B/R CFB 250: Top 18 Tight Ends in College Football

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterDecember 13, 2013

B/R CFB 250: Top 18 Tight Ends in College Football

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    USA Today

    Editor's note: This is the third installment in Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through December, with National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for more rankings.

    Tight ends are often called the quarterback’s best friend. However, in today’s game, they are more like the beasts who cannot be covered than a mere safety valve for a QB under pressure.

    Which tight end was this year’s best?

    When we looked at the position, thanks to the variance in college offenses, we had to also take into account the H-back and the flex player, the guys who line up off the line, work in motion and live, at times, outside the traditional in-line tight end role.

    To determine this ranking, we used hands, blocking, route running and speed to arrive at the overall scores. Good players at the position excel in the first three categories and have the speed to be a weapon in the passing game. As an emerging position of importance, tight ends embody the versatility within football.

    If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.

    Keep in mind, these tight ends are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where they may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projections at the end of each slide.

18. Jesse James, Penn State

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    Hands

    25/30

    Jesse James was not the tight end Penn State fans expected to be one of the go-to targets, but the sophomore certainly rose to the occasion. He is a reliable target with strong hands who catches balls thrown his way.

    Blocking

    22/30

    James has the power when he squares up on a defender, but players with a game plan to attack his blocks can beat him on the edge. James does not move as well in the blocking game as he does down the field.

    Route Running

    16/20

    James knows how to get open. That is what has helped him make an impact while playing with a true freshman quarterback. He slides into space well, as a good tight end should, and he also understands how to run routes to get open from the inside out.

    Speed

    16/20

    James has good long speed. On routes where he is asked to run across the field or get down the hash, he is capable of beating linebackers and safeties consistently. Although he lacks a great burst, his ability to get faster as he runs longer is something that helps him get open.

    Overall

    79/100

    The Nittany Lions sophomore is a quality tight end. He has the benefit of long speed to get him open as he runs slower-developing routes, in addition to the ability to find holes and settle in as a target.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fifth round. Big middle-of-the-field target who could rise with quarterback Christian Hackenberg's success.

17. Clive Walford, Miami (Fla.)

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    Hands

    22/30

    Clive Walford is good for a couple of acrobatic catches a game. He is also a player who has been prone to routine drops at times.

    Blocking

    24/30

    Walford is a reliable blocker. He’s comfortable blocking zone, pushing to move defensive ends as well as getting to the second level to block linebackers.

    Route Running

    17/20

    The Hurricanes tight end has an understanding of how to get open against both zone and man-to-man coverage. He shows an ability to climb to the top side of defenders and force them to open up, creating space when he throttles down to get back to the quarterback.

    Speed

    16/20

    He’s just fast enough. Walford has good burst and acceleration, although his top speed is not at a level that allows him to simply run away from the defense.

    Overall

    79/100

    Walford is a good tight end who just has to improve on his consistency. Spectacular catches are great, but making the regular snare is a must, and Walford spent 2013 taking a step toward being more consistent.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fifth round. Too many drops are crushing his draft stock.

16. Troy Niklas, Notre Dame

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    Hands

    24/30

    Troy Niklas is a reliable receiver. He is not going to make circus catches, but as is the case with many bigger-bodied tight ends, if the ball is on his body, he can reel it in.

    Blocking

    25/30

    Niklas is not a great drive blocker, but he is one of the best pass-blocking tight ends in the country. He understands how to pass off twists, takes good steps in pass protection and has a great base in blocking defensive ends and blitzing linebackers.

    Route Running

    16/20

    The Notre Dame tight end is not a high level route-runner, but he does know how to get open. He will find space and make himself into a big target for the quarterback, filling in the underneath voids as receivers take the top off the defense.

    Speed

    15/20

    The Fighting Irish junior is not a guy who runs away from defenders. He’s better at making quick moves to evade tacklers. But his long speed is not of the outsprint-the-defense-to-the-pylon variety.

    Overall

    80/100

    Niklas is a good, quality tight end for a team that is looking to max protect. He’s a very good pass-blocker, and when he is pushed out into the route, he understands where he fits in the scheme and gets open to help his quarterback.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. He has the size to dominate but may move to offensive or defensive tackle long-term.

15. O.J. Howard, Alabama

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    Hands

    26/30

    As he gains confidence in his ability to catch the ball all over the field, O.J. Howard is developing into a sure thing for quarterback AJ McCarron. Howard is using less and less of his body and making sure to catch with his hands first.

    Blocking

    17/30

    In a run-oriented Alabama attack, Howard is still not a strong blocker at the point of attack. He does not generate good push at the line, although he is athletic enough to track targets at the second level of the defense.

    Route Running

    18/20

    One area where Howard is more advanced than most young players is in his route running. The freshman already understands how to work to the tops of defenders to make them open up before throttling down to come back for the ball. He’s also a player who understands how to generate space right off the line.

    Speed

    19/20

    Unlike many other tight ends, Howard is not just fast enough—he is flat-out fast. The freshman has good long speed and the quickness to make him a problem in short space as well. He can start and stop while getting back up to speed quickly, and that is a problem not only in coverage, but also after the catch.

    Overall

    80/100

    He’s another young tight end who introduced himself to the nation in a big way. Howard is fast enough to run away from defenders, and that makes him a threat from the in-line position or flexed out standing up. Blocking is where he is clearly lacking, but as a pass-catching threat, he is a problem.

    NFL Draft Projection

    First round. Looks like the next great Alabama tight end. He's the total package.

14. Braxton Deaver, Duke

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    Hands

    26/30

    The Blue Devils’ second-leading receiver has very good hands. Braxton Deaver is a testament to concentration and securing the football. He’s not a big ladder climber, but he is a guaranteed catch when the ball is on his body.

    Blocking

    20/30

    Deaver is a pass-catching tight end who is a bigger help in the pass game than with the run. He will block in the run game and can help push defenders wide on the zone, but he’s at his best catching the football.

    Route Running

    17/20

    Duke’s tight end does understand how to work routes to get open. He’s capable of beating zones by settling into spots, but when he is out in the pattern, he is great at climbing to the high side of defenders and eliminating their ability to get to the football.

    Speed

    18/20

    He has great speed. He can beat linebackers with ease, and there are plenty of safeties who would have serious problems covering Deaver. He has speed that allows him to run away from defenses, and that is special at the tight end position.

    Overall

    81/100

    A truly underrated weapon at the tight end spot, the Duke sophomore has emerged in 2013 as one of the best at the position. He catches the ball well, runs good routes and understands how to get open against both zone and man. He’s a tremendous athlete, something not nearly enough people talk about.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Seventh round. Great production, but an average athlete.

13. Maxx Williams, Minnesota

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    Hands

    25/30

    A continuously increasing reliability in catching the football is what Maxx Williams brings to the table. He’s a quality athlete who has shown flashes of being able to do the spectacular in the catching game.

    Blocking

    23/30

    Williams is a good blocker for the Gophers’ strong rushing attack. He can get push on defensive ends and is athletic enough to be an issue at the second level. He has to improve control to be more consistent, but the tools are there for the young player.

    Route Running

    16/20

    Another area where the freshman continues to improve. He is starting to understand how to use his body to get separation, and more importantly, he is figuring out how to work the route to create space. He’s understanding how to stem defenders to the inside in order to give his quarterback outside spacing to deliver the pass.

    Speed

    17/20

    He is another tight end who is a bigger body who will run by defenders if given the chance. He’s quicker than most give him credit for, and when he sticks his foot in the ground to break to the outside on routes, he will pull away from the defense.

    Overall

    81/100

    Williams has the physical tools to be one of the nation’s premier tight ends, and he took a major step in 2013. He is a weapon for the Gophers, and he proved it time and again. He’s a big target who is improving as a route-runner, and that goes a long way.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Seventh round. Williams would need to improve his speed and quickness greatly to be drafted higher.

12. Arthur Lynch, Georgia

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    Hands

    25/30

    Arthur Lynch fits into that traditional role as a reliable threat at the tight end spot. If his quarterback puts the ball on his body, he will come away with the grab.

    Blocking

    27/30

    First and foremost, Lynch is a blocker. He is a big part of why the Dawgs’ running game did not dry up and disappear as the running back injuries mounted. He gets good drive off the line and is comfortable blocking zone, power and isolation plays.

    Route Running

    15/20

    Lynch is not a great route-runner, but he understands how to be a big target. The Dawgs don’t send him out on complex routes. He is largely a guy tasked with getting open and letting the quarterback get the ball into his hands for a first down, touchdown or a dump-off pass.

    Speed

    15/20

    The Georgia tight end is not a burner. He’s another guy who is at his best sitting down in a space, not trying to outrun defenders. However, there is some quickness to Lynch that allows him to flash in open areas, tremendously helping his quarterback.

    Overall

    82/100

    He is another quality, reliable tight end built in the traditional mold. Lynch blocks exceptionally well and is comfortable floating against a zone to find space for his quarterback to make plays.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fourth round. Not the most athletic guy, but a classic in-line prospect who can play all three downs.

11. Xavier Grimble, USC

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    Hands

    24/30

    Xavier Grimble has good hands, although he does at times rely on catching the ball with his body. Jumping up to catch instead of staying on the ground and using his hands is part of Grimble’s game, although it has not hurt his ability to make catches in traffic.

    Blocking

    26/30

    The USC tight end is a good blocker at the line of scrimmage. He can push the issue against defensive ends and possesses the athleticism and technique to get to the second level and create space.

    Route Running

    17/20

    Grimble is a good route-runner, although he sometimes fades on routes. Instead of truly working the route, he relies on his body to create the space. He trusts his quarterback to put the ball where only he can get it, and that means he doesn’t have to run routes as crisply as other players.

    Speed

    16/20

    Grimble can get on top of defenders, but he is not a guy with good separation speed and the ability to run away from opponents. That is all right because Grimble is a monster who plays violently with the football in his hands.

    Overall

    83/100

    Grimble is another violent athlete at the position. He is quick enough to make defenders miss, but he’s at his best shedding tacklers and running through contact to pick up the extra yards.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. Capable of doing it all but lacks production and raw athleticism.

10. Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State

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    Hands

    26/30

    Another reliable pass-catcher at the position. Jeff Heuerman is good in space and has had some trouble in traffic, but he is a quality safety valve for quarterback Braxton Miller.

    Blocking

    25/30

    The Buckeyes’ versatile player is a good blocker. He’s not a true fullback, but he is capable of getting out in front to lead the charge, and he is also showing the ability to be effective in pass protection.

    Route Running

    15/20

    Heuerman is still figuring out the route running in the Ohio State offense. Against a zone, the junior understands how to sit down and be a target. However, against man coverage, Heuerman is still learning how to work routes to create space.

    Speed

    17/20

    He has very good speed, something that often goes unnoticed. He is capable of exploding off the line to make coverage difficult for linebackers, and when he is flexed out, his blend of speed and size makes him a difficult matchup for defensive backs.

    Overall

    83/100

    In Heuerman, the Buckeyes have a player who is still growing into the role as the offense evolves under Urban Meyer. This year, Heuerman took a big step toward being a weapon for Ohio State, as he’s shown an ability to slip out into routes, be a physical player and help out his quarterback.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Seventh round. Lacks the speed and playmaking ability to be drafted higher.

9. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin

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    Hands

    26/30

    Jacob Pedersen is a “Steady Eddie” type of player. When the ball is on his body, he will reel in the catch, making him a reliable target for quarterback Joel Stave. He’s not the guy to make the circus grab, but he’s certainly a player who can get a first down.

    Blocking

    28/30

    Muscling up at the point of attack is the prime directive for everyone on the Wisconsin roster, and Pedersen fits the bill perfectly. He moves bodies in the run game, pushing the edge in zone blocking and climbing to linebackers when asked to get to the second level. Pedersen is also reliable in pass protection.

    Route Running

    15/20

    Pedersen is at his best against zone coverage, finding a hole and sitting down. That includes peeling off the edge in play-action to hit vacated underneath space. Down the field, Pedersen is comfortable getting open, using spacing concepts.

    Speed

    15/20

    Pedersen is not a burner who can get open through speed alone. However, the Wisconsin tight end does understand when to hit his top speed, usually in an effort to get into an opening or reach for a first down.

    Overall

    84/100

    Pedersen is one of the most reliable tight ends in the country. He will find a way to get open down the field, and in the run game he is one of the nation’s best blockers. The run game at Wisconsin gets the love, and not only does Pedersen play a part in that success, he is also key to the passing efforts.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Sixth round. Small for a tight end, but a good overall athlete.

8. Gator Hoskins, Marshall

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    Hands

    27/30

    Gator Hoskins has very good hands and is no stranger to making quality catches down the field. The Marshall tight end has had a few drops, but he has good concentration and is one of the more reliable receivers.

    Blocking

    23/30

    This is the most underrated element of Hoskins’ game. Although he is primarily a receiving threat, he has a good ability to block both on the line and down the field. He comes off the ball, can work in pass protection if needed and blocks for his receivers well in space.

    Route Running

    16/20

    Hoskins is not the best route-runner, but that is largely a product of the offense in which he plays. He is asked to get open more often than he is asked to work precise routes. Hoskins knows how to get open, and for the quick screens that he works in this offense, that is plenty.

    Speed

    18/20

    He has very good speed, hence the Herd trust him to work screens that ordinarily are reserved for wide receivers. He can get on top of defenders quickly, and he’s quick enough to get to the middle of the field before safeties have the time to react and jump his routes.

    Overall

    84/100

    He is one of the better tight ends in the nation. Hoskins has flown under the radar for many folks. He has a polished game and understands where he fits in his offense, and he has a knack for getting into the end zone.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Seventh round. More fullback than tight end, but his speed and strength are NFL-caliber.

7. Devin Funchess, Michigan

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    Hands

    29/30

    Devin Funchess has great hands. He catches everything thrown his way and is no stranger to battling defenders to secure the football. He can climb the ladder to make the grab and is comfortable catching the ball and squeezing it away from his body.

    Blocking

    18/30

    Blocking is what keeps Funchess lower on the list. He is far from a complete package. He is not very good in pass protection. He is clearly a better option running a route than helping max-protect. In the run game, much like the entire Michigan offensive line, Funchess struggles to get push and generate space to run.

    Route Running

    17/20

    The sophomore does show a good understanding of spacing and how to work routes to get open. He understands using inside releases and stems to the post to get toward the numbers on a defender. Funchess also is doing a better job of knowing when to keep running versus sitting down and just being a target.

    Speed

    20/20

    He has elite speed at the position. Funchess is the rare tight end who can run away from defensive backs in the pass game. Funchess can beat people off the line, and as he gets down the field, he eats up cushion and forces defenders to open hips and run.

    Overall

    84/100

    Blocking is where Michigan’s tight end needs to improve to be one of the game’s truly elite tight ends. His hands, speed and ability to get open are already at a high level.

    NFL Draft Projection

    First round. A complete tight end, he's just waiting to be draft-eligible.

6. Nick O'Leary, Florida State

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    Hands

    25/30

    Nick O’Leary has good hands, although he has dropped a couple of balls. He’s a reliable receiver who makes the sure catch more often than not. O’Leary is not the spectacular acrobat in catching the football, but he often does not have to make the circus grab.

    Blocking

    26/30

    He is one of the best blockers in the nation. O’Leary takes real pride in firing off the ball and moving bodies at the point of attack. He wants to hit defenders down the field to spring backs and receivers for extra yards.

    Route Running

    17/20

    He is an accomplished route-runner. He knows when to sit down in a zone and just be a target. He also understands when to try to outrun a defender, such as a linebacker, and when to simply use his body to create space on the same route against a defensive back.

    Speed

    17/20

    He has good speed, although he is not running away from most college defensive backs. Unlike other players at the position, O’Leary’s game is not rooted in his ability to outrun players.

    Overall

    85/100

    O’Leary is a violent athlete blocking for ball-carriers and is even more aggressive with the football in his hands. He plays every snap like it is a fistfight, and that brings a legitimate toughness to his team’s game.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fifth round. Needs to continue to build on strong 2013 and erase subpar first two seasons.

5. Chris Coyle, Arizona State

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    Hands

    27/30

    Chris Coyle is one of the best in the country at making the ordinary and extraordinary catches. He is a player who can squeeze the ball away from his body, catch it in traffic and secure the ball while under duress.

    Blocking

    24/30

    This is an underrated facet of Coyle’s game because of the perception of Arizona State as a finesse team. He blocks well at the point of attack. The Sun Devils even use him in the screen game to help block out in front of receivers or backs.

    Route Running

    17/20

    He is another elevated route-runner at the position. Coyle knows how to release off the line to make sure the safety sees an outside path before bending back inside to hit the void for his quarterback.

    Speed

    17/20

    Coyle is rarely caught from behind because he is fast enough to be a problem for linebackers and safeties, a problem that starts when he comes off the line and then gets worse as he catches the ball with space to operate.

    Overall

    85/100

    Coyle is another high-level tight end. He’s versatile enough to flex out and stand up off the line, but he’s also a physical enough presence to put his hand in the dirt.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fifth round. Gifted, versatile player stuck between positions.

4. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

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    Hands

    29/30

    Jace Amaro is another tight end with strong hands who catches everything. He’s comfortable going down to get the ball or elevating to bring in the football. He has a strong grip that allows him to keep the ball and secure the catch away from his body, even as he absorbs contact.

    Blocking

    20/30

    Here is where Amaro takes a hit. He’s more of a receiver than a true blocking tight end. He will get in the way, be a bother for the opposition and help keep defenders off ball-carriers, but he is not a drive blocker who moves bodies.

    Route Running

    19/20

    Because Amaro is, in the bulk of the Red Raiders’ playbook, a giant receiver, route running is one of his best attributes. He is matched up against coverage players, including cornerbacks, and he shows a consistent ability to get separation because of an understanding of how to work routes.

    Speed

    19/20

    He is one of the best speed players at the position. He’s capable of beating safeties and linebackers off the ball with ease and has shown an ability to stress nickel defenders as well.

    Overall

    86/100

    He is one of the better players at the position. Amaro does not get nearly the recognition that he deserves. He epitomizes the new breed of athlete at the position who is comfortable lining up in the slot or flexed out on the line to create problems for defenders.

    NFL Draft Projection

    First round. The ideal flex tight end, he has speed and moves in the open field.

3. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa

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    Hands

    26/30

    C.J. Fiedorowicz has reliable, soft hands. He’s the type of guy who becomes a quarterback’s best friend in the traditional tight end sense. Although he’s not a circus-catch player, he is the guy who will catch everything that is on his body.

    Blocking

    28/30

    He’s one of the best in-line blockers in the game. He comes off the ball with fire, can move defensive ends and linebackers and wants to hit defensive backs down the field to create space for the ball-carrier.

    Route Running

    17/20

    The Hawkeyes senior has a great understanding of spacing. Although he does not run the entire route tree, he does run the routes Iowa uses very well. He stems linebackers inside to expand into space, and he knows how to pressure safeties on the seam.

    Speed

    16/20

    He’s not the fastest player, but he is certainly fast enough to get on top of linebackers. His speed is at times deceptive to safeties, who end up out of position and stuck on the hash against Fiedorowicz pushing the middle third down the field.

    Overall

    87/100

    As a dose of the old-school, traditional tight end, Fiedorowicz is the best of both worlds. He is a guy who can help in the pass game but is equally comfortable doing the dirty work that comes with blocking.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. Not always used correctly at Iowa, but a prototypical in-line tight end.

2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington

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    Hands

    28/30

    After a slow start, Austin Seferian-Jenkins has come on strong in the passing game. He is a big target with strong hands. He simply has to focus more consistently, a trait that has improved over the course of the season.

    Blocking

    24/30

    Here is where Seferian-Jenkins has made legitimate improvements over the course of the 2013 campaign. He is good blocking in space and capable of driving defenders to create room for his backs.

    Route Running

    18/20

    The first key for ASJ is that he clearly understands how to get open and make himself a big target. He has also improved his ability to work defenders through routes in order to get open. Jenkins has shown an ability to push inside to get outside consistently.

    Speed

    17/20

    As one of the bigger tight ends who operates as a big pass-catcher, Seferian-Jenkin’s speed often goes unnoticed. He can get on top of linebackers and will push safeties vertically in a way that someone his size should not be able to do.

    Overall

    87/100

    He is a huge target who understands finding space, creating space and helping his quarterback. He is a true tight end in every sense of the word, and even at his size, he has shown an ability to play both off and on the line with good results.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. A gifted athlete, but off-field questions will hurt on draft day.

1. Eric Ebron, North Carolina

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    Hands

    29/30

    He has some of the best hands in the college game, not just at tight end but at any position. Eric Ebron can make the big catches and concentrates enough to make the routine grabs all the time. He is UNC’s best option at receiver.

    Blocking

    22/30

    Ebron is not a great blocker. When he’s lined up on the line, he is adequate, although he does not move bodies. Flexed out, he is hit and miss on defensive backs. He is a more valuable asset running a route than protecting the quarterback.

    Route Running

    18/20

    The UNC junior is a good route-runner. He understands how to climb to the top side of defenders, when to sit down in zones and how to create space for himself.

    Speed

    19/20

    This is another of Ebron’s big assets. He is a legitimate matchup problem for linebackers because he can outrun them down the field. He is also a weapon flexed against safeties because he can still get on top of them with his speed.

    Overall

    88/100

    Ebron is the best tight end in college football this season. He goes out and makes plays despite being the most consistent weapon for his team. Opponents know the ball is going to him, and he still finds a way to get open and make big plays.

    NFL Draft Projection

    First round. A rare athlete with big-play ability.