Greatness is defined in so many different ways. Statistical production, individual awards, team success, longevity, supporting cast, level of competition, raw talent and athletic ability all factor heavily in determining overall greatness. Sometimes, you simply know greatness when you see it.
So all factors were considered when trying to determine who the greatest tight ends of the BCS era have been. Here are the Top 30 tight ends since the BCS was implemented in 1998:
1. Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08)
Stats: 247 rec., 2,659 yds, 30 TDs
It didn’t take long for Tigers fans to see what they had in Coffman as he earned first-team Freshman All-American honors in 2005. He then broke Mizzou tight end receiving records with 58 receptions, 638 yards and nine touchdowns as just a sophomore. After two straight All-Big 12 seasons, Coffman claimed the John Mackey Award as a senior as the nation’s top tight end after posting 90 receptions, 987 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008. Missouri went 22-6 over his final two seasons in what many believe to be the best two-year run in program history. And the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Coffman was a huge part of that success.
2. Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma (2006-09)
Stats: 111 rec., 1,629 yds, 26 TDs
Had the 6-foot-6, 260-pound star tight end stayed healthy and played his fourth season at Oklahoma, Gresham likely would have been the best player at his position during the BCS era. He scored 25 touchdowns in two seasons as the starter from 2007-08 — just eight shy of the NCAA tight end record (33). His All-American junior season features Sooners' tight end records for yards (950) and touchdowns (14) — one shy of Mark Clayton’s all-time single-season record regardless of position. He was arguably the top playmaker for a Big 12 champion and BCS National Championship runner-up that year as well. His season-ending knee injury prior to the start of his 2009 campaign left those in Norman wondering what could have been.
3. Heath Miller, Virginia (2002-04)
Stats: 144 rec., 1,703 yds, 20 TDs
Perhaps the greatest tight end in ACC history, Miller became the first player in league history to win the John Mackey Award in 2004. He wrote his name into the school and conference record books for receiving by a tight end, setting a new benchmark in all three major receiving categories despite only playing three seasons. However, it wasn’t just his elite receiving ability that made the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder one of the game’s best. Miller relished the blocking side of the game and his physicality and dependability is what has made the consensus All-American one of the NFL’s best tight ends for the last decade.
4. Dallas Clark, Iowa (2000-02)
Stats: 77 rec., 1,251 yds, 8 TDs
The walk-on began his career as a linebacker but quickly developed into a star at tight end. He earned All-Big Ten recognition as a sophomore and then became the nation’s top tight end as a junior in 2002. The John Mackey Award winner caught 43 passes for 742 yards and four touchdowns while helping Iowa (11-2) to a Big Ten co-championship and Orange Bowl berth. The dynamic in-state talent was a first-round pick and proved in the NFL that his college career was no fluke.
5. Aaron Hernandez, Florida (2007-09)
Stats: 111 rec., 1,382 yds, 12 TDs
The undersized but athletic playmaker came from Bristol (Conn.) Central originally, but proved quickly he had what it took to succeed in the deep South. All Hernandez did while at Florida is set school records for receptions in a season (68) and a career. And his elite 2009 campaign in which he posted 850 yards and five touchdowns made the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder the SEC’s first-ever John Mackey Award winner. He was a go-to target for Tim Tebow and was a big piece of the 2008 BCS National Championship squad. Florida went 26-2 over his last two years in Gainesville.
6. Marcedes Lewis, UCLA (2002-05)
Stats: 126 rec., 1,571 yds, 21 TDs
The red-zone touchdown machine improved his production each of his four seasons at UCLA, culminating with All-American and John Mackey honors as a senior in 2005. He set school records in all three major categories for a tight end that year and helped UCLA to its best record (10-2) since 1998. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound consensus All-American was a matchup nightmare for defenses and was the Pac-10’s best player at his position during the BCS era in a league known for its great tight ends.
7. Dennis Pitta, BYU (2004, '07-09)
Stats: 221 rec., 2,901 yds, 21 TDs
Few tight ends during the BCS era combine the statistical production, team success and overall NFL talent that Pitta did. He began his career as a freshman in 2004 before taking his Mormon mission and returning in 2007. His teams went 32-7 during his three-year starting career and few tight ends in the history of the sport have topped 200 catches, nearly 3,000 yards or 20 touchdowns — much less all three. He owns nearly every major receiving record at BYU for tight ends and is BYU’s all-time leading receiver with 221 receptions regardless of position. His 2,901 career receiving yards are an NCAA record for tight ends.
8. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin (2005-08)
Stats: 159 rec., 2,149 yds, 11 TDs
From a speed and agility standpoint, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound pass-catcher has few peers. One of the fastest and most dynamic tight ends in BCS history, Beckum switched to tight end as a sophomore and became a second-team All-American in just his first season playing the position. He posted back-to-back 900-yard seasons and saved his best games for the biggest competition (9 rec., 140 yds vs. Ohio State, 10 rec., 132 vs. Michigan State, for example). He was poised to set NCAA records for a tight end until a broken leg in Week 6 ended his college career. At a school known for elite All-American tight ends, Beckum was the most explosive, most talented and most productive.
9. D.J. Williams, Arkansas (2007-10)
Stats: 152 rec., 1,855 yds, 10 TDs
The star Razorback never had an 800-yard season, never caught more than 61 passes and never scored more than four times in a year, but Williams is one of the BCS’s best. His career numbers are excellent and he was extremely dependable for three full seasons for the Hogs. His career culminated in a John Mackey Award in 2010 and helped lead Arkansas to 10 wins and a Sugar Bowl berth.
10. James Casey, Rice (2007-08)
Stats: 157 rec., 1,914 yds, 17 TDs, 362 rush, 11 TDs, 2 TD passes
Affectionately known as “Thor,” no other tight end during the BCS era was as versatile and productive in two seasons as Casey. He didn’t face elite competition, obviously, but no tight end has ever put together a season like Thor did in 2008: 111 rec., 1,329 yards, 13 TDs, 241 yards rushing, 6 TDs, 14 punt returns for 112 yards and even two touchdown passes. He was the No. 1 overall college fantasy player in 2008 regardless of position (yes, that includes quarterbacks) and it has to be considered the best season for a tight end in NCAA history.
11. Jeremy Shockey, Miami (2000-01)
Stats: 61 rec., 815 yds, 10 TDs
The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder was one of the most physically gifted players to ever play the position. He didn’t have the huge stats of other elite players but he was an All-American and helped Miami win the national title in 2001. He was one of three finalists for the Mackey Award before leaving school early to become a first-round NFL Draft pick.
12. Kellen Winslow, Miami (2001-03)
Stats: 119 rec., 1,365 yds, 9 TDs
Bizarre post-game interviews aside, Winslow was a monster on the field at Miami. He played a small role on the national championship team in 2001 and was a huge force — 57 rec., 726 yds, 8 TD — on the '02 team that was defeated by Ohio State in the title game. He was a consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner despite just one touchdown catch in 2003.
13. Martin Rucker, Missouri (2004-07)
Stats: 203 rec., 2,175 yds, 18 TDs
The complementary piece to Coffman at Mizzou was Rucker, a star from St. Joseph’s (Mo.) Benton. Playing three years with Coffman, Rucker is one of the just five tight ends on this list who topped 200 receptions and one of just 10 names on this list with 2,000 yards. He was a consensus All-American and senior leader for a 12-2 Tigers team that finished fourth in the AP poll.
14. Jason Witten, Tennessee (2000-02)
Stats: 68 rec., 797 yds, 7 TDs
The numbers were never huge, but Witten is clearly one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the sport. He never missed a game during his three-year career at Tennessee and helped the Vols to a 27-11 record and an SEC East championship. From a dual-threat (blocking and receiving) perspective, Witten might be the best tight end to play the game during the BCS era.
15. Ron Gronkowski, Arizona (2007-08)
Stats: 75 rec., 1,197 yds, 16 TDs
The Gronk played just 20 career college games but was a touchdown machine in college well before setting NFL tight end touchdown records. Unfortunately, the 'Zona tight end missed all of the 2009 season after preseason back surgery after being named a preseason first-team All-American and the Mackey Award frontrunner.
16. Fred Davis, USC (2004-07)
Stats: 117 rec., 1,408 yds, 13 TDs
It took some time for Davis to develop, especially considering the wide receiver talent asking for the football at USC during his career. But when he made his mark as a senior in 2007 it was as the best tight end in the nation. He won the John Mackey Award that year and was an All-American. He played in two national title games, winning one as a freshman in 2004.
17. Zach Miller, Arizona State (2004-06)
Stats: 144 rec., 1,512 yds, 14 TDs
Miller gets a slight nod over fellow Sun Devil Todd Heap due to slightly better production and All-American recognition. He is the school’s all-time leading receiver at the tight end position and consistently made big plays for his offense. He was one of three Mackey finalists in 2006.
18. Todd Heap, Arizona State (1998-2000)
Stats: 112 rec., 1,658 yds, 10 TDs
Arguing between Miller and Heap is futile. Both were great players and Heap’s NFL career proved his school records were legitimate. The “Golden Retriever” was a two-time All-Pac-10 performer who was as dependable as any player at his position.
19. Dwayne Allen, Clemson (2009-11)
Stats: 93 rec., 1,079 yds, 12 TDs
A consensus All-American, Allen was one of the most clutch performers in the game during his time at Clemson. When the Tigers needed a big play on third down or in the red zone, Allen was the go-to target. He claimed the Mackey Award as a junior, was an All-American and helped Clemson win its first ACC title in two decades in 2010.
20. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington (2011-present)
Stats: 109 rec., 1,396 yds, 13 TDs
There is some projecting with ASJ, but he has already broken most school tight end records and will make a push this fall for the John Mackey Award. He was the No. 1 TE recruit in the nation two years ago and is poised for one of the greatest careers in Huskies history.
21. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame (2008-10)
Stats: 90 rec., 1,032 yds, 8 TDs
22. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (2010-12)*
Stats: 140 rec., 1,840 yds, 11 TDs
23. Daniel Graham, Colorado (1998-2001)
Stats: 106 rec., 1,543 yds, 11 TDs
24. Matt Spaeth, Minnesota (2003-06)
Stats: 109 rec., 1,293 yds, 12 TDs
25. Vernon Davis, Maryland (2003-05)
Stats: 83 rec., 1,371 yds, 9 TDs
26. Tim Stratton, Purdue (1998-2001)
Stats: 190 rec., 1,976 yds, 15 TDs
27. Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State (2005-08)
Stats: 112 rec., 1,450 yds, 9 TDs
28. Dustin Keller, Purdue (2004-07)
Stats: 142 rec., 1,882 yds, 16 TDs
29. Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin (2008-10)
Stats: 78 rec., 1,160 yds, 8 TDs
30. Garrett Graham, Wisconsin (2007-09)
Stats: 121 rec., 1,492 yds, 16 TD
The Next 30:
31. Zach Ertz, Stanford (2010-12): 112 rec., 1,434 yds, 15 TDs
32. Coby Fleener, Stanford (2008-11): 96 rec., 1,543 yds, 18 TDs
33. Ben Troupe, Florida (2000-03): 64 rec., 958 yds, 7 TDs
34. Bubba Franks, Miami (1997-99): 77 rec., 1,038 yds, 12 TDs
35. Garrett Mills, Tulsa (2002-05): 201 rec., 2,389 yds, 23 TDs
36. David Thomas, Texas (2002-05): 97 rec., 1,354 yds, 15 TDs
37. Ed Dickson, Oregon (2006-09): 124 rec., 1,557 yds, 12 TDs
38. Darius Hill, Ball State (2005-08): 158 rec., 2,473 yds, 31 TDs
39. Jacob Tamme, Kentucky (2004-07): 133 rec., 1,417 yds, 11 TDs
40. Owen Daniels, Wisconsin (2002-05): 62 rec., 852 yds, 8 TDs
41. Jonny Harline, BYU (2005-06): 121 rec., 1,788 yds, 17 TDs
42. Ibn Green, Louisville (1996-99): 217 rec., 2,830 yds, 33 TDs
43. Michael Egnew, Missouri (2008-11): 147 rec., 1,332 yds, 8 TDs
44. Shawn Nelson, Southern Miss (2005-08): 157 rec., 2,054 yds, 16 TDs
45. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (2010-12): 122 rec., 1,646 yds, 17 TDs
46. Ladarius Green, UL-Lafayette (2008-11): 148 rec., 2,202 yds, 22 TDs
47. James Whalen, Kentucky (1997-99): 120 rec., 1,324 yds, 13 TDs
48. Orson Charles, Georgia (2009-11): 94 rec., 1,370 yds, 10 TDs
49. Cody Slate, Marshall (2006-09): 199 rec., 2,619 yds, 23 TDs
50. Jared Cook, South Carolina (2006-08): 73 rec., 1,107 yds, 7 TDs
51. Leonard Pope, Georgia (2003-05): 65 rec., 1,044 yds, 10 TDs
52. Chris Cooley, Utah State (2001-03): 96 rec., 1,255 yds, 11 TDs
53. Gary Barnidge, Louisville (2004-07): 108 rec., 1,491 yds, 17 TDs
54. Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern (2007-11): 143 rec., 1,567 yds, 14 TDs
55. Dorin Dickerson, Pitt (2006-09): 63 rec., 708 yds, 12 TDs
56. George Bryan, NC State (2008-11): 126 rec, 1,323 yds, 17 TDs
57. Kory Sperry, Colorado State (2004-08): 141 rec., 1,763 yds, 20 TDs
58. Greg Olsen, Miami (2004-06): 87 rec., 1,215 yds, 6 TDs
59. Ben Watson, Georgia (2001-03): 65 rec., 852 yds, 6 TDs
60. Bennie Joppru, Michigan (1999-2002): 79 rec., 731 yds, 8 TDs