Texas Tech football alums Dylan Cantrell and Kliff Kingsbury are teaming up again in the NFL with the former agreeing to play TE for the first time in his career.
Kliff Kingsbury is thinking outside the box again. The head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, who brought his version of the “Air Raid” offense to the NFL last season, is trying to add more juice to his team and to do so, he’s taking a low-risk gamble on another Texas Tech football alum, Dylan Cantrell.
Monday, Cantrell signed with the Cardinals but not to play wide receiver, which he played for Kingsbury while at Texas Tech as well as for the Los Angeles Chargers the last two years, mainly on the practice squad. Rather, the native of Whitehouse, Texas is going to give the tight end position a shot in Phoenix and the move may revive a football career that seems to be stuck in neutral.
Cantrell has yet to accumulate any statistics in the NFL after being a sixth-round draft pick of the Chargers in the 2018 NFL Draft. That was due in large part to his lack of elite quick-twitch athleticism and top-end speed, which kept him from ever breaking into the Chargers’ depth chart at WR.
But at tight end, athleticism might be his biggest asset because he is going to be more adept at route running and getting open than the typical NFL TE. The question is whether or not he will be able to handle the other aspects of playing the position, namely blocking.
The good news is that Kingsbury’s spread offense doesn’t ask the TE to play the way most other schemes require. Rather, the TE is viewed as a fourth receiver more than a sixth offensive lineman.
We also saw in Lubbock that Kingsbury can operate just find without a true TE on his team at all. In fact, Kingsbury had one of the most productive offenses in the NFL last year despite receiving no more than 202 yards from any individual TE on the roster. Even when he runs the ball, he rarely does so out of traditional run sets. Preferring to spread the field to create lanes for his running backs, Kingsbury often leaves his four receivers on the field to force the defense to spread from sideline to sideline.
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Should Cantrell be part of such packages, he will be able to hold his own physically if what we saw at Tech is any indication. Playing at 220-pounds as a Red Raider, the 6-foot-3 receiver was one of the most physical blockers to ever play receiver in Lubbock. In fact, once he was flagged for blocking too physically in a game at Kansas State.
According to his NFL.com profile page, he played last year at 226 pounds. However, the Cardinals list him at 240 pounds on their official team roster. That puts him just 10-15 pounds away from weighing what many NFL tight ends consider an acceptable playing weight.
What will separate Cantrell from most tight ends are his hands, which could be some of the best in Texas Tech football history. Rarely did Cantrell drop an on-target pass during his time as a Red Raider and often, he came up with some of the more difficult catches we’ve seen in the last two decades of the program.
Perhaps one of the best examples of his hands is this play from the 2018 game against Arizona State in Lubbock. He’s also proven capable of making plays on contested balls, something that he did on this play against West Virginia corner Darryl Worley, who is now in the NFL as well.
Also, you can find videos of his 41-inch vertical jump, his completing of a between-the-legs dunk, and his catching of a pass while doing a backflip. Of course, those tricks alone won’t make him successful in the NFL as a TE but they do show that the athletic ability is there for Cantrell to be a quality player and nowt hat his below-average speed won’t be as much of a drawback, he could finally become a contributor on Sundays.
Kingsbury hasn’t been afraid to make unusual decisions or take risks during his brief first stint as an NFL head coach. To run his unorthodox spread offense, he drafted OU QB Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft despite the fact that Murray is just 5-foot-10 and also despite the fact that the Cardinals had spent a first-round pick on QB Josh Rosen in 2018.
Now, he’s thinking outside the box again but is doing so by turning to a familiar face. While playing for his new head coach in college, Cantrell caught 158 passes for 1,873 yards and 18 touchdowns. Now, he will get a shot at teaming up with Kingsbury again, and here’s hoping the duo’s second marriage is as productive as the first.