The tight end position has been lacking in recent years, but there's a good crop of players ready to emerge in 2012. Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert ranks as Athlon's No. 1 tight end for this season, while Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins will only get better after a solid freshman campaign in 2011. Ohio State's Jake Stoneburner and Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz are two players who should easily surpass last year's totals, while non-BCS standouts Jack Doyle, Ryan Otten and Gavin Escobar should not be overlooked.
When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential.
College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012
1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
An elite tight end is a rarity in college football in recent years. Luckily for Notre Dame, Eifert turned down the NFL Draft to return to South Bend and should be the nation’s best at his position going into the 2012 season. He ranked second on the team with 63 receptions, 803 yards and five receiving scores last year. Eifert had at least one catch in every game last season and caught eight passes for 75 yards and one touchdown in the win against Pittsburgh. With Michael Floyd finishing his eligibility in South Bend, Eifert is the now the leader of the receiving corps and should be targeted more by Notre Dame quarterbacks in 2012.
2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
As only a true freshman, the big-time prep star from Gig Harbor High School produced a season no Washington freshman tight end has ever posted. His 538 yards receiving were No. 2 all-time in UW history for a freshman of any position while ranking No. 3 all-time for any tight end of any age. He did all of that on 41 catches to go with six touchdowns. He has a chance to be the best player at his position nationally with continued development.
3. Joseph Fauria, UCLA
The nephew of NFL veteran tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph Fauria caught 39 passes for 481 yards with six touchdowns last season. He’ll be a top target for new Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley in the new “Y” position.
4.Chris Gragg, Arkansas
The veteran tight end had an excellent season in 2011, ranking third on the team in receptions. Gragg totaled 41 catches for 518 yards and two scores, and he was a star (8 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD) in the Mississippi State game. Arkansas will look for more of the same in 2012.
5. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
Pederson was a reliable red zone threat for former Badger quarterback Russell Wilson, with eight of his 30 receptions resulting in a touchdown. The 6-4, 240-pound Illinois native caught at least one pass in all but one game — with a high of six for 80 yards and two scores vs. Oregon State — and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.
6. Levine Toiolo, Stanford
Stanford’s three-tight end attack is down to two with juniors Zach Ertz and Toilolo. Though Toilolo was the third of the tree, he finished 348 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
7. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
Stoneburner ran into some off-the-field trouble in the offseason but is expected to return to the roster in time for the opener against Miami (Ohio). The Dublin, Ohio native has 37 career catches for 445 yards and is expected to have a more prominent role in the offense in 2012. New coach Urban Meyer is installing a spread attack but Stoneburner’s athleticism and speed will be too attractive to keep on the bench. The senior could be Ohio State’s leading receiver in 2012.
8. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn
Lutzenkirchen has 14 career touchdowns on 44 catches combined, while CBS broadcast team ensures we’ll never forget how to pronounce his name.
9. Ryan Griffin, Connecticut
Griffin will never be the flashiest pass-catching tight end in any league, but his all around play as both an in-line blocker and experienced receiver make him the best tight end in the Big East. His leadership will be invaluable along the line this fall.
10. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
Escobar was the Mountain West's top tight end last season, catching 51 passes for 780 yards and seven scores. Repeating those numbers in 2012 could be difficult, especially with the Aztecs breaking in a new quarterback and the departure of running back Ronnie Hillman. The good news for San Diego State? New quarterback Ryan Katz has experience at Oregon State, and there's plenty of weapons on the outside, which should allow Escobar to continue to thrive over the middle.
11. Ryan Otten, San Jose State
Otten emerged as a key part of San Jose State's offense last year, posting career highs in catches (52), receiving yards (739) and scores (5). Injuries prevented Otten from reaching his potential in 2009 and 2010, as he combined for just 27 receptions over that span. The senior will have a new quarterback in 2012 but should push for 50-60 receptions once again.
12. Jack Doyle, Western Kentucky
Doyle has been a steady performer over the last three years and has been named to the Mackey Award watch list for the second consecutive year. He is coming off his best overall season, catching 52 passes for 614 yards, including nine for 89 yards in the 31-21 win over North Texas. The Hilltoppers will miss running back Bobby Rainey, but quarterback Kawaun Jakes should have his best season, which should allow Doyle to threaten last season's numbers.
13. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Fiedorowicz has just 16 catches through two seasons at Iowa but is expected to have a breakout 2012 campaign. He came on strong over the final four games of 2011, catching 12 passes (three went for scores) over the final four weeks. New coordinator Greg Davis expects to get Fiedorowicz involved early and often in Iowa's offense this year.
14. Randall Telfer, USC
It's easy to overlook Telfer with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee dominating the catch totals each week. However, Telfer grabbed 26 receptions for 273 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Expect the sophomore to become a bigger part of USC's offense in 2012.
15. Zach Ertz, Stanford
Ertz is the second Stanford tight end to crack the top 15 of this list. With Coby Fleener catching passes in the NFL, look for Ertz to see more looks in 2012. He caught 27 passes for 346 yards and four scores last season and will be a valuable safety valve for Stanford's new quarterback.
The Next 11
Matt Furstenburg, Maryland
Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
Hubie Graham, Pittsburgh
Chase Harper, Texas State
Andrei Lintz, Washington State
Colt Lyerla, Oregon
Nick O'Leary, Florida State
Jordan Reed, Florida
Dion Sims, Michigan State
Michael Williams, Alabama
Luke Willson, Rice
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