Tight ends are proving to be more valuable than ever as the game of football evolves. No longer primarily a blocking position, these big wide receivers are being asked to make plays in the passing game and transform into superstars.
This is why the John Mackey Award was introduced in 2000 and has been rewarded to the best college tight end in the country ever since. Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame won the award last season, and there is a special player out there who will be blessed to keep the tradition alive.
This year's watch list includes 37 players to keep an eye on, although there are only a handful who have a legitimate case to win the John Mackey Award. Make sure to watch plenty of Pac-12 football this season.
C.J. Fiedorowicz was one of the few bright spots for Iowa last season. He really shined for an offense that ranked 113th in points scored, hauling in 45 passes for 433 yards and one touchdown. He picked up 14 first downs and averaged 9.62 yards per reception.
It's no secret that Iowa doesn't have many great playmakers offensively. Without a legit starting quarterback and the struggles that took place last season, optimism isn't a word being used much with Hawkeye fans.
Fiedorowicz, however, does provide a spark offensively and should see the ball a ton this year. Topping last year's numbers and getting into the end zone more often shouldn't be a problem.
Xavier Grimble didn't earn much credit due to being overshadowed by the production of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. However, he did haul in 29 passes for 316 yards and five touchdowns last season. Grimble is a sure-handed option who moved the chains on 15 of his receptions.
He is a big body player at 6'5", 250 pounds and will be a popular target with the young USC quarterbacks. Not only is tight end the quarterback's security blanket, but the Trojans don't have many receiving options due to various injuries. Grimble will be asked to step up in a big way this season in hopes to right the ship offensively.
This should be a big year for the junior.
Colt Lyerla is probably the most athletic tight end in the country. He could play several positions, but he has clearly made his mark at tight end.
Lyerla only has 32 total receptions in his first two seasons, but 11 of those have gone for touchdowns. He is the ultimate red zone machine and is more than capable of providing the big play down field. Last season he produced 10 plays of 15 yards or more and three plays of more than 25 yards.
The problem is that Lyerla doesn't get the football as often as some of the other players. Oregon is a run-first offense and it really hurts his production. Still, it's hard to ignore an elite athlete in a high-scoring offense.
Eric Ebron really emerged last season when he caught 40 passes for 625 yards and four touchdowns. This was a drastic improvement from 2011 when he only caught 10 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown.
Ebron is a big body at 6'4", 245 pounds. He is a physical player down field and is capable of lining up in the slot or on the outside. He only had three games with five or more receptions, but his consistent production throughout the season helped him become the second best receiving option for North Carolina.
The Tar Heels offense was ranked eighth in the country in scoring. Ebron will continue to be a big part of that production and should see even more opportunities than he did a year ago.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins landed in hot water during the offseason with a DUI arrest. His status for the beginning of the season remains up in the air, but he is still by far the best tight end in college football. He's also likely the first tight end to be selected in next years NFL draft.
Seferian-Jenkins has consistently put up off-the-chart numbers in his first two seasons in Washington. Last season, he caught 69 passes for 852 yards and seven touchdowns.
Quarterback Keith Price loves throwing his way, and he will continue to see many targets with the chemistry down pat. It would be surprising if Seferian-Jenkins didn't win the award. He has the elite skill set and has the unquestionable production to match.