The top returning college football tight ends for 2017 is a select group for a position that has been phased out on certain campuses.
Today’s tight end bears little resemblance to your father’s tight end. He’s more versatile, a step or two faster and far less likely to impact the game as a run blocker. Still, he has a vital role in many offenses, often serving as a quasi-slot receiver capable of outmuscling opposing safeties and outrunning opposing linebackers. He is an underrated weapon, especially in the red zone, and these five individuals will begin the new season as the top returning tight ends of 2017.
Top Returning Tight Ends
5. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
The Sooners underutilized Andrews, who plays “Y” receiver, the team’s version of a tight end. However, they’ll have no choice but to get him more involved in 2017 now that All-American WR Dede Westbrook is gone. Andrews has caught seven touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons, and it’s going to help now that last year’s shoulder sprain will have an entire offseason to heal. He’s a big and reliable target, with just enough acceleration to gash the seam when defenses put a linebacker on him.
4. Jaylen Samuels, NC State
Okay, so Samuels is anything but a traditional tight end. But who is a traditional tight end these days? Samuels is a do-everything hybrid, who’ll block and carry the ball like a fullback while also leading the Pack with 55 receptions for 565 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. Think H-back, with the versatility and athleticism to do whatever is needed to win. Samuels is explosive, like a slot receiver, enticing the staff in Raleigh to concoct new ways to get the ball in his hands.
3. Adam Breneman, Massachusetts
What a strange and unpredictable college journey this has been for Breneman, the former five-star recruit of Penn State who briefly retired because of knee problems. He earned his degree in Happy Valley, transferred to UMass and now looks like the tight end many assumed he’d become all along. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, he moves with the grace and quickness of a wide receiver, leading the nation’s tight ends a year ago with 70 catches for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.
2. Mike Gesicki, Penn State
The 6-foot-6 Gesicki is long and lean, with the hops to be borderline impossible to defend on jump balls. And his catch-radius is enormous, an added bonus for quarterback Trace McSorley. After a quiet first half to his career, Gesicki really came into his own in 2016, catching 48 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns. With another offseason to add muscle and work on his blocking, he’s hoping to move closer to being this season’s best all-around tight end.
1. Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Fumagalli began his junior season with 100 receiving yards versus LSU and ended it by being named the Offensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl. In between? The Badgers probably didn’t employ his pass-caching skills enough. The 6-foot-6, 248-pound former walk-on possesses the sticky hands, despite having just nine fingers, and the long gait to post numbers consistent with some wide receivers. And his tight, precise routes put him in a position to find the soft spots in defenses before the window closes.