Mark Andrews — Oklahoma Sooners — While he’s technically listed as a WR by the Sooners, let’s be real here folks, this is just a tight end with great speed, ball skills and game-breaking ability being used like he should. At 6-5 250-pounds he’s a mismatch for secondary defenders and linebackers alike, and it shows in his 16.0 yard per catch career average and 14 scores in two seasons. With three of the other four top receiving targets from last season gone, look for the Arizona native to explode this season in an NFL push.
Adam Brenenman — Massachusetts Minutemen — The former transfer from Penn State has made the most of his new situation, and returns for his senior season as the top producing 2016 tight end in catches (70), yards (808) and touchdowns (8); while ranking third in career yards and tied for second in scores in the group of players coming back. His quarterback also returns in the pass-happy UMass offense, so look for an uptick even from his lofty stats last season. At 6-4 250 pounds, he’s of good size in addition to his great ball skills and production.
Troy Fumagalli — Wisconsin Badgers — The second returning career yardage man in the group of 2017 tight ends, the suburban Illinois prep star has grown from a receiving-centric option into the conference’s most complete player at the position. Far and away the most reliable receiving threat on the team, he’s going to be counted on as a key safety valve for developing sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Look for more catches, yards and scores for the Badger leader on offense.
Mike Gesicki — Penn State Nittany Lions — One of the reasons Brenenman left Penn State, it’s been a win-win for both players as Gesicki has developed at the Big Ten’s best receiving tight end thanks to solid hands and body control for the position, plus excellent size. He’s not a blocker of Fumagalli’s caliber, but at 6-5 250 possesses enough size to have enough impact for running back Saquon Barkley to make noise. However in the high-octane and explosive PSU offense, his receiving skills are paramount for gun-slinger Trace McSorley. Given the departure of top target Chris Godwin, and the lesser reliability of his replacements, Gesicki should see bump in his numbers as he departs for the NFL.
DeAndre Goolsby — Florida Gators — When healthy, he tantalizes NFL scouts with great speed on a 6-4 240-pound frame, while showing the ability to be a primary target against even elite defenses. However the operative word there is healthy, as Goolsby essentially lost the bulk of 2016 to injury, and yet still finished third on the team in receptions. One can only assume the line and quarterback play gets better for the Gators, however can we assume he stays on the field? We’ll say sure, and he returns to his potential with a solid 2017 before the NFL.
Cole Herdman — Purdue Boilermakers — The Boilermakers enter the pass-happy Jeff Brohnm era with an issue: No wide receivers. Literally every single one of their top four receivers graduated, and the remaining of the two players returning with over 30 receptions, one is a running back and the other is Herdman. He snagged 35 balls for three scores, averaging 9.8 yards per reception with a long of 53 yards, and that was in a now defunct offense with a quarterback that suffered from a bit of an accuracy problem (57% completion rate, 21 interceptions). Enter the quarterback whisperer Brohm, whose finely tuned machine produces efficiency and points… lots of points. The coach has stated the tight ends will be a focus in the passing game, and being they make up two of the top three yards producers and receiving talent, that’s a great idea. Herdman will be a red-zone weapon, with 50 catch potential at minimum in our eyes.
Hayden Hurst — South Carolina Gamecocks — As far as actually catching lots of passes, in a season’s worth of games, and making big plays every so often, Hurst is the best in the SEC by a wide margin. The issue is only one of his 48 grabs (tied for second among returning TE’s) went into the end-zone. In two seasons he’s amassed just that one score, and we see that correcting itself in 2017. The passing game will lean on the 6-5 250-pounder, and expect him to total somewhere in the 55 catch and 6 touchdown range. For the Gamecock pass offense, that’s tremendous…
Blake Mack — Arkansas State Red Wolves — While he isn’t the most sure handed tight end on the list, he’s a versatile H-Back with big-play potential, some prowess as a blocking fullback, and the ability to function outside the box as a receiver. He was Justice Hansen’s favorite target last season, and once again will be the apple of the quarterback’s eye. Look for the Red Wolves to get him the ball more often, in more ways, to take advantage of the former running back’s skills in space. Long-armed and athletic, the 6-2 235-pound Mack can even truck ’em.
Issac Nauta — Georgia Bulldogs — As far as being a freak athlete, sure-handed elite prospect, and potential All-American talent, Nauta is tops in the SEC. Despite solid talent around him at the position, Nauta stood out last season as the team’s third best receiver in terms of catches and yards, second in touchdowns with 29, 361 and 3, respectively in 2016. The reigns come off a bit more for Jacob Eason this season, especially considering the run game of the Dawgs to ease the transition, and Nauta is an elite talent at the quintessential check-down in any Jay Johnson-infused offense. We see what you are doing Kirbs, and we like it for 2017.
Cam Serigne — Wake Forest Demon Deacons — The leading tight end in terms of career yards, the well-rounded senior leader of the Deac offense is still on this list despite a significant drop in catches in his three years (54, 46, 30) and parallel decline in scores (5, 4, 3). It’s not-so-much Serigne though, as his struggle has coincided with a precipitous drop in quarterback play and the passing game as a whole. Essentially, the Wake Forest passing attack fell off a cliff, and Serigne went along for the ride. He’s weathered the storm, returns, and should benefit at least from a return to his 2014 ways.
How many college football players have a pig named after them?
— FOX Sports South (@FOXSportsSouth) November 26, 2016
Snubs — Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan Chippewas; Christopher Herndon IV, Miami Hurricanes; Nigel Kilby, Eastern Michigan Eagles; Dalton Schultz, Stanford Cardinal; Ryan Smith, Miami (Ohio) RedHawks; Tommy Sweeney, Boston College Eagles; Shane Wimann, NIU Huskies; Ryan Yurachek, Marshall Thundering Herd