B/R CFB 150: Top 16 Tight Ends
Bleacher Report's CFB 150 is an annual ranking of the best players in the game, regardless of NFL potential. Authors David Kenyon, Brian Pedersen and Barrett Sallee have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list down and sorted it by position. Today, Kenyon presents the top 16 tight ends.
Other CFB 150 Positions
Long receptions and touchdowns are the glamorous moments for the position, but tight ends typically play a significant part in run blocking and pass protection, too. While a player's all-around skill set was the main focus, respective roles affected how those were weighted.
The following rankings are based primarily on one's skills as a college player rather than how he would fare in the NFL. Though these players may be using this time to develop their game for the pro level, their goals are predominantly centered on helping their teams succeed.
Think we're missing someone or don't agree with how we've ranked them? Give us your thoughts in the comments section.
16. Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan
2016 Stats: 42 receptions, 560 yards, six touchdowns
Central Michigan stumbled down the stretch, but Tyler Conklin was a key reason the Chips secured bowl eligibility. During the wild road victory at Oklahoma State, he caught two touchdowns. And after Conklin's stunning one-handed score against Ohio in mid-November, Central locked up its sixth win. Though his blocking needs work, Conklin was a valuable receiving threat.
15. Mike Gesicki, Penn State
2016 Stats: 48 receptions, 679 yards, five touchdowns
Mike Gesicki made several highlight-worthy catches for Penn State in a surprising Big Ten championship season. He also stood out as a terribly inconsistent blocker. Yes, Gesicki had respectable cuts once in a while and one superb blitz pickup against Wisconsin, but Saquon Barkley's dynamic ability often bailed out his teammate. Still, Gesicki hit the 40-yard mark in 10 of 13 games and snatched a few impressive scores.
14. Trent Cowan, Idaho
2016 Stats: 48 receptions, 547 yards, six touchdowns
While fellow tight end Deon Watson accumulated more yards, Trent "Buck" Cowan provided a red-zone threat and decent blocking for a resurgent Idaho program. Cowan, who switched from receiver to tight end in 2015, became a top target for the Vandals in the red zone and paced them with six scores. "He's definitely a guy you want to go to when it's crunch time," head coach Paul Petrino said, per Josh Wright of the Spokesman-Review.
13. Cole Hikutini, Louisville
2016 Stats: 50 catches, 668 yards, eight touchdowns
Cole Hikutini's road to Louisville traveled through Sacramento State and the City College of San Francisco. For Cardinals fans, he was worth the wait. Hikutini was an unspectacular (yet not necessarily bad) run-blocker, but he offered Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson a reliable target in the middle of the field. Hikutini collected the most receptions by a Louisville tight end since Gary Barnidge in 2007.
12. Gerald Everett, South Alabama
2016 Stats: 49 receptions, 717 yards, four touchdowns
The former UAB tight end found a home at South Alabama and starred. For the second straight year, Gerald Everett earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors. The senior would've claimed a higher ranking had his production not tumbled starting in November. Everett tallied at least 48 yards in his first eight games before managing just 11 catches for 101 yards in the final five.
11. Adam Breneman, Massachusetts
2016 Stats: 70 receptions, 808 yards, eight touchdowns
Hey! Remember this guy? Back in 2013, Penn State signed two of the nation's top prospects at their respective positions in Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman. It was supposed to be a nightmare connection, but knee injuries derailed Breneman's career—until 2016. He headed to UMass as a graduate transfer and led the Minutemen in all receiving categories.
10. Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
2016 Stats: 55 receptions, 565 yards, seven touchdowns; 33 carries, 189 yards, six touchdowns; one passing touchdown
Without question, Jaylen Samuels was the most versatile tight end in the country. Consistency was a notable issue.
Injuries hampered his production midway through the season, but Samuels showed off his unique skill set at the beginning and end. During NC State's first four games, he accounted for seven touchdowns. In the final five, Samuels tallied seven total scores one of which was a passing touchdown.
"The guy can do so many things," offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said, per Daniel Lacy of the Technician. "[He can] line up at tailback, line up at quarterback, line up at wideout, line up at Y and in line. He's done it all over his career and he is a very tremendous football player."
Samuels finished second among all tight ends with 13 touchdowns from scrimmage.
9. Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
2016 Stats: 47 receptions, 580 yards, two touchdowns
Troy Fumagalli is a unique player. ESPN.com's Jesse Temple notes the tight end's left index finger was amputated shortly after birth because of amniotic band syndrome.
But that hasn't stopped Fumagalli.
"He's a great blocker, great pass-catcher," teammate and running back Dare Ogunbowale said, according to Temple. "He does everything that we need a tight end to do, and he's doing it with nine fingers. It's impressive how he does it."
We're not going so far as to call Fumagalli a great blocker, but he certainly showed the willingness and technique. As a tight end at Wisconsin—and one who seldom left the field—that's a must.
Additionally, Fumagalli solidified himself as the offense's go-to target in clutch moments. The junior paced Wisconsin with 47 receptions, and 36 of those catches resulted in a first down, per CFBStats.
8. Jacob Hollister, Wyoming
2016 Stats: 32 receptions, 515 yards, seven touchdowns
Wyoming bounced back from a 2-10 season behind a well-rounded offense. Jacob Hollister filled an important spot with his versatility.
Although the senior didn't stand out in any facet of the position—relative to the higher-ranked players, that is—Hollister couldn't be pegged as a weakness anywhere, either. Considering his truly balanced role of blocking and receiving, that's essential.
Hollister played a central part in the Cowboys' upstaging of Boise State, recording season highs of six catches, 144 yards and two scores.
Otherwise, he helped clear running lanes for Brian Hill (1,860 yards, 22 touchdowns) and Josh Allen (523, seven). That balance as a blocker allowed Hollister to atone for a quiet start to 2016 as a pass-catcher.
7. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
2016 Stats: 48 receptions, 691 yards, seven touchdowns
Bucky Hodges spent a large portion of his snaps split wide, but the hybrid is still technically listed as a tight end in the starting lineup.
At 6'7" and 245 pounds, Hodges' size immediately screams "red-zone specialist." And yes, he backed up the billing. Six of Hodges' eight receptions inside the 20-yard line were touchdowns, per CFBStats.
Now, he really only put together two performances where we could consider him a "game-breaker." The junior caught two touchdowns against Miami and torched Pitt for 145 yards. Otherwise, Hodges was a constant presence with moderate production, which is still valuable.
Hodges wasn't an outstanding blocker, but the NFL-bound tight end is safely above average compared to his peers.
6. Jake Butt, Michigan
2016 Stats: 46 receptions, 546 yards, four touchdowns
A torn right ACL ended Jake Butt's final college season in unceremonious fashion, but he put together a campaign that would've been worthy of a high selection in the 2017 NFL draft.
The repeat Big Ten Tight End of the Year winner was a model of consistency. Butt's only costly drop of the season came early in the fourth quarter against Iowa, and the Wolverines had plenty of other chances to atone for that mishandle.
Although college football as a whole is shifting away from in-line tight ends, Butt was among the top performers of that list. The senior was an average blocker both against the run and pass, which is respectable, if not particularly impressive.
Butt ended his Michigan career with a second straight appearance on the AP All-America second team.
5. David Njoku, Miami
2016 Stats: 43 receptions, 698 yards, eight touchdowns
Many college football fans are familiar with quarterback Brad Kaaya, but David Njoku was the under-the-radar star of Miami's offense.
A 6'4", 245-pounder who will be labeled an "athletic freak" when draft coverage picks up, Njoku blossomed from a potential-filled hybrid weapon to a relatively complete tight end.
According to Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen called Njoku "the biggest and baddest dude that we've faced all year."
Njoku certainly wasn't perfect as a blocker, but he was serviceable. What separated the redshirt sophomore, however, was using elite athleticism to his advantage after the catch. Per Pro Football Focus, Njoku led the country with 484 yards in that category.
4. Jordan Leggett, Clemson
2016 Stats: 46 receptions, 736 yards, seven touchdowns
There's a common theme with today's tight ends in spread offenses: tolerable blocking but positive evaluations as a receiver.
Jordan Leggett exemplified the contrast. In many cases, he made glancing contact instead of delivering a thorough strike. While Leggett threw some great blocks—he's not No. 4 for hype's sake—those made the lackluster engagements a disappointing sight.
Nevertheless, the 6'5", 260-pounder also matched the "too fast for a linebacker, too big for a safety" definition. Leggett was a tough target to handle on a Clemson offense that spread the ball around.
In addition to being named a Mackey Award finalist, Leggett earned first-team All-ACC honors.
3. O.J. Howard, Alabama
2016 Stats: 45 receptions, 595 yards, three touchdowns
Even though he put up average stats in college, O.J. Howard is considered a top draft prospect at his position. Why? The same reason he's our No. 3 despite ending the year 13th in yards among tight ends.
The man will block.
Whether Howard hit defensive ends at the line of scrimmage or engaged defensive backs on the perimeter, he consistently sealed the edge and opened running lanes for teammates. You could make a highlight reel out of the senior's blocks alone.
Howard complemented that ability with respectable numbers in an offense that relied on the running game and quick-hitting passes to receivers. Good luck finding a better player for that role.
2. Evan Engram, Ole Miss
2016 Stats: 65 receptions, 926 yards, eight touchdowns
Evan Engram wasn't a tremendous blocker, and he'd occasionally drop a well-thrown pass. But if the offense needed a big play, there might not have been a tight end more preferred for the situation.
During his third season as a full-time starter, Engram accumulated the most yards in the country by a tight end. The senior reached the 75-yard mark in eight of his 11 season appearances.
Engram was serviceable up front, and his offensive contributions dramatically outweigh a minor shortcoming as a blocker anyway. Engram led Ole Miss pass-catchers in every major category.
Replacing his impact will be a massive task in Oxford.
1. Michael Roberts, Toledo
2016 Stats: 45 receptions, 533 yards, 16 touchdowns
Though the AP All-America teams gave Michael Roberts no love, his combination of production and blocking were unmatched.
Boasting a 6'5", 270-pound frame, the first-year starter emerged as a dominant red-zone target and steady presence in the running game. Roberts caught 16 touchdowns, which was twice as many as any other tight end and ranked sixth nationally overall.
By no means should Roberts be specifically credited with Toledo finishing the year with 1,500- and 500-yard rushers, but he regularly provided critical blocks while lined up next to (or just offset from) either tackle.
Roberts' all-around skill set and a habit of finding the end zone make him college football's best tight end of 2016.