College Football’s 15 best tight ends of 2021
Tight ends are not the flashy players on the team, nor do they receive enough recognition for what they do.
However, they accomplish everything the blue-collar way and come up big in the clutch. There’s nothing like having a big target, that protects against the blitz and is a safety net on key possessions for a quarterback.
These 15 studs made a name for themselves by successfully accomplishing those tactics last season and now they’ll be back for more this fall.
15. Arik Gilbert, Georgia: The former five-star prospect was LSU’s top recruit in 2020 and finished third on the team in receptions. Gilbert caught at least two passes in every game he played, including six apiece against Missouri and Auburn. He also scored a touchdown against Mississippi State and Missouri. The six-foot-five, 249-pounder finished last season with 35 catches in eight games and earned Freshman All-SEC honors. The Atlanta native currently doesn’t have a home after he transferred from LSU and made a shocking departure from Florida during the offseason. Still, there’s no denying Gilbert is one of the best young tight ends in the country. He finally found a new home at Georgia,
14. Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina: The Massachusetts native arrived on campus as a wide receiver, but added 25 pounds to his frame and became a tight end. Now the former two-star prospect is one of the best players at the position in the Group of Five. Likely is also a deep threat, who can stretch the field on any given play and averaged 20 yards per catch last season. He had a touchdown reception through each of the Chanticleers’ first three games. Likely had 118 receiving yards and a score against Appalachian State. The six-foot-four, 245-pounder caught a 72-yard touchdown against Arkansas State. Likely also had a touchdown reception against Kansas, Campbell and Liberty.
13. Michael Mayer, Notre Dame: He stepped on the scene as a true freshman last season and caught 45 passes. Mayer only started three games, but still finished 2020 with second-team All-ACC honors. The Kentucky native hauled in five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown at Pittsburgh. Mayer also scored a touchdown in the win over Florida State. Not to mention he had seven receptions in the Playoffs against Alabama. Mayer’s 450 receiving yards showed promise. He’ll be a safety blanket for the new Notre Dame quarterback this fall. The Fighting Irish have a history of producing high-caliber tight ends under Brian Kelly, and Mayer is the program’s latest version.
12. Brant Kuithe, Utah: The Texas native didn’t score a touchdown during the Utes’ short season, but still caught 25 passes in five games. Kuithe is one of the most productive tight ends in the country. He’s also a mismatch out in space against linebackers and defensive backs. The six-foot-two, 230-pounder led Utah in receptions in 2019 and 2020. Kuithe caught eight passes in the win over Oregon State, to go along with six against Washington State. Not to mention the former three-star prospect earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. Kuithe has racked up 838 receiving yards over the past two years. Now that Utah has full schedule this fall, he’s poised for his best season yet.
11. Marshon Ford, Louisville: The hometown kid had no stars out of high school, but went from being a walk-on to a team captain. Ford caught 25 passes for 309 yards last season. He had a touchdown catch against Western Kentucky, Miami, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. The six-foot-two, 240-pounder had four receiving scores through through the Cardinals’ first five games. He also caught three or more passes in five different contests. The Cardinals’ offense lost a lot firepower with receivers Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick off to the NFL. Ford will have to be a reliable target for Malik Cunningham in order to help Louisville get back to a bowl game.
10. Peyton Hendershot, Indiana: He’s arguably one of the best tight ends in the Big Ten, with eight touchdown receptions over the past two seasons. Hendershot persevered through domestic violence charges and suspension early in 2020, then earned third-team All-Big Ten later that year. The Indiana native hauled in two touchdown passes against Rutgers. Hendershot also had a touchdown grab in wins over Michigan and Wisconsin. The former three-star prospect caught four or more passes in three different games and finished the season with 23 receptions. With the return of Ty Fryfogle and Michael Penix Jr., Indiana should have a top-five passing attack in the Big Ten for a second-straight year.
9. Cole Turner, Nevada: The Oregon native tied for first on the team in touchdown receptions last season. He got off to a fast start and went over 100 yards receiving in the Wolfpack’s season-opener. Turner had two touchdowns apiece against Wyoming, Fresno State and Tulane. He racked up a season-high, eight receptions against San Diego State. Turner had at least four catches in every game and caught fire late, with seven touchdowns over Nevada’s final five. The six-foot-six, 240-pounder finished 2020 with 49 catches and 605 receiving yards. After his production last fall, there’s no denying Turner is one of the best returning tight ends out of the Group of Five.
8. Trey McBride, Colorado State: The former three-star prospect led the Rams in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches last season. McBride averaged 82.5 receiving yards and 5.5 receptions per game, which ranked first in the FBS among tight ends. The Colorado native caught eight passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in the season-opener at Fresno State. McBride had two touchdown catches at home against Wyoming, which was Colorado State’s only win of 2020. The six-foot-4, 260-pounder also had a receiving score against Boise State. McBride put up some nice numbers in just four games, so imagine his production through a full slate of 12 this fall.
7. Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State: He only caught 13 balls for 151 yards last season, but five of those went for six points. Ruckert hauled in two touchdown catches apiece in wins over Penn State and Clemson. The former four-star prospect also had a receiving score against Rutgers. Pretty much anytime the six-foot-five, 253-pounder caught a pass, it either went for a first down or touchdown. Ruckert was money for the Buckeyes as Luke Farrell’s backup, and his numbers should soar now that he’s a projected full-time starter. His ceiling is high, and the only thing that could potentially hold Ruckert back this fall, would be poor play by Ohio State’s new quarterback.
6. Cade Otton, Washington: The former three-star prospect is a matchup nightmare. Otton led the Huskies in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches last season. The Washington native caught seven balls for 100 yards and a score in the win over Arizona. Not to mention Otton followed up that performance with eight catches, 108 yards and two touchdowns against Utah. He racked up 18 catches and 258 receiving yards in four games. Otton often found ways to get open in coverage and averaged nearly 15 yards per catch. The six-foot-five, 240-pounder earned first-team All-Pac-12 in 2020 and will likely be the safety net again for Washington’s offense.
5. Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin: The Badgers continue to field talented tight ends and he’s as clutch as they come. Ferguson has the best hands on the team and he also happens to be the hometown kid. The former three-star prospect caught a pass in every game last season. He torched Illinois’ defense in the opener, with three receiving touchdowns. Ferguson followed up that performance with a score against Michigan. The six-foot-five, 246-pounder had seven receptions in two different games. Ferguson finished the season with 30 catches and 305 receiving yards. All of Ferguson’s touchdowns came through Wisconsin’s first two games. So it’s no surprise he earned first-team All Big Ten.
4. Greg Dulcich, UCLA: He’s a former walk-on, who got overlooked out of high school. However, Dulcich earned himself a scholarship a year ago and the rest been history. The California native led the Bruins in receiving yards and touchdown catches last season. Dulcich went over 100 yards receiving in two different games. He caught a touchdown against Colorado, Oregon and USC, plus two more in the finale against Stanford. The six-foot-four, 242-pounder led all Power Five tight ends with 73.9 receiving yards per game. He’s also a dangerous deep threat and averaged nearly 20 yards per catch. Dulcich ended 2020 with first-team All-Pac-12 honors and should light up opposing defenses this fall.
3. Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M: The former four-star prospect led the Aggies in catches as a true sophomore last season. Not to mention Wydermyer tied for first on the team in touchdown receptions. Opposing Defensive Coordinators know he’s a load to deal with, standing six-foot-five and weighing 265 pounds. Jimbo Fisher successfully utilized Wydermyer’s skill set all over the field, and in pressure situations. The Texas native scored two touchdowns apiece in victories over Arkansas, South Carolina and Auburn. Wydermyer hauled in eight passes apiece against Alabama and Auburn. He also caught four or more balls in seven conference games and earned second-team All-SEC honors.
2. Isaac Rex, BYU: The six-foot-six, 247-pounder had a breakout season in 2020. Rex caught 37 passes, but 12 of them were touchdowns, which tied for third nationally and first among tight ends. The former three-star prospect had two touchdown catches apiece in wins over Texas State, Boise State, North Alabama, San Diego State and UCF. Rex also scored against Troy and Western Kentucky. The California native had six touchdowns over the Cougars’ final four contests. It mind-boggling that Rex was able to produce those numbers, despite starting eight of BYU’s 12 games. Although he won’t be catching passes from Zach Wilson, Rex is still a huge, reliable target for the offense in the clutch.
1. Charlie Kolar, Iowa State: He passed up on the NFL to return to school, and the Cyclones will be potent on offense again this fall. Standing six-foot-six, and equipped with athletic prowess, Kolar is a mismatch anywhere he steps on the field. The Oklahoma native is a natural at high-pointing balls in the air that other defensive backs can’t reach. Kolar went over 100 yards receiving against Texas. He caught two or more balls in every game he played in. Kolar had a touchdown reception against Texas Tech, Kansas, Baylor, Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Oregon. Kolar hauled in six touchdown passes over the Cyclones’ final seven games and earned first-team All-Big 12.
Austin Allen, Nebraska: He was the Huskers’ most reliable target last season and finished second on the team in receptions and receiving yards. Allen caught a pass in every game and scored a touchdown against Minnesota.