College Football Position U: Tight End U
Welcome back to college football's Position U series.
Earlier in the offseason, Bleacher Report writers David Kenyon and Kerry Miller kicked off the categories and detailed the college programs that have generated the most productive NFL players at the five positions listed below.
After resuming the series with offensive linemen, tight ends are next.
At every position, the discussion has several possible angles. Is your preference total NFL alumni? The number of players drafted from a certain position group? Actual NFL production? All of these measures are reasonable to use as a guide.
Throughout this Position U series, B/R's focus has remained on the third definition. While the total number of players was considered, on-field NFL production since 1970 shaped the final order.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Todd Heap finished one reception shy of 500 for his career, earning two Pro Bowl trips along the way. Zach Miller posted 3,804 yards and secured one Pro Bowl trip. Jerry Smith put together a record-breaking career, but a majority of his production precedes our 1970 cutoff.
Todd Christensen ranks 19th in career receiving yards for a tight end, and Chad Lewis appeared in three straight Pro Bowls to begin the 2000s. Had injuries not overwhelmed Dennis Pitta, he could've bolstered BYU's resume in a major way. Instead, he edged past 2,000 yards with Itula Mili and Doug Jolley not far behind.
In a few years, Iowa should be higher on the list. Since 2003 alone, the Hawkeyes have produced All-Pros in Dallas Clark and George Kittle. Scott Chandler, Brandon Myers, Tony Moeaki and C.J. Fiedorowicz all had decent careers. Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson are highly promising young players. But the overall NFL production isn't quite at the same standard—for now. And probably not for long.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Alge Crumpler enjoyed a terrific stretch with the Atlanta Falcons and earned four Pro Bowl appearances in the 2000s. Ethan Horton and Eric Ebron also landed a Pro Bowl nod each, while Freddie Jones had a program-best 404 catches in the NFL.
Keith Jackson is one of only 39 tight ends with 5,000-plus receiving yards since the merger. He landed on five Pro Bowl squads and three All-Pro first teams. Jermaine Greshman headed to two Pro Bowls, and Stephen Alexander went to one. Mark Andrews is off to an excellent start with 1,404 yards and a Pro Bowl in two NFL seasons.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Much of Penn State's production at the position happened prior to 2000. Ted Kwalick had three Pro Bowl seasons in the 1970s, and Mickey Shuler added a pair in the 1980s. Kyle Brady and Troy Drayton both tallied at least 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns. The key for Penn State's resume is increased production from Jesse James and Mike Gesicki in the near future.
David Shaw has ushered in the golden age at the position. During the last decade alone, Stanford boasts Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener and Austin Hooper—along with Levine Toilolo, Dalton Schultz and Kaden Smith. Before them, though, only one Stanford tight end cracked 1,400 yards or 10 touchdowns in the NFL.
An extreme challenge to keep off. Charle Young went to three Pro Bowls, and both Hoby Brenner and Jordan Cameron headed to one. Bob Klein, Billy Miller and Fred Davis each surpassed 2,000 yards, and Mark Boyer had 170 catches in an unassuming eight-year career.
3. Maryland Terrapins
Ever so narrowly, Maryland merits the No. 3 spot—perhaps only until Iowa's current group builds its production. Still, Miami is the only other program that claims two players with 500-plus receptions in the NFL. Maryland has Vernon Davis and Frank Wycheck.
Davis retired after the 2019 season with 583 catches for 7,562 yards and 63 touchdowns—all top-11 marks at the position. Wycheck, of Music City Miracle fame, reeled in 505 passes for 5,126 yards. They combined to appear in five Pro Bowls.
Eric Sievers and Walter White both surpassed 2,300 yards in their careers, and Ferrell Edmunds went to a pair of Pro Bowls.
2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame has a spectacular history of having tight ends selected in the NFL draft. On that alone, the Irish have a compelling argument to stand atop the list.
Their depth of production lags behind Miami—but only Miami.
Led by Dave Casper at 5,216 yards, five alums have crested 3,000 yards at the professional level since 1970. Casper earned five Pro Bowl and four All-Pro nods, and Mark Bavaro secured two apiece. Kyle Rudolph is already tied for 16th among NFL tight ends with 47 career touchdowns, and Anthony Fasano is tied for 36th.
Tyler Eifert has fought injuries throughout a seven-year career but managed a Pro Bowl appearance in a healthy season.
For good measure, John Carlson and Irv Smith both had 1,700-plus yards and 15 touchdowns.
1. Miami Hurricanes
When focusing on NFL impact exclusively, Miami is undeniably the class of the position. Of the 39 tight ends with 5,000-plus receiving yards since 1970, the Hurricanes boast four of them.
Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham are sixth and eighth, respectively, in career yards. Jeremy Shockey is 16th, and Kellen Winslow II checks in 32nd. All four earned Pro Bowl honors: Graham five times, Shockey four times, Olsen three times and Winslow once.
Graham and Shockey both secured first-team All-Pro recognition one time apiece, and Bubba Franks went to three Pro Bowls in the early 2000s.
Miami also has three young players—David Njoku, Clive Walford and Chris Herndon—currently in the NFL.