New Pitt TE Malcom Epps Doesn’t Just Provide Depth, He Adds Versatility
USC’s Caleb Williams spread the ball quite a bit during his Heisman Trophy campaign last season, but Malcolm Epps only caught three of those passes.
It kinda sums up his collegiate career thus far at both USC and Texas.
Epps — who confirmed to PSN that he has committed to Pitt — has flashed his athletic potential at times during five seasons at Texas and USC, but his opportunities in the passing game dried up over time at both schools.
According to PFF, Epps recorded 156 snaps last season, including 75 passing snaps (with 63 routes run), but he was targeted just seven times.
At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, with five seasons of college experience at two Power Five programs, Epps is a grown man. He just hasn’t been able to put together a full season.
USC Analytics (@USCanalytics on Twitter) watched Epps over the last two seasons in Southern California and shared some thoughts on his time with the Trojans.
“He looks like everything you’d want in a receiving tight end. Prototypical NFL size and weight and has showed off his athleticism and pass-catching ability in his practice highlights. Production just hasn’t been there. Even in a Lincoln Riley offense that wants to use the TE.”
USC Analytics pointed to Epps’ strong spring last year — which included a highlight reel one-handed catch in the back of the end zone during practice — getting the USC fanbase excited, but that same athleticism didn’t materialize in live game situations.
Got the Midas touch 🔥#FightOn✌️ pic.twitter.com/AeccmTUI5V
— USC Football ✌️ (@uscfb) April 2, 2022
Epps had a strong debut season at USC, hauling in 10 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown in 2021 — with Kedon Slovis(!) as his quarterback. But that opportunity (double the passing snaps and triple the targets) fell away last season.
“Last year, part of it was USC’s depth at wide receiver took away targets from tight ends. And USC had a lot of big wide receivers … He’s a willing blocker and has the size which is half the battle. Hard to really say how reliable he is in game though.”
If there’s been one thing about Epps’ career (aside from the way his opportunities have never matched his expectations and the way he’s turned 37 career catches into seven touchdowns), it’s the way he’s been utilized in many different ways.
Epps’ snap counts by position during his collegiate career:
His two most productive seasons in terms of production (2019 at Texas: 20 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns; 2021 at USC: 10 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown) have come as a majority of his passing snaps were utilized as a jumbo wide receiver in the slot or out wide.
But in two of his four seasons (not going to count his 2018 season with just seven snaps), he’s been utilized most as an inline option. He’s certainly experienced.
When it comes to his fit at Pitt, I think he’s a very intriguing option alongside Gavin Bartholomew and Karter Johnson. He doesn’t need to be the guy, just a guy who comes in and takes advantage of the opportunities he’s given in the offense.
Pitt needed him to add depth, considering Jake Renda and Cole Mitchell have not played a collegiate snap, but I like his potential in 12 personnel sets. Very much.
Johnson offers a lot inline (where he lined up almost exclusively last season), and I like Epps’ athleticism in adding versatility across the line of scrimmage.
Bartholomew also operated almost solely inline last season (594 snaps inline), which very likely isn’t the best use of his considerable ability. It’s time to use him as the mismatch, not Epps. When Bartholomew did his damage as a true freshman in 2021, it was because Pitt played to his strengths — and had another option in Lucas Krull, too.
In 2021, Bartholomew recorded 193 snaps in the backfield, 200 inline, 44 in the slot and 31 out wide. That’s more like what his 2023 usage should read at this time next year. And was Krull’s usage like? 359 snaps inline, 269 slot and 40 out wide.
Who sounds like he’d be able to fulfill a similar usage?
It would be unfair to compare Epps’ game to Krull’s, although Krull was listed at a very similar 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, but at their cores, they’re both athletic receiving tight ends.
The possibilities in using Bartholomew, Johnson and Epps in the offense are vast. If Frank Cignetti Jr. wants to really get into his bag next season and really make use of three big, athletic tight ends, he has his chance. I mean, Pitt has the chance to be really creative with its tight ends next season now.