How Texas football can incorporate Jahleel Billingsley into the offense

Jahleel Billingsley, Texas Football
Jahleel Billingsley, Texas Football /

For the first time, we will see the former Alabama Crimson Tide senior tight end transfer Jahleel Billingsley have the opportunity to get live-game reps for Texas football. After serving a six-game NCAA suspension this fall, Billingsley can finally make his Texas debut this weekend as this squad takes on the Iowa State Cyclones.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian has to be excited about getting Billingsley in the mix for the rest of the season. Billingsley gives an already-established Texas tight end room another weapon to utilize in the passing game.

Billingsley will join sophomore tight ends Ja’Tavion Sanders and Gunnar Helm among those at the position that should get significant live-game reps for the Longhorns.

So, what does Billingsley bring to the table for the Longhorns starting this weekend against Iowa State?

The 6-foot-4 and 220-pound Billingsley is an experienced receiving tight end that has NFL-caliber physical tools that has a pretty dynamic route tree he is capable of running. Billingsley has a large wingspan and a good leaping ability, making his catch radius extremely large.

Texas football gets a valuable weapon in the passing game this weekend in TE Jahleel Billingsley

He’s also got quick footspeed and acceleration, especially for a receiving tight end, making him a legit deep threat and a real threat to pick up a lot of yards after the catch.

In fact, during the 2020 season, Billingsley ranked third in the SEC in yards after the catch per reception (6.8). That put him ahead of notable SEC tight ends such as Florida’s Kyle Pitts, Alabama’s Miller Forristall, and LSU’s Arik Gilbert.

How Steve Sarkisian can get Jahleel Billingsley involved in the passing game vs. Iowa State

The addition of Billingsley to the active tight end room for the Iowa State game likely means that Sark can run more 12 personnel, especially on passing downs, alongside Sanders. Billingsley gives Texas a tight end that they can utilize as an H-back to get involved in the screen game and to give QB Quinn Ewers a reliable target in the flats that can pick up yards after the catch.

The more diverse the route tree for Billingsley, the more pressure it will put on opposing linebackers and slower DBs in pass coverage.

Billingsley joining this group of tight ends also gives Sark a lot more versatility in terms of the personnel packages he can run with this weekend. Texas can now have two tight ends that present major threats in the passing game between Sanders and Billingsley.

Moreover, during their time together at Alabama, Sark liked to utilize Billingsley predominately as an H-back to cleanly get off the line of scrimmage and run more effective routes. Billingsley’s quickness and catch radius made him a dynamic threat on a plethora of different routes from the H-back slot, including corner, out, and crossing routes to the flats.

The speed and overall physical gifts that Billingsley brings to the table make him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Most opposing DCs don’t want to devote an extra corner to cover him. And most teams don’t have enough safeties with the foot speed and the physicality necessary to deal with him in pass coverage consistently. That leaves linebackers and most safeties overwhelmed in pass coverage against Billingsley.

It’s worth noting that Billingsley had his best season by far during the 2020 campaign when Sark was the offensive coordinator. That likely played a large role in his transfer to Texas from Alabama during the 2022 offseason.

The familiarity that Sark has with Billingsley during his time at Alabama should mean he is more than ready to get him involved in the passing game against Iowa State.

Billingsley can act as somewhat of a zone-buster for the Longhorns this weekend against Iowa State. The Cyclones play that famous fire zone defensive scheme that drops three safeties on top of three linebackers, with a boundary corner and a field corner.

Texas’ passing game can already give Iowa State issues with the skill talent that Sark’s squad brings to the table. Iowa State doesn’t really have the speed necessary on this defense to keep up with the trio of Sanders, redshirt junior wide receiver Jordan Whittington, and star sophomore wideout Xavier Worthy.

But when you add Billingsley into the mix, life can get even more difficult for the Cyclone defense in terms of matching up with Texas’ speed and athleticism.

Billingsley is familiar with facing zone defenses, as that’s predominately what he faced during his time at Alabama. In fact, roughly 60 percent of his receiving yards and 62 percent of his receptions came against zone coverage in his three seasons playing for the Tide.

I anticipate that Sark will have Billingsley taking the bulk of his reps lined up as an H-back. That gives Sark the ability to motion him around pre-snap to get him in advantageous matchups, while also allowing the other dynamic skill players for Texas to find more space. And having Billingsley lined up as an H-back will prevent him from having to take on tough blocking assignments as often or get locked up at the line of scrimmage with defensive ends and edge rushers on passing plays.

Jahleel Billingsley will be a problem for Iowa State’s defense

Yet, the main reason why I believe Billingsley can present such a matchup issue for the Iowa State defense has to do with his speed and large catch radius. Iowa State doesn’t have the speed nor the size at linebacker or at safety to consistently matchup in pass coverage against Billingsley.

Iowa State tries to prevent the deep ball from beating them while being able to drop enough guys into pass coverage to limit what teams do in the middle of the field.

But when Iowa State has to face a team with as much speed and size as Texas brings to the table this weekend, they can be overwhelmed.

I don’t believe Iowa State has enough corners and/or capable safeties to be able to defend the threat that Billingsley brings to the table in the intermediate and deep passing game. And if they devote an extra safety or corner to cover him, that allows another one of these potent Texas skill guys to get the ball with extra room to run.

Sark can have Billingsley spacing the field for Texas by running deep crossing patterns underneath Worthy or Whittington. Billingsley can also take advantage of some of the lack of speed and size in this Iowa State secondary by utilizing his quickness to beat them on corner routes.

Last but not least, Billingsley could be a major matchup issue for Iowa State in the red zone. Billingsley’s large frame, leaping ability, and quickness in tight areas make him a very potent red zone target for the Longhorns this weekend.

Texas can Billingsley to the outside on corner and fade routes in one-on-one situations to convert on higher-percentage throws in the red zone. His quickness and size are really valuable for the Longhorns within 20 or 25 yards of the end zone, as Sark proved during their time together at Alabama.

However, if Sark wants to throw some deception at Iowa State this weekend, he can even mix passing plays with Billingsley as a decoy to be a blocker while Helm runs out to the flats to get open and surprise that defense (as I would assume they would be anticipating Billingsley as the receiver in that situation).

Sark ran something similar to this on a nine-yard pass play from Ewers to Helm before halftime against the Oklahoma Sooners last weekend.

All in all, there are a plethora of ways that Billingsley can get involved for the Longhorns against a very solid, albeit beatable, Iowa State defense this weekend. Billingsley gives Sark yet another weapon to work with in the passing game to overwhelm defenses that don’t match up well with Texas’ skill guys athletically.

I would expect at least five or six targets for Billingsley this weekend if Texas has to rely on Ewers in the passing game late in the contest against Iowa State. Billingsley will be too valuable and too much of a matchup issue for Iowa State, especially in the red zone, for him not to get involved in the passing game.

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Texas is sporting a record of 4-2 (2-1 Big 12) following the dismantling of Oklahoma in Red River on Oct. 8, by the final score of 49-0. Billingsley and the Longhorns will kickoff against Iowa State at home at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Oct. 15 at 11 a.m. CT.