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Duke football 2021 positional preview: Receivers and tight ends

Senior Jake Bobo looks to bring leadership and playmaking to the Blue Devils' passing game.
Senior Jake Bobo looks to bring leadership and playmaking to the Blue Devils' passing game.

With the 2021 season right around the corner, The Chronicle breaks down each of the eight major position groups for the Blue Devils: Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, defensive backs, linebackers and specialists. 

Entering the 2021 season with last year's corps mostly intact, Duke’s deep roster of pass-catchers seeks to prove itself as a force to be reckoned with. The group’s advantage in size and athleticism has the potential to improve on last year’s lackluster performance.

Key player lost: Noah Gray

After putting up eight career touchdowns and 948 total receiving yards as a Blue Devil, tight end Noah Gray leaves the team after being drafted with the 162nd pick by the Kansas City Chiefs. As one of five captains of the team in 2020, Gray holds the record for most receptions by a tight end in the program’s history and leaves behind a notable vacancy in both talent and leadership. That hole will need to be filled in order for the Blue Devils to be successful on the offensive side of the ball.

Projected starters: Jake Bobo, Jalon Calhoun, Eli Pancol, Jake Marwede

With an average size of over 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, this group of pass-catchers can be expected to play with physicality and athleticism. Two of the previous year’s starters, senior Jake Bobo and junior Jalon Calhoun, return to the lineup once again after recording 358 and 349 receiving yards, respectively. After starting in all 11 games last season and recording a career-high 32 receptions, Bobo seeks to put up another solid performance as one of the team’s three captains for the 2021 season. 

After leading the team in receptions and tying for the team lead in receiving touchdowns, junior Jalon Calhoun is remarkably consistent, starting all 23 games over the last two seasons and catching at least one pass in each of those games. This consistency lends itself into making Calhoun a solid option from anywhere on the field. 

Having recorded 24 catches and 241 receiving yards in 11 games played last season—all off the bench—junior Eli Pancol will likely serve as a solid receiving option capable of making tough plays. Pancol’s receiving numbers in 2020 in addition to his 22-yard rushing touchdown signals that he has athleticism defenses may find difficult to counter.

Redshirt senior Jake Marwede has big shoes to fill—the departure of previous starter Noah Gray means the team lost a consistently well-performing tight end and is seeking a suitable replacement. However, this does not mean Marwede is unprepared to step up to the line. With 11 games played and 145 receiving yards on 13 receptions last season, he has shown that he has the ability to play as a starter and excel.

Dark horse: Jarett Garner

Although he only started one game in 2020, Garner still accumulated a total of 274 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt junior is indicative of just how deep the team’s wide receiver talent pool is. While he may not find space in the current starting lineup, he will likely play a significant number of snaps off the bench while jockeying for a higher position on the roster.

For the rest of our Duke preseason coverage, click here.

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