Our Spring Position Rankings series continues with the best tight ends to return to the Big Ten in 2017. This is probably the most important article in the series because on one hand, offenses need to be able to throw the ball in order to have success in the modern game, but on the other, it’s pretty scary to think about what might happen if you throw the ball outside the numbers! That’s where the safe, dependable tight end comes in.
As a Penn State fan, I know what a good tight end looks like. Kyle Brady! Andrew Quarless! Jesse James! Here’s some more guys who make Bill O’Brien foam from the mouth like a crazed, foul-mouthed dog.
1. Troy Fumagalli, RS Senior, Wisconsin
He might only have nine fingers, but that hasn’t stopped Fumagalli from making ridiculous catches and being one of the most sure-handed players in the conference. He capped off a productive 2016 campaign with 83 receiving yards and a score in the Cotton Bowl, but that was one of just two touchdowns by the Illinois native all season long. I’d expect him to find the end zone much more in 2017, especially if he once again leads Wisconsin in receptions.
2. Mike Gesicki, Senior, Penn State
Penn State fans were not too fond of Gesicki heading into the 2016 season, as he was mostly known for dropping passes and not much else. Five touchdown receptions and 679 yards later, the rising senior has become one of Trace McSorley’s most reliable targets. Gesicki isn’t shy about catching the ball in traffic, and he’s gone from zero to hero as far as his hands are concerned. He could be in for an ever bigger year in 2017 with Chris Godwin deciding to turn pro.
3. Cole Herdman, RS Junior, Purdue
Herdman isn’t the sexiest name on this list, but neither Fumagalli nor Gesicki can touch the game he had against Iowa in October. The rising junior from Virginia went off for seven catches, 104 yards, and a touchdown in Purdue’s 49-35 defeat. That made Herdman the first Boilermaker tight end to go over 100 yards in a single game since Dustin Keller in 2007. The downside is that Herdman failed to surpass 40 receiving yards in any other game last season, but he could be a bigger threat in 2017 with David Blough back under center.
4. Ian Bunting, RS Junior, Michigan
Michigan head coach John Harbaugh is a man know for his love of the tight end, and it showed over the past two seasons when Jake Butt became one of the top players at the position in college football. With Butt moving on, someone has to fill those large shoes, and Ian Bunting should get the first crack at the job. At 6’7” tall, Bunting is an even bigger target than his predecessor and he has a chance to make just as much of an impact at Michigan.
5. Marcus Baugh, RS Senior, Ohio State
Baugh is considered a talented enough pass-catcher, but he didn’t produce much in Ohio State’s run-happy offense. In fact, the only Buckeye receiver to catch more than 35 passes last year was Curtis Samuel, and he also ran the ball 97 times. With Samuel entering the NFL Draft, there’s going to be a big hole to fill in the Ohio State passing attack, and Baugh could have a breakout campaign if he asserts himself like he did against Penn State, when he set career highs with five receptions and 55 yards.
Noah Fant, Sophomore, Iowa
Last year’s senior tight end George Kittle is graduating, and that means there will be a new starting tight end next season. There are a number of candidates for the job, such as Jon Wisnieski and Peter Pekar, but I think Noah Fant will earn it after catching nine passes for 70 yards and a touchdown during his true freshman season.
Matt Sokol, RS Junior, Michigan State
Sokol was even less productive than Baugh last season, but someone will need to step up with Josiah Price graduating. This rising junior could be in for a much larger role in 2017.