In the past fifteen years or so, it seems that the Tight End has taken on quite the role in both the professional and college game. No longer were these players asked just to block the man in front of them, they were also asked to get open, make the tough catch, and truck for a few more yards. Just in case that wasn't difficult enough, more and more coaches figured they could use multiple TE sets and flank out a TE to cause matchup nightmares. It is truly one of the most hybrid positions on all of the field, and it is one that the Big Ten has historically been very proud of.
Interestingly enough, when asked to rank the top five Tight Ends in the B1G, you find yourself missing that one guy who has separated himself from the pack. Still, you have coaching staffs that are high on the Tight End position: Ferentz, Dantonio, BOB, Andersen, and a relative glut of other coaches that like the matchup nightmare have put systems in place that make a defensive coordinator cringe. Even so, can you name five Tight Ends that just have that, "Wow!" factor?
Didn't think so.
And maybe the difficult part now is that we judge this position on such different criteria. With the Gronkowskis of the world showing what a big, fast, and physical Tight End can do, maybe that's what we expect. We look at touchdowns and yards and highlight plays. All that to say, this list - even with help from Graham and MNWildcat - seems a bit incomplete. I'll let you all decide, but for now let's look at where we landed.
Fiedorowicz - aka, "The Polish Hat" (of BHGP Fame) - is one of the more interesting cases of high expectations leading to an understated good season. Going into 2012, many (me included) would easily have pinpointed Fiedorowicz as a player most likely to have a breakout season. His soft hands and gigantic frame fit nicely into quick release offenses, and honestly, he plays just a bit faster than he appears. So what happened? He racked up the most receptions by a TE, generally took up space on running plays - when Iowa had a Running Back not being smoted by some angry deity - and by all accounts was a threat. One might call that a success, but his one touchdown and the general awfulness of Iowa had him flying under the radar.
Well, with a new Quarterback, some more Greg Davis continuity (Hawkeye fans hope), and another year to impress the NFL, the general consensus is that he should be the top of the heap going into 2013. Of course, like I said above, this class doesn't necessarily have the glamour of past years. But that's just my thoughts. Here's MNWildcat with his take:
"The man Hawkeye fans call the Polish Hat, at a massive 6'7", racked up 45 catches for 433 yards last season, but only pulled down 1 TD. With a completely new QB in Iowa City, I expect Kirk Ferentz & Co to lean on such a large target; Fiedorowicz clearly has the hands and ability for the position."
Well said. Depending on the situation, Fiedorowicz's stats could be pretty ridiculous by the end of the season. Touchdown4Kids can only hope his TD's increase dramatically.
Bolser made a lot of All Conference lists last season, and with over 1,000 career receiving yards, one can easily imagine his Senior campaign being a dangerous one. From 2011 to 2012, he increased his catch total from 14 to 41, and was an important part of the Kevin Wilson attack. MNWildcat was especially high on Bolser for these reasons as well:
"Bolser, based on his impressive career stats, heads this list. Of the returning B1G tight ends, he has the most career receiving yards (and the most last season) and plays a vital role in Kevin Wilson's spread attack in Bloomington."
So why second? There is an argument to be made that there should be a return to the mean this season, and with more talent surrounding Bolser, I at least think his stats will go down a bit as others, specifically Fiedorowicz, goes up. Also, I think that in the spirit of this position, Fiedorowicz means more to the Iowa ground game than Bolser does to Indiana. Nonetheless, if you wanted to say Bolser was the best, you would definitely have a good argument.
I have zero doubt that Wisconsin fans are going to think I am ranking Pedersen too low. After all, he was first team All Big Ten last season (in the coach's eyes at least), and most likely will start the season as a Mackey Award Watchlist member like he did last year. But here's the thing, while he was an integral part to the Wisconsin attack, his stats as a pass-catcher went down and he suffered from much of what Fiedorowicz suffered from - too high of expectations. In fact, while it pains me to say it, there is a legitimate argument that Kyle Carter had a good enough season to push him to this spot over Pedersen. So why not? Well, honestly, I still think Pedersen is a run-blocking beast, and I think that Coach Andersen will be using him in his Five TE sets this season... a lot.
Again, let's check back to MNWildcat as he was gracious enough to put some thoughts down for almost everyone:
"Pedersen, like Bolser, has put up a fantastic body of work during his time at Wisconsin. Gary Andersen's top receiving TE last year at Utah State put up stats almost identical to Pedersen's 27/355/4 last year--look for him to have another big year."
I'm already assuming Andersen ends up a Mackey Award finalist along with the other two guys, and we look like geniuses when this is all said and done. Of course, there is still a really good chance that we all look stupid and you can question our football watching habits.
4. Kyle Carter @KCarter_87
I'll be really honest with you all. I think Carter will be the best Tight End in the conference next season. Sure, he got hurt and hasn't been able to practice this spring, but by all accounts he is close to 100% and will be ready by the fall. In the 9 games before he got hurt last season, Carter hit paydirt twice, and managed to haul in 36 catches for 453 yards. In BOB's intricate TE heavy offense (one that made Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez a lot of money), Carter will be able to thrive. Despite breaking in a new QB, I think that Carter will be getting a lot of balls thrown his way. He's a fast kid who can move in space, and I think he'll do just fine for the Nittany Lions.
Graham, MNWildcat, and I all have him on the list for a reason, and if he can come back from that wrist surgery, look out. I fully expect his numbers to go up in 2013, and you all will see that I do, in fact, watch way too much football. Again, that or you will mock me. Either way we have a lot of fun dialogue going.
So what to think about Funchess. On one hand, he scored five touchdowns last season, which tied him for most touchdowns by a TE in the conference. That's the good. The bad? He only had 15 catches. Now one can make an argument that the Michigan passing game was spotty at times, but after an incredibly hot start, Funchess just kind of fell off a cliff production wise. Why? Well, as Michigan Live reports:
Funchess knows exactly what it was.
"I was like a pretty boy that didn't want to get hit," he humbly admitted on Thursday. "Now I know that I have to change many aspects of my game, change my mindset. Now I just go in there and stick my head in as much as possible.
"I believe I wasn't ready for the Big Ten because it was a tougher game."
But now he's a Sophomore and he is ready for the rugged Big Ten. At lest that what we think is going to happen. Honestly, Funchess has all the tools to be a dynamic Tight End not only on the conference level, but on the national level. This was a tough slot to fill, but Funchess is definitely one who has the talent to make it happen.
Next Man Up:
I'll let MNWildcat, as a Northwestern fan, give some insight here:
"I chose Vitale because of the role he plays in Northwestern's offense as the superback: he excels as a modified fullback, as a passing option out of the backfield, a blocker on the line, and a passing option off the line."
I do agree here, though. In that spread system, having a guy who can move around and matchup both in the backfield and on the line is a gift. Vitale actually finished last season with 28 catches and a pair of touchdowns proving he can
prove to step in and be a pass catcher when needed.
UPDATE: Hey Everyone, I forgot the poll. Everybody loves a poll. It's there now. Click away.