Mississippi State Football: Does a Rebuilt Tight End Room Break Out?

The tight end hasn't been a big factor for Mississippi State football in a long time. Can a group of new faces change that?
Sep 17, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Arkansas State Red Wolves tight end Seydou Traore (18) runs
Sep 17, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Arkansas State Red Wolves tight end Seydou Traore (18) runs / Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State football's spring game is this week, and we're continuing our series examining each position group on the team in spring practices. In our last installment, we looked at a wide receiver room that has a chance to be dangerous for the Bulldogs in 2024. Now we'll look at the rest of the pass-catchers with a glance at the spring tight end room.

It's been a long time since the TE was an impact position in Starkville. Mike Leach, famously, didn't use TEs in his Air Raid attack, leaving none on the roster entering last season. But even before Leach, TEs didn't exactly play major roles in Bulldog offenses.

While both Dan Mullen and Joe Moorhead regularly had them on the field, neither featured them heavily in the passing game despite having a few who could've justified seeing more usage, in my opinion.

Last season, State attempted to reintegrate TEs back on the roster with the transition to Kevin Barbay's offense through the transfer portal and by having a few players already on the roster change positions. It didn't go well, and with rare exception, having a TE on the field was essentially a wasted spot for State (and yet the coaches continued running them out there...).

Now State moves into the Jeff Lebby era. Lebby's high-flying offense does use the TE, but that player's role is entirely dependent on what that player can do. Usually, his TEs serve primarily as blockers that will take an occasional check-down or pop pass. But when he's had a true receiving threat, he features them.

Does he have that on the Mississippi State roster?

Seydou Traore may finally give MSU a great pass-catching tight end

Despite having a mostly new TE room in the spring, there's a clear alpha already. Seydou Traore transferred-in last season from Colorado but had to sit out the 2023 season due to NCAA transfer rules. And MSU badly could've used him.

Traore began his career at Arkansas State. In 2022, he was the Red Wolves' leading receiver with 50 catches for 655 yards and four touchdowns. At 6'4", 225, he's built more like a X-receiver than a true TE, and that's frequently how he was used at ASU. He played a flex TE role that was often lined-up outside to get favorable matchups with corners, and he feasted in that role.

Traore joined Coach Prime's Colorado team in 2023 but transferred out after the spring, which is why he had to sit out that season. Now he's ready to roll, and he's easily the front-runner to be MSU's starting TE in 2024. Even if he's mostly used as a receiver as opposed to a traditional TE, Traore gives State a weapon unlike they've had in a long time.

Brothers on the field and in real life

State brought-in two transfer TEs this offseason to fill out the room: Cameron Ball and Justin Ball. Yes, they're brothers. And both are big at 6'6" and 250 lbs.

Justin is a senior who came in from Vanderbilt. He started all 12 games for the 'Dores in 2023, catching 15 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. Cameron is a sophomore out of Buffalo. He started six of the 10 games he played in last season with eight catches for 82 yards. Those numbers don't jump off the page, but the recruiting services love his potential. He was rated as a 4-star transfer.

The Ball brothers will more than likely fill the role of being traditional TEs for MSU. It seems unlikely that either plays a huge role in the passing game given the depth at WR and the presence of Traore, but that's ok. Justin has starting SEC experience, and Cameron could develop into a big-time player. These were good pick-ups for State.

State should be much-improved at tight end

It wouldn't take much to be better at tight end than Mississippi State was in 2023, and I fully expect them to see major improvement at the position. Seydou Traore gives the Bulldog a legitimate receiving threat in the room, something they haven't had in years. The Ball brothers can play the typical collegiate TE role, which while not sexy, is still more than could be said about State's TEs in 2023.

This should end up being a solid group in Starkville. I cannot wait to see how Jeff Lebby utilizes them in 2024. Hopefully we get a good idea in the spring game.