Expanded role for Mark Andrews could be key to Oklahoma's offense

Mark Andrews had 19 receptions for 318 yards and seven touchdowns last season but could see his numbers soar with the departure of Sterling Shepard. Rob Foldy/Getty Images

DALLAS -- Mark Andrews could hold the key to Oklahoma's offense.

The Sooners need to replace Sterling Shepard, one of the nation's top receivers a year ago, from an offense that was among the nation's best through the air. Shepard was Oklahoma's top receiving threat, finishing his senior season with a career-high 86 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Andrews, a sophomore tight end, was an X-factor in the offense a year ago, recording 19 receptions for 318 yards and seven touchdowns to earn All-Big 12 honors. This season, his role is certain to expand after he was targeted just 28 times in 11 games, an average of 2.5 per contest.

"His numbers will at least double now that Sterling is gone, they play the same position," quarterback Baker Mayfield said. "Obviously they're different types of bodies but his role will expand and he'll get a lot more catches, a lot more looks."

Shepard was targeted 119 times in 13 games in 2015, an average of 9.2 targets per game. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Andrews' targets more than double in 2016, particularly considering the challenges he presents to a defense as a big, lengthy target at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds.

"He's such a mismatch threat," Mayfield said. "You can put him on the outside and he has the speed to run with defensive backs and he's bigger than them. You put him on the inside, where the size is similar, he can run away from linebackers and safeties. It's exciting."

And Andrews has already shown signs Mayfield can trust him with six of his 19 receptions on third-down plays during his redshirt freshman season. With the instant mismatches he provides, Andrews sounds like a quarterback's best friend.

"It does," Mayfield said. "Hopefully he will become my best friend (this season)."