1. Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram: A former wide receiver, Engram was second on the Rebels in receiving yards last season. He caught 38 passes for 662 yards and two touchdowns, including a long catch for 83 yards. Engram has the athleticism to be a real force in the passing game for the quarterback that wins the starting job for Ole Miss.
What makes Engram an even more difficult matchup is the receivers on the outside. Laquon Treadwell is one of the best receivers in the country and will demand double teams from most opponents, leaving Engram facing single coverage over the middle. Linebackers struggle with Engram’s speed while safeties aren’t strong enough to slow him down, meaning the tight end could be prepared for a big season.
2. Georgia tight end Jeb Blazevich: The third-leading receiver on the Bulldogs roster as a freshman, Blazevich is set to have a big sophomore season. He made 18 catches for 269 yards and two touchdowns last season, but with the Bulldogs breaking in a new starting quarterback this fall, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Blazevich become a favorite target for the inexperienced starter under center.
He’s athletic enough to make plays after the catch, but he’s also a skilled route runner to get open down the field. This is the kind of tight end you want on a roster when breaking in a new starting quarterback.
3. Tennessee tight end Ethan Wolf: As a freshman, Wolf made 23 catches for 212 yards. His freshman year started quickly, making five catches in two of the Volunteers’ first four games. His five catches for 69 yards against Georgia in week four were important in a three-point loss. However, Wolf had no more than two catches in any of Tennessee’s final nine games largely because of injuries.
As long as he can stay healthy this fall, Wolf should see his production increase. The Volunteers have a breakout candidate at quarterback in Joshua Dobbs, and even though Tennessee is deep at receiver, Wolf is still talented enough to catch his share of passes.
4. Vanderbilt tight end Steven Scheu: Last season, Scheu was the best receiving option on the Vanderbilt offense. Of course that doesn’t mean much considering the Commodores struggled to do much of anything with the football. There are quarterback questions yet again for Vanderbilt, and there’s no clear favorite as the Commodores open fall camp early next month.
Whoever does win the job will likely see Scheu as the top receiving target again this year. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason learned the ropes as the defensive coordinator at Stanford, where he watched the program consistently feature the tight end on offense and produce multiple NFL tight ends. Scheu might not have the pure talent some of the Stanford tight ends did, but he’s in a good situation to lead the Commodores in receiving yards.
5. Missouri tight end Sean Culkin: The Gators recruited Culkin when he came out of India Rocks Beach, Fla., but they ended up passing and he went to Missouri. The tight ends is the Tigers’ leading returning receiver, totaling 174 yards and one touchdown last season. He isn’t the dynamic downfield receiver that tight ends on this list like Engram are, but he gives plenty of effort as a blocker and should see his receiving numbers take a big step forward this year.