted intially at tight end instead.
The problem is, I think - based of course on nothing more than any regular schmo has access to - he'd be a better linebacker than tight end, but UVA's linebacker class is beastly good. Cowley's highlights don't show him doing great deeds at receiver, except for when he uses his size to outmuscle a defender for a jump ball.** Certainly a useful thing as a tight end, although it's all muscle and not much jump. His routes are extremely basic, even when he's split out wide as a true receiver. I like him better as a linebacker because he hits people with a pretty fair amount of power (both on offense and defense) and because of this line from ESPN's evaluation: "This is an instinctive player with quick key and diagnosis reaction skills; isn't fooled by play action or misdirection run plays."
Coaches spend years trying to teach that. It's difficult to replicate. It's exactly what you want out of a linebacker. It's what I like so much about Daquan Romero - the guy sniffs out screen plays like a bloodhound. Cowley wouldn't need to spend a lot of time bulking up, either. I think he'd make a very nice weak-side linebacker, given time to adjust to the speed of the college game and to learn the schemes and what all.
But with Cowley at linebacker we'd have 13 of them next year, which is too many - it's more than four deep and that's even assuming you run three most of the time, which we don't - a great deal of our time is spent in sort of a 4-2-5 setup. So instead, they'll try and put 30-40 pounds on him and have him be a tight end, which makes a ton more sense from a depth chart perspective, considering the extremely uncertain availability of Mario Nixon (who will probably never play a down.) The list of returning tight ends entirely consists of Rob Burns and Evan Butts, so the depth chart is very inviting in that regard, where Cowley will compete only with Richard Burney in his class.
Burns is a bit of a cautionary tale for Cowley, who will need to seize on the opportunity. Burns, you'll recall, began as a DE but didn't stick, and has taken a while to get up to speed at TE. Cowley needs to stake a claim to a position early, or we won't really ever see him until 2017 or 2018. His blocking looks as though it'll be ahead of his pass-catching, so once he arrives, not noticing him shouldn't be confused with him not playing; still, he's not getting on the field as a 210- or 220-pound tight end, so the faster he adds good weight, the better his career will be for it.
**The Rivals highlight is hilariously worth watching just for the second play. Cowley is split wide with a cornerback about ten yards off the line; the CB takes two steps back and then abandons his post with gusto, preferring instead to be the (completely unnecessary) third guy covering the slot receiver drifting toward the sideline. Where the safety is, I dunno, but Cowley gets acres of open space all to his lonesome, and nobody else is seen on the screen until he's about at the goal line already. It's How Not To Play Zone 101.
I just remembered something about Tony Bennett's 2016 commitment, Ty Jerome - it's not that I forgot to write a profile, it's that I forgot to tell you why I'm not (yet). We're going to wait til he plays his junior season, that's why. Tony has the ability to get a nice early start on that class, so it wouldn't surprise me if I had two or even three of them sitting in the hopper waiting for a little more exposure before I commit myself to evaluating anything.