Ranking college football's top tight ends for the 2018 season
College football’s 2018 season features a talented group of tight ends, headlined by Iowa’s Noah Fant and Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam. Fant and Okwuegbunam each caught 11 touchdown grabs last fall and take the top two spots in Athlon’s tight end rankings for the upcoming season. Stanford’s Kaden Smith, UCLA’s Caleb Wilson and Boston College’s Tommy Sweeney round out the top five tight ends for 2018.
Athlon Sports is taking an early look at the tight end position by ranking the top 15 players for 2018. This article is not a ranking of tight ends only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. This list could look a lot different by August. Our rankings are compiled by using many factors including career stats so far, 2017 statistics, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, pro potential, changes in scheme or coaching, projection for 2018, production, value to the team, recruiting background and just overall talent. Think of this list as an early power ranking for 2018, with tweaks expected at the end of spring and prior to Week 1.
College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2018
The next tier: Alize Mack, Notre Dame; Ravian Pierce, Syracuse; Daniel Helm, Duke; Louis Dorsey, Illinois; Sean Dykes, Memphis; Joey Magnifico, Memphis; Tyler Mabry, Buffalo; Josh Oliver, San Jose State; Foster Moreau, LSU; Dawson Knox, Ole Miss; Isaac Nauta, Georgia; Cole Herdman, Purdue; Sean McKeon, Michigan; Mitchell Wilcox, USF; Kelvin Smith, North Texas; Farrod Green, Mississippi State; Chase Allen, Iowa State; Jerome Washington, Rutgers
15. Tyler Petite, USC
Petite was a valuable safety net for former quarterback Sam Darnold, as he nabbed 23 receptions for 307 yards and three scores last fall. Petite returns for his senior year and is on the radar for NFL scouts. He’s slated to share the tight end position with Daniel Imatorbhebhe.
14. T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
Iowa’s tight end duo of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson is arguably the best in college football for 2018. Fant is Athlon’s first-team All-America tight end for this season, while Hockenson returns to Iowa City after catching 24 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman last fall.
13. Jacob Breeland, Oregon
After working as Oregon’s No. 3 tight end in 2016, Breeland moved into the starting role last fall and emerged as key cog in the passing game. He caught 18 passes for 320 yards and led the Ducks with five touchdown grabs. Breeland also averaged a healthy 17.8 yards per reception and caught touchdowns in two out of Oregon’s final three games in 2017.
12. Noah Togiai, Oregon State
Oregon State is starting over under new coach Jonathan Smith, but Togiai is a proven option for the offense to build around in 2018. The Utah native played in 10 games as a freshman in 2015 but was limited to two games in ’16 due to injury. Togiai had his best season in an Oregon State uniform last fall, catching 34 passes for 461 yards and two touchdowns. The tight end position is crowded in the Pac-12, but Togiai is good enough to push for All-Pac-12 honors.
11. Grant Calcaterra, Oklahoma
Projection time. As a true freshman, Calcaterra worked as Mark Andrews’ backup last season. In limited snaps, he caught 10 passes for 162 yards and three scores, averaging 16.2 yards per catch. Calcaterra was a four-star prospect out of high school, with his size and speed combination presenting matchup problems for defenses. He could easily rank higher on this list by the end of 2018.
10. Harrison Bryant, FAU
After catching just six passes in 2016, Bryant was more involved in FAU’s offense under Lane Kiffin. The Georgia native caught 32 passes for 408 yards and five touchdowns, averaging a solid 12.8 yards per catch. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider Bryant missed the final three games of 2017 due to an ankle injury.
9. Matt Bushman, BYU
Bushman was one of BYU’s top recruits in its 2014 signing class and made his debut on the gridiron last fall after a two-year mission. In his freshman campaign in 2017, Bushman led all BYU players with 49 catches for 520 yards and tied for the team lead with three touchdown grabs.
8. Dax Raymond, Utah State
Raymond missed the 2016 season due to injury but returned in a big way last fall. He caught 41 passes for 456 yards and a touchdown pass over 12 appearances. Raymond is an athletic, 6-foot-5 target for quarterback Jordan Love and is poised for his best season at Utah State.
7. C.J. Conrad, Kentucky
An injury sidelined Conrad over the last two games of 2017, which prevented him from setting career marks in catches and touchdown grabs. Conrad caught 16 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns and posted two efforts of at least 75 receiving yards in games last fall. Conrad has nine career touchdown grabs and is regarded as one of the top prospects at tight end for the NFL Draft in 2019.
6. Hunter Bryant, Washington
Bryant is a tough player to rank headed into the 2018 season. He’s got the talent to push for first-team All-Pac-12 honors but suffered a knee injury this offseason and could miss the entire 2018 campaign. He caught 22 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown as a freshman in 2017.
5. Tommy Sweeney, Boston College
Sweeney was the No. 1 target in the passing game for Boston College’s passing attack last season and should push for All-America honors in 2018. The New Jersey native led the Eagles with 36 catches for 512 yards and four touchdown catches. He’s also a key cog in the rushing attack, helping to clear lanes for standout running back AJ Dillon.
4. Caleb Wilson, UCLA
Wilson was poised for a monster 2017 season but suffered a foot injury versus Colorado in late September and missed the rest of the year. Prior to the injury, Wilson grabbed 38 passes for 490 yards and a touchdown. He should be the top target for UCLA’s new quarterback in coach Chip Kelly’s offense.
3. Kaden Smith, Stanford
Standouts at tight end are a staple of David Shaw’s tenure at Stanford. Dalton Schultz declared early for the NFL Draft, but Shaw can lean on Smith and Colby Parkinson to handle the workload at tight end. Smith was impressive as a redshirt freshman in 2017, catching 23 passes for 414 yards and five touchdowns.
2. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
With quarterback Drew Lock returning for 2018, Missouri’s offense should pick up where it left off in 2017. Okwuegbunam was a breakout player for the Tigers last season, catching 29 passes for 415 yards and 11 touchdowns. After delivering those totals as a freshman last fall, Okwuegbunam is due for bigger and better things in 2018.
1. Noah Fant, Iowa
Iowa has produced its share of standout tight ends under coach Kirk Ferentz, and Fant is the next star for the Hawkeyes at this position. He ranked second on the team with 30 catches for 494 yards last fall. Fant’s 11 touchdown catches paced the Iowa receiving corps and all players in the Big Ten. The junior is the best all-around tight end in college football for 2018.