The John Mackey Award is given annually to the top tight end in FBS football. The list of recipients includes such notable names as Dallas Clark, Heath Miller and Marcedes Lewis.
Many of the Mackey Award winners share the common thread of continued football success after leaving college football.
However, they also share another common trait: All 11 of the winners played for teams from one of the six Automatic Qualifying (AQ) conferences. San Jose State tight end Ryan Otten is discovering all too well how difficult it is to get recognition as a tight end playing for a team outside of those six conferences.
Otten currently leads FBS tight ends in receiving yards, with 487 yards. The nearest tight end to that amount is Clemson's Dwayne Allen, who has 464 yards. However, Allen has played two more games than Otten.
In fact, out of the top 10 tight ends based on receiving yards so far this season, every tight end has played in at least one more game than Otten.
So, a tight end who leads the nation in receiving despite playing in fewer games than his nearest competitors must be garnering quite a bit of national recognition, right?
Oddly enough, Otten is getting very little national recognition. While it's true that his name appears on the midseason watch list for the Mackey Award, he is hardly being talked about as a favorite to win it. In fact, Otten is hardly being talked about at all on a national level.
Media coverage of tight ends this season often focuses on Allen, Syracuse's Nick Provo, Missouri's Michael Egnew, Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert or Stanford's Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener. All have been highlighted on national television. Meanwhile, Otten is known only by his own fans and by the fans of those teams who have faced him.
Part of the problem facing Otten is that the tight end position is constantly evolving and changing, and with it the expectations placed on those who play the position. Before Kellen Winslow played in the "Air Coryell" offense in San Diego, tight ends were almost strictly called upon to block.
Since then, there has been a wave of receiving tight ends. Then a backlash against primarily receiving tight ends arose as it was argued they lacked the blocking skills needed to play the position.
So, the current expectations of tight ends are for them to be a type of hybrid receiver-blocker, the exact specifics of which are not well-defined.
In the absence of a solid set of grading criteria for tight ends, the nation has turned to the eyeball test, which inevitably favors those tight ends who play for prestigious programs and whose games are regularly televised.
As far as an individual's importance to their team is concerned, no tight end in the country has a bigger impact on his team's success than Otten. He is second on the Spartans' roster in receiving and leads the team in touchdown receptions. In fact, his four touchdowns constitute half of all San Jose State receiving touchdowns for the season so far.
Surely, the fact that Otten not only leads the nation's tight ends in receiving yards but also accounts for half of all of his team's receiving touchdowns must be worthy of national recognition.
Regardless of whether the well-deserved national recognition eventually comes, Otten will continue to do what he has all season—quietly be the nation's best tight end.