2012 Mackey Award Watch List: Tight Ends See Their Roles Increase

Michael Felder@InTheBleachersNational CFB Lead WriterJuly 10, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 03:  Tyler Eifert #80 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs after catching a pass against the University of South Florida Bulls at Notre Dame Stadium on September 3, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. South Florida defeated Notre Dame 23-20.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The John Mackey Award is given yearly to the most outstanding tight end in the nation. Last season Dwayne Allen, the big kid out of Clemson, took home the hardware, and this year there are some big names on the watch list. Chris Gragg, Jake Stoneburner, Tyler Eifert and Philip Lutzenkirchen are a couple of the names that will lead the way as the charge for the award kicks off in September. 

The tight end position has become a power spot on the roster of a college football team. Through the influence of the spread, the evolution of defense and the inventive nature of offensive coordinators, the tight end has grown into a clear mismatch where athletic, big-bodied players are able to get open and make things happen.

As teams look for advantages in their one-on-one matchups, the tight end position looms large as the newest weapon that offenses are utilizing. Certainly the Patriots' use of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez has made the position vogue to the average fan. Stanford's three-tight end sets also helped raise the profile of the supersized receivers. However, the tight end has been increasing his role in the offense for the better part of the last decade.

We have gone from glorified offensive linemen who, like their fullback brethren, were told to block for plays on end. Waiting, hoping, for the ball to come their way in the red zone or as a quarterback's last option in a progression.

Now, as players get bigger, faster and stronger, we're seeing better athletes than ever playing the tight end position. Big kids who can run down the field, stretch the vertical seams and still have the power to be active in the blocking game. The rise of the flex position for tight ends, often called H-back, is something that has been both a treat and a terror to watch.

A treat because, as players like Jermaine Gresham, Kyle Rudolph and D.J. Williams, among others, have seen their influence explode; offenses have become more dynamic than ever.

A terror because tight ends are growing into a nightmare for the defensive side of the football. Guys like Gragg, Stoneburner and Eifert are too big for safeties to cover one-on-one when the ball in the air. Those same players are too athletic for most linebackers to run with in a coverage situation. In short, it is a nightmare for the defensive side of the ball.

This year, expect big things out of the tight end position. Stoneburner is going to be playing for an Urban Meyer team that helped make Hernandez one of our recent Mackey Award winners. Eifert, a finalist a season ago, is going to be Notre Dame's go-to pass-catching threat thanks to the departure of Michael Floyd. Gragg, with Tyler Wilson slinging the ball around, has a shot to be the statistical darling of the tight end position in 2012.

There are a lot of names out there, and as the tight end position continues to grow into a big-time playmaker, the competition for the Mackey Award will continue to get more intense. We all have followed the Biletnikoff closely, and the Mackey is pulling right up alongside the wide receiver award.