Sports on Earth is counting down the top returning players at every position in college football heading into the 2016 season. Last week, we broke down the top 30 returning linebackers. This week, it's the top 30 wide receivers and top 15 tight ends.
It's not hard to identify the very best wide receivers entering any given college football season, but trying to narrow down a larger group to a list of 20 or 30 can be difficult when there are 128 teams, many of which continue to be increasingly reliant on a heavy volume of passing and tempo offenses, skewing stats.
Lots of receivers put up big numbers, and lots of teams spread the wealth more than ever. As we continue counting down the best players at every position in college football entering the 2016 season, we attempt to narrow down the best wide receivers pool to 30 and the best tight ends to 15.
Keep in mind that these rankings are based on what players have accomplished and what kind of impact they are capable of making at the college level, not necessarily NFL draft projections. The top 30 wide receivers are below, followed by the top 15 tight ends.
30. Damore'ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss. A four-star recruit in the class of 2013, Stringfellow had his career at Washington derailed by off-the-field issues. He transferred to Ole Miss, and after sitting out in 2014, he showed flashes of his high ceiling in a rotational role last season, catching 36 passes for 503 yards and five TDs. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Stringfellow likely only scratched the surface. With Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core gone, Stringfellow and Quincy Adeboyejo will step up to be the top two receivers for Chad Kelly, one of the nation's top passers. Stringfellow's physical ability is impossible to deny, and he's poised for a breakout campaign.
29. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma. Big things were expected out of Westbrook as a highly regarded juco transfer. Not surprisingly, he took a backseat to Sterling Shepard last season, but he still caught 46 passes for 743 yards and four TDs, averaging 16.2 yards per catch. With Shepard and Durron Neal no longer in the mix, it's Westbrook's to step up as the top target for Heisman candidate QB Baker Mayfield in an offense under Lincoln Riley that will still love to throw the ball a lot, even with one of the nation's best backfields. It's unclear how a late May arrest for criminal trespassing will affect Westbrook's status, but on the field he is an excellent fit for Riley's scheme.
28. Shelton Gibson, West Virginia. It was a bit jarring to see a Dana Holgorsen team put an increased emphasis on running the ball over throwing, but that's exactly what happened last season. When the Mountaineers did throw, Gibson was the big-play receiver. He caught only 37 passes in 13 games, but he took them for 887 yards and nine TDs, averaging 24 yards per reception. If WVU opens things up a bit more this year with QB Skyler Howard, the explosive Gibson would certainly stand to benefit as a junior in his effort to become a more consistent playmaker.
27. Stacy Coley, Miami. Coley has a ton of potential, but he has yet to put it all together and be a consistent standout. The highlight of his career thus far was a seven-catch, 139-yard effort against Florida State last fall, in which he showcased his explosiveness and ball skills. The 6-foot-1, 193-pound senior has 103 catches in three seasons, with 47 catches for 689 yards and four TDs last year. With both Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters gone, the pressure is on Coley to become more consistent and emerge as Brad Kaaya's No. 1 receiver.
26. Kenny Golladay, Northern Illinois. It didn't take long for the 6-foot-4 North Dakota transfer to make his presence felt upon making the jump from FCS to FBS. In his Huskies debut, Golladay caught nine passes for 213 yards against UNLV, and he followed that with 144 yards against Murray State. Overall, Golladay had 73 receptions for 1,129 yards and 10 TDs, quickly emerging as a dangerous big-play threat with NFL size after being overlooked as a recruit out of Chicago.
25. Allen Lazard, Iowa State. A four-star top-100 player in the class of 2014, Lazard was one of the best recruits in Iowa State history, as he decided to stay in home state to play for the Cyclones. Now a 6-foot-5, 223-pound junior, Lazard hasn't played in particularly great passing offenses -- Iowa State QB play continues to be erratic -- but he has flashed that big-time talent, catching 56 passes for 807 yards and six TDs last season in 11 games. A big-bodied receiver with good hands and ball skills, Lazard will hope to take his game to another level under a new coaching staff.
24. Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech. In his one year at Louisiana Tech, QB Jeff Driskel threw for over 4,000 yards, with Carlos Henderson counted on for big plays (21.5 yards per catch), while Taylor was the go-to possession target who caught 99 passes -- 54 more than anyone else on the team -- for 1,282 yards and nine TDs. While other Bulldogs receivers may have been boom-or-bust in terms of production, Taylor earned first-team All-Conference USA honors with over 100 yards in seven games and 10 or more catches five times. Only 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Taylor has become a machine out of the slot.
23. Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska. The Huskers' passing game may be an up-and-down, but Westerkamp has made tangible progress the last three seasons, rising to become one of the better playmakers in the Big Ten. Last season, he caught 65 passes for 918 yards and seven TDs, emerging as Nebraska's clear top target in the passing game. A 6-foot, 200-pound senior, Westerkamp has the speed to make plays downfield, but he's mostly a key intermediate threat. He should crack the 1,000-yard mark if QB Tommy Armstrong finds more consistency in his second year under Mike Riley.
22. Richie James, Middle Tennessee. Coach Rich Stockstill's decision to make a QB switch to his freshman son, Brent Stockstill, paid off, as the Blue Raiders' passing game took off, moving from 76th to 15th in yards per game. In throwing for 4,000 yards, Stockstill's top weapon was also a freshman. James caught 108 passes for 1,346 yards and eight TDs as a redshirt freshman, quickly becoming automatic as a possession receiver. The Blue Raiders loved feeding the ball to the 5-foot-9, 171-pound James, as he also ran 12 times for 146 yards and a TD. The James-Stockstill combination should put up huge numbers the next few years.
21. Darren Carrington, Oregon. We have yet to see a full season of Carrington playing a lead role in the Oregon offense, but we may finally get the chance. As a freshman in 2014, he broke out late in the season with 126 yards in the Pac-12 title game and 165 yards in the Rose Bowl, but he was suspended for the national title game and subsequently the first six games of 2015 after failing a drug test. Upon returning, he had over 100 yards in four of seven games, catching 32 passes for 609 yards and six TDs in an abbreviated season. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound redshirt junior has shown big potential with his ability to stretch defenses, and 2016 should be his chance to separate himself as Oregon's No. 1 wideout.
20. Malchi Dupre and Travin Dural, LSU. It can be difficult to judge the LSU receivers, given that they're playing in an offense that averaged the fewest passing attempts per game (23.1) in the SEC. Both Dupre and Dural have high ceilings and may ultimately make a bigger impact as pros. The 6-foot-3 Dupre is a former five-star recruit who led the team with 43 catches for 698 yards and six TDs as a sophomore, averaging 16.2 yards per catch. Dural, a 6-foot-2 senior, caught 28 passes for 533 yards and three TDs, averaging 19 yards per catch, but he was sidelined by a hamstring injury late in the season. It's not hard to envision both players putting up big numbers in a more pass-happy offense, and they should get more attention if QB Brandon Harris takes a step forward as a junior, especially with defenses loading the box to stop Leonard Fournette.
19. Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M. While not as touted out of high school as some of his fellow Aggies receivers, Reynolds has been a pivotal part of the unit since arriving as a juco transfer in 2014. A 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior, Reynolds had 52 catches for 842 yards and 13 TDs in his sophomore debut and 51 catches for 907 yards and five TDs last season. He averages 17 yards per catch in his career at Texas A&M, and while he was overshadowed by the emergence of Christian Kirk last year, he ended the season on a personal high note, catching 11 passes for 177 yards in the Music City Bowl loss to Louisville.
18. Simmie Cobbs, Indiana. The Hoosiers continue to put together productive offenses under Kevin Wilson, and Cobbs has emerged as one of the Big Ten's top playmakers. A 6-foot-4, 212-pound junior, Cobbs broke out as a sophomore, with 60 catches for 1,035 yards and four TDs. The offense spread the wealth between Cobbs, Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige, but Cobbs has become the team's best receiver, emerging as an impact player in the second half of last season with an impressive combination of size and athleticism, with good ball skills and the ability to make defenders miss after the catch.
17. Artavis Scott, Clemson. Scott can be terrifying after the catch, a 5-foot-11, 190-pond speedster who is elusive in the open field. While he's capable of being a vertical threat, his main role in the Clemson offense is to spread defenses out from sideline to sideline, as he's often the recipient of short, quick passes that make him almost an extension of the running game. He averaged only 9.7 yards per catch in 2015, but he caught 93 passes for 901 yards and six TDs and continues to be a valuable and reliable target who Deshaun Watson can lean on to help keep the offense on schedule and maximize the space opposing defenses have to defend.
16. Travis Rudolph, Florida State. The Seminoles' passing game as a whole was inconsistent last year, and it wasn't just because of the QB shuffling between Sean Maguire and Everett Golson. The production of the receivers was also a bit all over the map. Rudolph is the best of the bunch, though, with the potential for stardom. As a sophomore, he caught 59 passes for 916 yards and seven TDs, with 191 of those yards coming against Syracuse and 201 against Houston. The ceiling is high for Rudolph, as the 6-foot-1, 189-pound junior was a five-star recruit and possesses big-play ability and the athleticism to do a lot of damage after the catch.
15. Zay Jones, East Carolina. There have been few more reliable targets in recent years than Jones, who is now listed on the ECU roster as Zay rather than Isaiah. A productive possession receiver, the 6-foot-1, 197-pound Jones caught 62 passes as a freshman, 81 as a sophomore and 98 for 1,099 yards and five TDs as a junior last season. It remains to be seen how the Pirates' offense will change with former Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery coming in as head coach, but it's a given that Jones will continue to be a big factor in the passing game after recording 10 or more catches six times last season, making him one of the most dependable receivers in the country.
14. Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State. The Broncos' leading receiver the last two seasons, Sperbeck became a star in 2015 as a junior, catching 88 passes for 1,412 yards and eight TDs. He has shown a knack for making highlight-reel catches, and he can be a capable receiving machine. He has 20 catches for 281 yards against New Mexico, a week after putting up 10 catches for 163 yards against UNLV. Sperbeck's reliability makes him an excellent asset for promising young QB Brett Rypien as he continues his development as a passer.
13. Fred Ross, Mississippi State. One of four 1,000-yard receivers in the SEC last season, Ross became a go-to target for Dak Prescott, catching 80 passes for 1,007 yards and five TDs in a breakout junior campaign. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior was particularly strong down the stretch in SEC play, with over 100 yards in four straight games and 10-plus catches in three of the four. Ross missed the spring with a groin injury and will have to adapt to a new QB, but the Bulldogs will lean heavily on him as their top target with De'Runnya Wilson gone.
12. Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers' prolific offense had four players with over 700 receiving yards last season, but Taylor stands out above the rest. As a junior, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Taylor enjoyed a breakout season, catching 86 passes for 1,467 yards and 17 TDs. He averaged 17.1 yards per reception and finished second in the nation in receiving TDs. Both a reliable target and a terrific big-play threat, Taylor is one of the most dangerous players after the catch in all of college football. His return is huge boost to the Western Kentucky offense as it attempts to replace QB Brandon Doughty.
11. Jehu Chesson, Michigan. Voted Michigan's team MVP last season, Chesson broke out as a redshirt junior in Jim Harbaugh's offense, particularly down the stretch. After a quiet start, he finished with 50 catches for 764 yards and nine TDs -- bolstered by his 2017 yards and four TDs vs. Indiana, 111 yards vs. Ohio State and 118 yards vs. Florida. He added to his value with 155 rushing yards and two TDs, plus a kick return TD. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Chesson had single-digit catches his first two seasons, but now he is the Wolverines' most explosive receiver, teaming with Amara Darboh and tight end Jake Butt to form a strong receiving corps for whomever starts at quarterback.
10. Chris Godwin, Penn State. For all of Penn State's issues on offense last season, it produced a couple of rising stars in Saquon Barkley at running back and Godwin at receiver. Godwin never seemed to get enough credit for his phenomenal sophomore season, as he caught 69 passes for 1,101 yards and five TDs, including over 100 yards in five of Penn State's last seven games, three of which came against the Michigan State, Northwestern and Georgia defenses. Penn State has some QB uncertainty, but Godwin should be an excellent weapon for new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead in an up-tempo scheme that produced big numbers the last few years when he was head coach at Fordham. Godwin is a physical receiver who can make plays after the catch and downfield.
9. KD Cannon, Baylor. The Baylor offense has been a big-play machine, and with Corey Coleman gone, Cannon is the best bet to rise to the top of the Bears' list of targets. A five-star recruit, Cannon had 1,030 yards as a freshman but saw his numbers dip slightly as a sophomore. Still, he caught 50 passes for 868 yards and six TDs, averaging 17.4 yards per catch, despite the Bears' late-season quarterback injury troubles. Cannon is the type of lightning-fast receiver who can embarrass defenders by leaving them in the dust downfield on the way to big plays.
8. James Washington, Oklahoma State. After showing flashes of big-play ability as a freshman, Washington broke out as a big-play machine for the Cowboys as a sophomore. He had four catches of 70 or more yards, finishing the season with 53 catches for 1,087 yards and 10 TDs -- an average of 20.5 yards per reception. The 6-foot, 205-pound junior is a game-breaker with excellent straight-line speed to go with ball skills that allow him to make contested catches.
7. Gabe Marks, Washington State. Mike Leach's offense has caught fire in Pullman, which is always great news for the receivers -- particularly top talents like Marks. As a junior, Marks finished fourth in the nation in receptions and receiving touchdowns, racking up 104 catches for 1,192 yards and 15 TDs. Marks is not an explosive playmaker downfield, but he's a consistent, reliable, sure-handed intermediate target who runs good routes, has excellent hands and can be slippery after the catch. He gets open and keeps the chains moving.
6. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M. Kevin Sumlin's staff has brought in a lot of talented receivers the last few years, but Kirk -- a five-star recruit in 2015 -- had little trouble rising to the top of the depth chart immediately. A dynamic playmaker, Kirk led the Aggies with 80 catches -- 29 more than anyone else -- for 1,009 yards and seven TDs, and he increased his value by averaging 24.4 yards per punt return with two TDs. He's electric with the ball in his hands when he gets into space, and the only thing holding him back is Texas A&M's revolving door at quarterback.
5. Mike Williams, Clemson. One of the most physically imposing receivers in college football, Williams unfortunately wasn't a part of Clemson's run to the College Football Playoff last year, as a scary neck injury in Week 1 sidelined him for the season. He's back healthy now, though, ready to rejoin a loaded Clemson offense with Heisman candidate QB Deshaun Watson at the helm. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Williams caught 57 passes for 1,030 yards (18.1 per catch) and six TDs as a sophomore in 2014, showing off fantastic hands and ball skills, with the ability to beat defenses downfield as well as make contested catches.
4. Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech. Ford has been a revelation for the Hokies, providing a huge spark for an offense that has had plenty of struggles the last few years. A 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior, Ford is coming off the first 1,000-yard receiving season in Virginia Tech history, with 75 catches for 1,164 yards and 11 TDs. He was especially hot down the stretch, with 26 catches for 503 yards in the Hokies' final three games. Ford is an explosive big-play threat, whether it's downfield or on short passes with him using his lightning-quick feet to make plays after the catch in space.
3. Corey Davis, Western Michigan. Nobody in college football has more receiving yards over the last three seasons than Davis, who enters his senior year with over 1,200 more career receiving yards than anyone else in the nation. After putting up 941 yards on his debut in 2013, Davis has starred the last two years: 78 catches for 1,408 yards and 15 TDs in 2014 and 89 for 1,429 and 12 in '15. Last season, he opened with 154 yards against Michigan State, and he finished with at least 105 yards in each of his last seven games. The 6-foot-3, 213-pound Davis is a savvy route-runner with impressive quickness for his size, in addition to breakaway speed. He can get open against anyone, and he's a legitimate NFL prospect. The Broncos will have one of the most productive offenses in the country, and Davis could make a run at All-America honors.
2. Calvin Ridley, Alabama. Alabama lost Heisman finalist Amari Cooper, and then potential breakout player Robert Foster missed most of the season with an injury. This is Alabama, though, and naturally a five-star freshman who looks ready for the NFL stepped in to become a star. A dynamic, explosive athlete, the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Ridley is capable of embarrassing defenders in space. He had six catches of 50 or more yards, and he finished his true freshman season with 89 catches for 1,045 yards and seven TDs. Between his speed, ball skills, route-running and ability to make plays after the catch, Ridley appears destined for All-America teams, regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Crimson Tide.
1. JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC. The best and most intimidating wide receiver in college football. Smith-Schuster was a five-star recruit and has lived up to the hype in two seasons with the Trojans, building on a stellar freshman season to become the Trojans' top target as a sophomore in 2015. Smith-Schuster hauled in 89 catches for 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns, and his numbers likely would have been even better had he not been playing through a fractured hand late in the season, an injury that somehow didn't cost him a game. He has deep speed, but at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, what stands out most about his game is his toughness, physicality and intensity. It's not a touchdown that Smith-Schuster's 2015 season will be remembered for the most; it's the ridiculous stiff arm he dealt to Utah's Dominique Hatfield.
Honorable Mention: Rodney Adams, South Florida; Quincy Adeboyejo, Ole Miss; Marcel Ateman, Oklahoma State; Josh Atkins, Tulsa; Devonte Boyd, UNLV; Antonio Callaway, Florida; River Cracraft, Washington State; Amara Darboh, Michigan; Gehrig Dieter, Alabama; Deante' Gray, TCU; Penny Hart, Georgia State; DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State; Keon Hatcher, Arkansas; Mack Hollins, North Carolina; Torii Hunter, Notre Dame; Ricky Jones, Indiana; Keevan Lucas, Tulsa; Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green; Drew Morgan, Arkansas; Speedy Noil, Texas A&M; Nicholas Norris, Western Kentucky; James Quick, Louisville; Michael Rector, Stanford; Hunter Renfrow, Clemson; Jalen Robinette, Air Force; John Ross, Washington; Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M; Jamari Staples, Louisville; ArDarius Stewart, Alabama; Courtland Sutton, SMU; Ryan Switzer, North Carolina; Cody Thompson, Toledo; KaVontae Turpin, TCU; Matt VandeVerg, Iowa
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15. Gerald Everett, South Alabama. Everett's college career has taken him from junior college to UAB -- 17 catches for 292 yards in 2014 -- then to South Alabama after the Blazers temporarily dropped their football program. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Everett proceeded to lead the Jaguars in receiving, catching 41 passes for 575 yards and eight TDs. He had 164 yards against San Diego State early in the year and continued to be a big factor in the offense.
14. Josiah Price, Michigan State. While Price's 2015 production wasn't as strong as hoped -- an ankle issue didn't help -- he still caught a solid 23 passes for 267 yards and six TDs in 12 games. A well-rounded tight end, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Price is a strong, physical blocker, and that size makes him a dangerous target, particularly in the red zone -- where he's tough to handle for smaller defensive backs. With top receivers Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings gone, it wouldn't be surprising if the Spartans' new quarterback leans more heavily on the veteran tight end.
13. David Njoku, Miami. The speedy Njoku flashed a lot of potential as a redshirt freshman, averaging 17.2 yards per reception with 21 catches for 362 yards and a TD. Also a member of the Hurricanes' track team, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Njoku has a high ceiling and has a great chance to emerge as a more consistent target for Brad Kaaya in the passing game this season with the type of mismatches he can create because of his athleticism in space.
12. Billy Freeman, San Jose State. After an injury-plagued 2014 season, Freeman emerged as a first-team All-Mountain West performer and Mackey Award semifinalist as a junior, leading the Spartans with 48 catches for 586 yards and six TDs. While only 6-foot-3, 234 pounds, Freeman is effective both as an in-line tight end and split out, with the athleticism to make him a difficult matchup and a go-to target for San Jose State.
11. Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas. Sprinkle previously had to share the field with Hunter Henry, the top tight end taken in the 2016 draft, but as a senior the 6-foot-6, 255-pounder will move into the primary tight end role for the Razorbacks, who love to feature the position. Even with Henry catching 51 passes, Sprinkle had a solid 27 catches for 389 yards and six TDs last year, and with his natural receiving ability, he's primed for a breakout season as a key target for new QB Austin Allen.
10. Jonnu Smith, FIU. Knee issues limited Smith to just eight games last season, but he has been a highly productive target for the Golden Panthers. A 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior, Smith has 136 career catches and led FIU in receiving his freshman and sophomore seasons. He was at his best as a sophomore in 2014, racking up 61 catches for 710 yards and eight TDs. Before missing the final four games last year, he had 36 catches for 397 yards, including 10 receptions for 183 yards and two TDs vs. Old Dominion in his last game.
9. Brandon Lingren, Minnesota. Maxx Williams' early departure to the NFL opened the door for a breakout sophomore season for Lingren. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-5, 247-pound Minnesota native began emerging as a go-to weapon for the Golden Gophers, catching 33 passes for 428 yards and three TDs, including over 100 yards vs. Michigan and Iowa. Lingren plays both of Minnesota's tight end roles -- the traditional one and a hybrid H-back role -- and has become one of the nation's most complete tight ends.
8. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma. Most Big 12 teams don't lean heavily on tight ends in their passing games, but Andrews has the talent and athleticism to continue to make a name for himself in the Sooners' offense, especially with top wideout Sterling Shepard now gone. As a redshirt freshman, Andrews earned All-Big 12 honors, catching 19 passes for 318 yards and seven TDs. He wasn't heavily involved in the offense, but he made his opportunities count, averaging 16.7 yards per reception. Andrews is a terrific athlete who runs good routes and can be particularly dangerous down the seam and in the red zone, with impressive ability after the catch for a 244-pound tight end.
7. Cam Serigne, Wake Forest. Over the last two seasons, no tight end has more catches than Serigne, who has 100 career receptions thus far for the Demon Deacons. A 6-foot-3, 245-pound junior, Serigne has been a valuable player for a work-in-progress Wake Forest offense, catching 46 passes for 562 yards and four TDs last year. For an offense that has been young and ranked near the bottom of the country statistically the last couple years, Serigne has been welcome, steady, reliable presence for QB John Wolford.
6. Jaylen Samuels, N.C. State. Samuels has no specific position. Officially listed as a TE/FB on the Wolfpack roster, the 5-foot-11, 223-pound junior doesn't look like a tight end and won't play the position in the NFL. He can line up all around the formation and do whatever N.C. State asks of him. As a junior, Samuels led the Wolfpack with 65 catches for 597 yards and seven TD, serving as a reliable security blanket for Jacoby Brissett. He also ran 56 times for 368 yards and nine TDs, thus finishing third in the ACC in total TDs scored. Samuels is a fun jack-of-all-trades movable chess piece who can help move the chains and score from anywhere N.C. State wants to line him up.
5. Jordan Leggett, Clemson. Leggett was one of my key factors in Clemson's offensive explosion last season, shedding the "Lazy Leggett" tag early in his career to become a key weapon for Deshaun Watson in an offense loaded with playmakers. After catching a total of 26 passes his first two seasons, Leggett finished with 40 receptions for 525 yards and eight TDs last year as parted of a crowded receiving corps -- one that will continue to make it tough to get targets with Mike Williams returning from injury. Leggett lines up in a variety of positions, including as an H-back who can lead block for RB Wayne Gallman, and at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, he has the size and speed to be a dangerous short-to-intermediate target.
4. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech. The Hokies' offense found some signs of life last season and should take another step forward under Justin Fuente's staff. Isaiah Ford is one of the nation's top wideouts, and Hodges is a fantastic asset at tight end. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound junior has 85 catches over his first two seasons, including 40 catches for 530 yards and six TDs last year. A wiling blocker on the perimeter, Hodges is terrific as a detached tight end, playing in the slot or out wide, with natural route-running and receiving ability paired with terrific athleticism and hands.
3. Evan Engram, Ole Miss. At just 227 pounds, the 6-foot-3 Engram may not have prototypical NFL tight end size, but he is a dangerous weapon who can be used in a variety of ways around the formation. Few tight ends in college football can match his athleticism, with excellent speed and burst to go along with leaping ability and ball skills. As a junior, Engram caught 38 passes for 464 yards and two TDs, but he saved his best for last with 96 yards in the Sugar Bowl. Expect QB Chad Kelly to get Engram more consistently involved this season, especially with top wideout Laquon Treadwell gone.
2. O.J. Howard, Alabama. On Jan. 11, with a national championship on the line, Howard had the sort of game that Crimson Tide fans had been dreaming about for three years. The 6-foot-6, 242-pound Howard is a terrific athlete and therefore a potential matchup nightmare, and yet in three years since joining Alabama as a five-star recruit, his involvement in the passing game was inconsistent, with him often disappearing from the game plan. Against Clemson, however, Howard caught five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns, burning the Tigers with big plays for the best game of his career -- after he had 17 catches for 260 yards in his entire junior season. Howard finished 2015 with 38 catches for 602 yards and two TDs, and he decided to return for his senior season to try to build off his big moment in the spotlight. "I would say it's bad coaching on my part that he didn't have the opportunity to do that all year long, because he is really a good athlete, and he's improved tremendously as a player this year," coach Nick Saban said after the title game. Alabama's receiving corps is loaded, but it's hard to imagine that the Tide won't keep trying to find more ways to get Howard involved.
1. Jake Butt, Michigan. Jim Harbaugh loves featuring the tight end. At Stanford, Coby Fleener shined and was the first tight end selected in the NFL draft. Now, Butt has an opportunity to do the same. A solid contributor his first two seasons, Butt broke out as a star as a junior under Harbaugh, catching 51 passes of 654 yards and three TDs. He's athletic enough to split out in the slot like many modern tight ends, but he's a well-rounded player with a traditional tight end skill set, able to be an in-line blocker. He's not an overpowering blocker, but he has good size at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, and he's a dangerous, reliable receiver. He's a tremendous asset for a team that will be breaking in another new starting quarterback.
Honorable Mention: Jeb Blazevich, Georgia; Pharaoh Brown, Oregon; Cethan Carter, Nebraska; Buck Cowan, Idaho; Darrell Daniels, Washington; Tony Fumagalli, Wisconsin; DeAndre Goolsby, Florida; Sean Irwin, Colorado; Blake Jarwin, Oklahoma State; George Kittle, Iowa; Kody Kohl, Arizona State; Jake Roh, Boise State; Keith Rucker, Georgia State; Dalton Schultz, Stanford; Durham Smythe, Notre Dame; Ethan Wolf, Tennessee; Ryan Yurachek, Marshall