- Brock Bowers, Georgia
Brock Bowers set the college football world on fire with one of the greatest seasons ever from a freshman tight end. He was named first-team All-American by USA Today, ESPN, and the Athletic, and was the SEC Freshman of the Year. He has elite speed and explosiveness for a tight end and he is still developing physically. Bowers now faces the challenge of increasing his production after an 882-yard and 13 touchdown debut season. It will be difficult for teams to focus on Bowers due to the Bulldogs also having weapons like Kearis Jackson, Ladd McConkey, Darnell Washington, and Arik Gilbert. The three-headed monster of Bowers, Washington, and Gilbert makes up the country’s best tight end room and will allow Bowers to line up all over the field and find mismatches. His dynamic receiving ability garners more attention than a typical tight end. Bowers was also named to the Biletnikoff watchlist which is awarded to the nation’s best pass catcher.
He has the potential to be the second tight end ever named a finalist for the award (Kyle Pitts in 2019) and the first to win.
- Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
Michael Mayer is the best all-around tight end in college football due to his lethal blocking in addition to his receiving ability (like Bowers he was named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List). Many players have held the moniker “Baby Gronk” but Mayer might be the most deserving. He showed flashes during his freshman campaign but truly broke out as a sophomore with 840 yards and seven touchdowns off of 71 receptions. Mayer was named a Mackey Award semifinalist in 2021. He will be one of the favorites in 2022 as he continues to develop as a receiver. Mayer is a rare tight-end talent and a likely first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. He may not put up the same receiving stats as Bowers but his on-field impact will rival any player in the nation. Tyler Eifert won the Mackey Award for the Fighting Irish in 2012 and Mayer has a good chance to follow in his footsteps.
- Sam LaPorta, Iowa
Sam LaPorta is the next in line of Iowa’s TEU and looks to become the second Hawkeye to win the Mackey Award in the last five years (TJ Hockenson 2018). LaPorta was one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten in 2021, quietly leading Iowa in receptions (53, second best was 31) and receiving yards (670, second best was 352). While he had a low touchdown total of three in 2021, expect that number to increase in 2022. Iowa will still be a run-heavy team despite losing Tyler Goodson to the NFL, but Sam LaPorta will be the engine of this offense. It is hard not to draw parallels between LaPorta and former Hawkeye tight-end greats like TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant. Hockenson was able to win the Mackey with just 760 yards and six touchdowns to go with his elite blocking. LaPorta could very easily surpass those numbers and be one of the better run-blockers in the country. He should be mentioned in the same breath as Mayer and Bowers as elite tight ends because of his well-rounded skill set.
4 Jaheim Bell, South Carolina
Jaheim Bell is a unique weapon for the Gamecocks. Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield calls him “Deebo 2.0” and prefers to label him as a “Wide Back” rather than restricting him to tight end. At 6’3 230 pounds, Bell can line up anywhere on the offense making him a swiss army knife kind of player. Like Bowers and LaPorta, Bell has a standout teammate at tight end in Oklahoma transfer Austin Stogner. However, Stogner’s addition is a major plus for Bell because it will allow him to line up more out wide, in the slot, and in the backfield where he makes the biggest impact. Head coach Shane Beamer is a former tight ends coach so he will be certain to make the most of his talented duo. Quarterback transfer Spencer Rattler has a big arm and he and Bell have the potential to connect for big yardage plays down the field. Bell may not be a traditional tight end but he has the game-changing ability that will catapult him amongst the nation’s best receiving playmakers.
5 Will Mallory, Miami
Will Mallory is a serious breakout candidate for the U. Tyler Van Dyke is one of the best quarterbacks in football but lacks proven weapons on the outside. Mallory could very easily become his go-to guy. New offensive coordinator Josh Gattis heavily utilized tight ends like Erik All during his time at Michigan. All was the team’s second-leading receiver in 2021. The Hurricanes are poised to develop an even more explosive passing game which gives Mallory a sky-high ceiling. Gattis and tight ends coach Stephen Field have both expressed confidence in Mallory’s ability to be a number one receiving threat in an offense. He returned for a fifth year to prove that he can become an elite playmaker and now has a wide-open runway to do so. Look for Mallory to smash his previous season highs in receiving yards and touchdowns.
Arik Gilbert, Georgia
Dalton Kincaid, Utah
Josh Whyle, Cincinnati
Benjamin Yurosek, Stanford
Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion