Ja’Tavion Sanders the ultimate dark horse for the Mackey Award

Ja'Tavion Sanders, Texas Football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Ja'Tavion Sanders, Texas Football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Preseason award watch lists are being announced at this time of the year, and there are multiple Texas football players getting notoriety through this process. But there is one recent player that was named to one of these key preseason award watch lists for Texas that could really make some noise this fall and challenge for more national recognition and respect.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian and tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Banks have a real stud in the tight end room that could make some noise in the Big 12 this season in rising sophomore Ja’Tavion Sanders. The former five-star Denton-Ryan athlete recruit and projected starting tight end for the Longhorns this year was recently named to the John Mackey Award watch list for this preseason.

Interestingly enough, Sanders was also the only Texas tight end that was named to the Mackey Award preseason watch list. The former Alabama Crimson Tide junior transfer tight end Jahleel Billingsley was not included on the watch list for the first time since 2020.

Texas football TE Ja’Tavion Sanders named to Mackey Award watch list

This just goes to show how people around the college football landscape feel about Sanders heading into the 2022 season. Sanders is an incredible talent that should be one of the breakout candidates for the Longhorns this fall.

And if Sanders is able to rise to the occasion this fall, he’s likely going to garner some national attention in the process. Sanders has the type of talent that Texas needs to make a splash in the passing game at the tight end position.

He can do damage lining up as a blocking tight end and then running out to the flats in the passing game, or he can go up and get contested 50/50 balls on the outside using that 6-foot-4 and 255-pound frame of his. Sanders also has the downhill running ability and underrated flat-out speed to pick up yards in chunks after the catch.

To sum it up, Sanders should be able to give this Texas offense a dynamic at the tight end position that they haven’t boasted in a long time. And the fact that he can combine with another NFL-caliber talent at tight end this fall in Billingsley really shows the potential that Texas will have at this position group.

Moreover, as long as Sanders is getting at least six or eight targets in the passing game per week, he should definitely be able to contend for these honors.

And if Texas is starting redshirt freshman Quinn Ewers at quarterback this fall, Sanders should easily be in line for at least five targets per week in the passing game. He’s a sizable target that will be an easy find, especially early in the season, for a quarterback in Ewers that will be taking his time to settle into this offense.

While Ewers is getting settled in, Sanders should be one of his more common and effective targets to look to in the passing game.

All in all, we don’t need an insane 2022 campaign out of Sanders statistically for him to make some noise in the race for the Mackey Award. If he’s able to register at least 500 or 600 receiving yards and five or six receiving touchdowns, that could be enough to at least keep him around in the midseason Mackey conversation.

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Texas finished up last season with a record of 5-7 (3-6 Big 12), missing out on bowl season for the first time since 2016. Sanders and the Longhorns are set to open up the 2022 regular season on Sep. 3 at home against Louisiana-Monroe.