As we creep ahead in our countdown of the Top 60 players at The U, we take a look at No. 19 on our list: Tight end Dedrick Epps. The 6-4, 253-pound senior is coming back from a torn ACL and won't be ready for the start of the season. But the Canes are hopeful he'll be back at some point. UM certainly needs Epps because of their youth and inexperience at the position. How much will Epps be able to contribute? We'll find out soon.
> What we heard about him on Signing Day '06: As a senior at Huguenot High in Richmond (Va), Epps caught 38 passes for more than 700 yards and eight touchdowns. He picked the Canes over the hometown Hokies, University of Florida and Tennessee. Rivals.com and Scout.com both rated him the nation's 12th best tight end. He was one of 10 players rated by Rivals.com in UM's 2006 class as a 4-star recruit.
> What he's done as a Cane: After catching just eight passes for 83 yards (and one very big touchdown in the 2007 win at FSU) in his first two years at UM, Epps became the primary tight end in UM's offense last season thanks to the transfer of Dajleon Farr to Memphis. Last season, Epps caught 22 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns -- including a 69-yarder (UM's longest play from scrimmage) against N.C. State. He finished with 101 yards in the game to become the first UM tight end to catch finish with more than 100 yards receiving since Greg Olsen had 132 yards on eight catches against FSU in 2005. Epps was all ready to take the next step then suffered a torn ACL in his left knee when the Canes were preparing for the Emerald Bowl. He missed the spring and hopes to be back in September.
> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: No player is tougher to forecast on this team than Epps. There is no question he's the best tight end on this team. He's the best route runner, the best blocker, the only real weapon who will be effective at the tight end position in Mark Whipple's offense (the other guys are either too young or just have never given us reason to believe they'll improve). Randy Shannon has said Epps has been ahead of schedule in his rehab and is hopeful he will be back in September. But even in the best case scenario, its going to take him time to get his body physically ready for action. Then, he has to actually execute plays in the offense. At best, Epps will be back in the lineup by October (the middle of the season). When he comes back, he'll provide a big lift to this new offense, which showed us it relies a lot on underneath targets to make plays. Epps can do that if he's healthy. But if he doesn't come back in time or if he doesn't come back the same, it could be a huge blow to this offense. That being said, it will be interesting to see who else steps up at the position. Jimmy Graham makes the move over from basketball and is athletic and big, but hasn't played football since he was in ninth grade. Will any of the incoming recruits be able to help? Probably not. Either way, this position enters the fall as the clear cut biggest question on the team.