Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Football is an ever-evolving game and that causes certain positions to come to the forefront over time.
The tight end position has become a must-have in the NFL, with players like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, New England's Rob Gronkowski, Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, Dallas' Jason Witten and San Francisco's Vernon Davis reaching star status.
With the increased emphasis on drafting difference makers, tight end has become quite the trendy position among the FBS ranks.
Here are the top tight ends heading into the 2014 season:
NICK O'LEARY: The true definition of a luxury, Florida State's O'Leary is rarely game-planned for considering all the weapons on the Seminoles offense. With a Heisman Trophy winner under center (Jameis Winston) and star power both in the backfield (Karlos Williams) and on the outside (Rashad Greene), the 6- foot-3, 244-pound O'Leary is free to roam around and make plays. As a junior in 2013, he was an integral part of FSU's national title run, catching 33 balls for 557 yards and seven touchdowns en route to All-ACC second-team honors and being named a finalist for the Mackey Award. He might just take home the hardware in 2014.
DEVIN FUNCHESS: There is a new offensive coordinator at Michigan these days and Doug Nussmeier's first order of business should be to find more ways to get the ball to the 6-5, 230-pound Funchess. He was tabbed an All-Big Ten first-team selection as a sophomore in 2013, catching 49 passes for 748 yards (single- season school record for a tight end) and six TDs. Another talented pass catcher, Funchess' greatest asset is his ability to line up both inside and out and still make plays. The numbers will be there for Funchess, whether or not the Wolverines find themselves in the Big Ten title race in 2014.
E.J. BIBBS: An All-Big 12 second-team selection in 2013, the 6-3, 261-pounder made an immediate impact with the Cyclones in his first season with the team. A junior college All-American in 2012, Bibbs' transition into the FBS ranks was smooth. He finished his junior campaign with 39 receptions for 462 yards and two TDs en route to All-Big 12 second-team honors. A gifted and natural athlete with reliable hands and great route running skills, Bibbs could become a matchup nightmare in 2014.
BRAXTON DEAVER: David Cutcliffe is certainly doing something right in Durham, N.C., if Duke players continue to find their way on to lists like these. Deaver is coming off a strong 2013, where he hauled in 46 balls for 600 yards and four scores (All-ACC third team). Those numbers were even more impressive considering he missed the 2012 campaign recovering from a couple of summer surgeries prior to the season. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, Deaver has plenty of size for the position. Add in decent speed, good hands and a strong work ethic and the sky is the limit for this Blue Devil.
JEFF HEUERMAN: It is hard to fathom a team that averaged over 500 yards of total offense per game in 2013 didn't utilize its tight end enough, but the case can certainly be made at Ohio State. Urban Meyer has an embarrassment of riches in Columbus and the 6-5, 255-pound Heuerman is just one of them. He only caught 26 balls last season, but averaged just under 18 yards per catch, going for 466 yards and four TDs. Throwing the ball more Heuerman's way could lighten the load on the very busy Braxton Miller under center and, in turn, make the Buckeyes even more dangerous.
RANDALL TELFER: Who knows what would have been had the 6-4, 250-pound Telfer been healthy in 2013 for Southern California. He did see the field in 11 games, with eight starts, but shared the tight end duties, finishing with just six receptions for 79 yards and one TD. In 22 career starts, Telfer has 44 receptions and 10 TDs. He is a playmaker down the field and will no longer have to carve out playing time, as he is the No. 1 tight end on the Trojans' roster this year. Provided he stays healthy, he should be a top target in Steve Sarkisian's offense.
JESSE JAMES: Having one quality tight end is definitely an advantage in college football. Having three just doesn't seem fair. Penn State's trio of Kyle Carter (6-3, 243), Jesse James (6-7, 257) and Adam Breneman (6-4, 235) provides new coach James Franklin with plenty of options. James may be the best of the bunch, though, and is an obvious mismatch with his size and athleticism. James led all three players with 25 catches for 333 yards and three TDs in 2013. With star receiver Allen Robinson moving on, an expanded role in the passing game could be in store for the Penn State tight ends. If James continues to fine-tune his skills, he could have a big season in Happy Valley.
MAXX WILLIAMS: The 6-4, 254-pound Williams burst on the scene for Minnesota in 2013, earning Freshman All-America honors. He started seven games and finished his first season in Minneapolis with 25 receptions for 417 yards and five TDs. Jerry Kill needs to open up Minnesota's offense and doing so should provide Williams with plenty of targets, as he continues to mature into his position.
GERALD CHRISTIAN: Louisville had star power on both sides of the football in 2013 and although some of that has departed for the NFL, Bobby Petrino's cupboard isn't exactly bare. Christian (6-3, 242) grabbed 28 balls for 426 yards and four TDs last year with Teddy Bridgewater leading the offense. Bridgewater has moved on, but that shouldn't prevent Christian's star from continuing to rise. Louisville will move the football and Christian will be an integral part of that.
CLIVE WALFORD: Do not sleep on Miami's talented tight end. A senior in 2014, the 6-4 Walford could blossom into one of the nation's best at his position. He ranked second on the team in receptions as a junior, grabbing 34 balls for 454 yards and two TDs. The athleticism is there, but if Walford can refine his skills in his last season with the Hurricanes, the NFL will come calling.
HONORABLE MENTION: Malcolm Johnson (Mississippi State), C.J. Uzomah (Auburn), Ben Koyack (Notre Dame), Blake Bell (Oklahoma), O.J. Howard (Alabama), Rory Anderson (South Carolina).