Memphis football offense position-by-position grades for 2021 season

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  • Seth Henigan
    American football running back

Outside of Calvin Austin III and Sean Dykes, the Memphis offense had little to boast about in 2021. It was expected things would struggle under freshman quarterback Seth Henigan but the issues weren't all on him.

The Tigers had their lowest scoring average (30.1 points) since 2013. The running game has its fewest yards per game (137.08) since 2011. Austin and Dykes had All-AAC first team seasons but had little help carrying the offense. Offensive coordinator Kevin Johns is now at Duke so it's up to a new coordinator - expected to be Tim Cramsey of Marshall - to improve things when he gets hired.

Here’s how we graded and analyzed the 2021 Tigers offense position by position.

Quarterback

Starter: Seth Henigan

Backup: Peter Parrish

Grade: C

Review: Grant Gunnell’s season-ending injury in preseason practice opened the door for Seth Henigan to start 11 of 12 games. Henigan threw for 3,322 yards and 25 touchdowns, respectable numbers for a true freshman. He showed off a nice deep ball – his 8.5 yards per attempt were second in the AAC – and if needed, he could run to get yards. Despite eight interceptions, there weren’t many games where his play cost the Tigers outside of his two-interception game against Tulsa.

Two questions for 2022, though. How much better will Henigan get adding weight and experience? Does a new offensive coordinator mean Gunnell has a chance to battle for the job? Remember, Gunnell was leading the competition before he got hurt. Time will tell but Henigan starts 2022 as the leader of the offense until proven otherwise.

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Memphis Tigers running back Brandon Thomas carries the ball against the Navy Midshipmen defense during their game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.
Memphis Tigers running back Brandon Thomas carries the ball against the Navy Midshipmen defense during their game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.

Running backs

Starter: Brandon Thomas

Backup: Rodrigues Clark, Asa Martin, Marquavius Weaver

Grade: D

Review: Remember when Memphis running backs excited fans? That feeling has been gone for a second consecutive season. Four of the Tigers’ five longest runs happen in the first two games as the run game sputtered once again. Thomas (669 yards in nine games) averaged 5.8 yards per carry despite fumbles and injuries in his freshman year. Clark had 387 yards after a team-high 561 last season. Martin was a late-season spark with his pass-catching and he needs more touches next season.

The problems, however, include not enough big play speed and too many fumbles midway through the season. The fumbles got cleaned up but the backs must get better next season. Perhaps they will with new transfer Jay Ducker, who ran for 1,184 yards at Northern Illinois last season and was the MAC's Freshman of the Year.

OFFSEASON GOALS: Here's what Memphis football needs to do to get back on track in 2022

Receivers

Starters: Calvin Austin III, Javon Ivory, Eddie Lewis

Backups: Roc Taylor, Gabriel Rogers, Koby Drake

Grade: C

Review: Austin was once again brilliant with 1,149 yards and nine touchdowns on 74 catches. He leaves Memphis as one of its most productive receivers and a great story as a former walk-on But the receivers behind him were a mixed bag. Ivory had just 29 catches in his second season for 413 yards and three touchdowns. Rogers battled injuries but also struggled with consistency with just 15 catches.

Eddie Lewis (22 receptions, 349 yards) came on strong to end the season with four touchdowns, including two on plays of over 70 yards. A lot of that was probably on Henigan’s inexperience but Memphis didn’t have a great No. 2 receiver last season. That’s reason to worry since they’ll need a clear No. 1 target in 2022 and there’s no clue who it’ll be.

Memphis Tigers Tight End Sean Dykes races down the sidelines as UTSA linebacker Trevor Harmanson closes in at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 25, 2021.
Memphis Tigers Tight End Sean Dykes races down the sidelines as UTSA linebacker Trevor Harmanson closes in at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 25, 2021.

Tight end

Starter: Sean Dykes

Backup: Caden Prieskorn

Grade: A

Review: Dykes’ final season ended with career bests of 48 catches and 657 yards. His seven touchdowns were second behind Austin and he was a valuable security blanket for Henigan. Memphis will miss the most prolific tight end in school history, especially since there’s questions behind him. Will Prieskorn, Drew Martin or Errington McRae emerge in spring practice? Will junior college transfer Anthony Landphere have an immediate impact? Dykes leaves big footprints behind and somebody has to try and fill them in.

Offensive line

Starters: LT Jonah Gambill, LG Evan Fields, C Jacob Likes, RG Dylan Parham, RT Matt Dale

Grade: C

The good news is the Tigers were sixth in the AAC in allowing 29 sacks (2.42 per game). Parham was an All-AAC first team selection in his fourth and final year as a starter. But the bad news is this group had too many holding penalties and false starts as well as so-so run-blocking. Austin Myers’s season-ending injury in the fourth game forced the Tigers to start a freshman in Gambill and Isaac Ellis lost his starting spot at left guard and eventually transferred.

Replacing Parham won’t be easy but with Myers returning, there’s four starters who’ll be back. Since there's questions at the skill positions, this group must be a strength in 2022 yet it’s hard to tell unless they get better at run blocking, not just pass protection.

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You can reach Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at evan.barnes@commercialappeal.com

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Here's how we graded Memphis football's offense for the 2021 season

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