FIU's Jonnu Smith may not be a household name, but he should definitely be on your fantasy radar
Just like in the NFL, the key to finding a valuable tight end for your college fantasy football team comes down to two things: volume and versatility. College teams that like to throw to their tight ends a lot are ones to target, especially those guys who line up as a wide receiver on the outside or better yet, those who are employed at other positions. Remember, dual eligibility is a good thing.
To help those collage fantasy diehards, Athlon Sports has positional rankings to assist in your preparations for the upcoming draft season. Below is the scoring system used to comprise these rankings.
Passing Yards, 25 yards = 1 point
Passing TD = 4 points
Rushing Yards, 10 yards = 1 point
Rushing TDs = 6 points
Receptions = 0.5 points per reception
Receiving Yards, 10 yards = 1 point
Receiving TDs = 6 points
2016 College Fantasy Football TE Rankings
1. Jaylen Samuels, NC State
Samuels is the Swiss army knife of college football with the ability to play running back, fullback, receiver and tight end for the Wolfpack. For the purposes of this ranking, we have Samuels listed at tight end where he certainly separates himself from his peers in terms of fantasy production – projected at three fantasy points per game higher than the next closest tight end. Samuels’ numbers on the ground are likely to be down with starting running back Matt Dayes fully healthy, but he will continue to be an integral part of NC State’s rushing and passing offense.
2. Jonnu Smith, FIU
Smith’s numbers were down in 2015 as he only played in eight games due to a season-ending knee injury, but is reportedly 100 percent healthy heading into fall camp. Smith led FIU in receiving in each of the previous two seasons prior, and had his best game of last year prior to the knee injury with 10 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns against Old Dominion. Given the way FIU utilizes its tight ends (combined 78 catches), and Smith’s clean bill of health, the senior is in line for another big year.
3. Billy Freeman, San Jose State
Freeman led the Spartans in catches (48), receiving yards (586) and touchdowns (6) last season, though part of that can be attributed to a depleted receiving corps that should be much improved in 2016. With Kenny Potter now the full-time starter at quarterback, the passing game should be upgraded and lead to an increase in targets among all receivers and tight ends – Freeman being at the center of that.
4. Ryan Yurachek, Marshall
Yurachek only had 417 receiving yards despite 44 catches, but was a major red-zone threat for the Thundering Herd, as he led the team with nine touchdown grabs. With a depleted receiving group, targets should only increase for the junior tight end who was quarterback Chase Litton’s best friend in the passing game last season.
5. Gerald Everett, South Alabama
The first of three Sun Belt tight ends on this list, Everett led the Jaguars in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Everett also was used frequently as a goal-line rushing option, finishing the year with four rushing scores. As if Everett didn’t do enough, he also threw a touchdown pass in 2015. South Alabama will be breaking in a new starting quarterback so there are questions about the passing game, but as you can see, Everett finds the end zone in a multitude of ways.
6. Buck Cowan, Idaho
The tight end position is utilized often in the Idaho offense with juniors Cowan and Deon Watson combining for 90 catches, nearly 1,200 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season. More of a hybrid WR/TE, Watson is moving to receiver full-time in 2016, which should allow for more targets headed in Cowan’s direction. More than 50 receptions is the expectation.
7. David Njoku, Miami
Njoku did not rank this highly a few weeks ago, but with the news of projected starting receiver Lawrence Cager now out for the year due to injury, the sophomore tight end could see some additional reps outside at receiver. That should be no issue at all as Njoku is one of the best athletes on the team, as shown by his team-high 17 yards per reception average as a freshman.
8. Jake Butt, Michigan
There is a reason why Jim Harbaugh recruits two or three tight ends every cycle – they are utilized early and often, and then some more in his offense. A second team All-American a year ago, Butt returns for his senior season as the premier tight end in college football, but comes in at No. 8 for fantasy purposes because of his low touchdown totals as he has accounted for just seven in three seasons. That and quarterback concerns for the Wolverines drops his stock on this list.
9. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Unlike Jake Butt, all Andrews does is score touchdowns. On just 19 catches, Andrews was second on the team in touchdown receptions with seven – good for sixth amongst tight ends in the country. With Sterling Shepard no longer around, the ball figures to be spread out more amongst the surplus of receivers for the Sooners, likely resulting in a significant rise in receptions from Andrews in 2016.
10. George Kittle, Iowa
Even as the backup last season, Kittle was an integral part of the Hawkeyes’ offense, finishing fourth on the team in catches (20) and was the team leader in touchdowns with six. Now that Henry Krieger-Coble has graduated, Kittle moves into a starting role in 2016 and could very well double his reception totals. Iowa starting tight ends have averaged more than 32 catches a season over the last five years.
11. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
Hodges is one of the more physically-imposing tight ends in college football and a massive (6-7) red-zone threat. The redshirt junior made a surprising decision to bypass the NFL and return for another season, and is likely to benefit from new head coach Justin Fuente, who is known as more of an offensive mind than his predecessor. Forty-plus catches and six or seven touchdowns seems to be the standard for Hodges.
12. Jordan Leggett, Clemson
Leggett had a breakout season last year with 40 receptions for 525 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. But Leggett faces a similar situation to that of the other Clemson receiving threats – are there enough targets to go around? With Mike Williams back in the fold, as well as Deon Cain being back in the coaches’ good graces, Clemson has its full complement of receivers heading into 2016. A decline in touchdowns would not surprise one bit.
13. Terry Pettis, Middle Tennessee
New Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator Tony Franklin did wonders the last two years at Cal with an athletic hybrid TE/WR in Stephen Anderson, and now inherits a similar type of player this season in Pettis. An excellent athlete, Pettis finished third on the team last year in receptions and touchdowns, averaging more 21 yards per catch. I am expecting the senior to become the No. 2 target in the MTSU offense behind star receiver Richie James.
14. Jake Roh, Boise State
Boise State’s lack of a proven No. 3 receiver behind Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson bumps Roh higher up the list as he should become the third option in the passing game in 2016. All Boise State pass catchers are expected to see their numbers rise as quarterback Brett Rypien continues to develop, and Roh should post his highest totals as a junior.
15. Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Engram absolutely belongs among the top five tight ends in the country, but where are the touchdowns? In three seasons, Engram has a total of just seven with his freshman year (3) being his high-water marker thus far. He should be able to top that number as a senior, but projecting a significant jump seems unrealistic.
16. Cam Serigne, Wake Forest
17. Keith Rucker, Georgia State
18. Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
19. Cole Hikutini, Louisville
20. Brandon Lingen, Minnesota
21. Darrell Daniels, Washington
22. DeAndre Goolsby, Florida
23. Barrett Burns, Appalachian State
24. Elkanah Dillon, South Florida
25. Tyler Cameron, Florida Atlantic
26. Dalton Schultz, Stanford
27. Daniel Montiel, Memphis
28. Mason Schreck, Buffalo
29. Jacob Hollister, Wyoming
30. O.J. Howard, Alabama
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2