E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State (6-2, 255): One of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end, Bibbs recorded 45 receptions for 382 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing the final two games with a knee injury. He led all “Power 5” conference tight ends in touchdowns and was second with 4.5 catches per game. He caught a pass in all 22 games with the Cyclones after opening his collegiate career at Arizona Western Community College. His road to becoming a big-time tight end began with frequent games of catch with his dad, a former pitcher.
Nick Boyle, Delaware (6-4, 271): Boyle played 41 career games with 36 starts and caught 101 passes for 984 yards (9.7 average) and 12 touchdowns. He departed as Delaware's all-time leader among tight ends for receptions and No. 2 in yards and touchdowns. As a senior, with his 37 catches for 304 yards and four scores, he became the first Delaware tight end to earn FCS All-American honors since former NFL player player Ben Patrick was a consensus pick in 2006 with Joe Flacco slinging passes. He comes from an athletic background, as both of his sisters played collegiate sports. He was a good enough long snapper to go to Rutgers but he chose Delaware because he wanted to play on offense.
Gerald Christian, Louisville (6-3, 248): Christian caught 32 passes for 384 yards (12.0 average) and tied for the team lead with five touchdown receptions. He opened his career at Florida, then sat out 2012 when he transferred to Louisville. He grabbed 28 passes for 426 yards and four scores in 2013, including a 69-yard catch vs. USF. Christian’s brother, Geron, will be a freshman offensive lineman for Louisville next season. Christian played at a high school powerhouse that was overflowing with talent. His college career, however, was one of change.
Cameron Clear, Texas A&M (6-5, 275): The massive Clear opened his career at Tennessee in 2011 but was dismissed from the team after he was arrested for felony theft charges in May 2012. Clear landed at Arizona Western Community College in 2012 and spent his final two seasons at A&M. He caught nine passes in those two seasons, with three of his five catches in 2014 coming vs. Mississippi.
A.J. Derby, Arkansas (6-5, 255): Derby played quarterback at Iowa in 2011, Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College in 2012 and for Arkansas in 2013, when he started against Rutgers. He moved to tight end for his senior season, and finished third on the team with 22 receptions for 303 yards and second with three touchdowns. Coach Bret Bielema compared Derby to Dallas Clark, who starred at tight end for the Colts. "I think what really jumps out to NFL teams, you know he played quarterback his whole life," Bielema said. "I think he could realistically be a third-team quarterback on an (NFL) roster, to get you out of a game. He takes snaps every day. That part of his life, he hasn't forgotten. He's a promising player." His father, John, played linebacker for the Lions. An uncle, Glenn, played offensive line for Wisconsin and the Saints.
Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State (6-5, 252): With a revolving door at quarterback, Heuerman caught 17 passes for 207 yards (12.2 average) and two scores. In 2013, Heuerman led all Ohio State receivers by averaging 17.9 yards per reception with 26 receptions for 466 yards and four touchdowns to earn all-Big Ten honorable mention. Heuerman could be a riser after the Combine. According to the school, he had a team-best 33 reps on the 225-pound bench press and a 36.5-inch vertical leap. He grew up playing hockey and his dad played basketball at Michigan and was drafted by the Suns. “He didn’t disown me from the family or anything,” Heuerman said about signing with Ohio State. The fight against MD became personal.
Jesse James, Penn State (6-6, 257): James caught 38 passes for 396 yards (10.4 average) and led the team with three touchdowns to earn honorable mention on the all-Big Ten team as a true junior in 2014. James was third on the team with 25 receptions for 333 yards and was tied for second with three touchdown catches when he became a full-time starter in 2013. He’s obviously got a great name. His nickname isn’t so bad, either. “The Freak” stood out in high school, too, as a 245-pound receiver. "He's as humble as can be. ... He's fortunate to be born into a huge body, and he realizes that," his high school coach said. He figures to help himself at the Combine. “I tell you what, his testing numbers, they were just ridiculous,” Penn State coach James Franklin said in July.
Ben Koyack, Notre Dame (6-4, 254): Another draft, another Notre Dame tight end. Koyack caught 30 passes for 317 yards (10.6 average) and two touchdowns as a senior, when he was a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end. Koyack’s mother is a music teacher, and he plays the trombone, piano and euphonium, and started composing music in the fifth grade. "A lot of times (music) involves quick learning, memorization," Koyack said at the Senior Bowl. "It's that kind of thing where you can translate it. You've just got to be able to learn it." There’s almost nothing he can’t do. He started at shortstop at Oil City (Penn.) High School as a freshman. He qualified for the district track meet as a sprinter and in the javelin. And he was a straight-A student.
Tyler Kroft, Rutgers (6-5, 240): Kroft started a total of 23 games as a sophomore and junior before jumping into the NFL. He caught 24 passes for 269 yards (11.2 average) in 2014 after a big-time 43 receptions for 573 yards (13.3 average) and four scores in 2013. Always a gifted receiver, Kroft’s focus was on becoming a better route-runner — he studied Jason Witten for that — and getting bigger to improve his blocking.
Nick O'Leary, Florida State (6-3, 244): O’Leary won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end. As a senior, he caught 48 passes for 618 yards (12.9 average) and six touchdowns. He was a finalist in 2013, when he grabbed 33 balls for 557 yards and seven touchdowns, with his 16.9-yard average leading the nation’s tight ends. Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus is a grandfather. He’s more grizzly bear than Golden Bear, as a hard-nosed blocker and tough to bring down once he catches the ball. Nicklaus said his hands were too small to play quarterback. "(It was great) watching Nick, and knowing what a good athlete he is, but also how committed he is to what he wants to do in his life, which is play football," Nicklaus said. "He's interested in playing football, he's not interested in being in academia."
Mycole Pruitt, Southern Illinois (6-2, 251): Pruitt is the Missouri Valley Conference’s career leader in career receptions (211), receiving yards (2,601) and receiving touchdowns (25) among tight ends. He was selected the best tight end in the 30-year-old history of the conference and is a two-time consensus first-team FCS All-American. As a senior, he caught a school-record and conference-leading 81 passes for 861 yards and 13 touchdowns. “It’s really humbling to know that in the whole nation that you’re the one on top,” he said.. “It just makes [me] even more hungry to keep going and not let anybody cripple from behind and take that from [me].”
Wes Saxton, South Alabama (6-4, 238): Saxton caught 20 passes for 155 yards (7.8 average) and no touchdowns during a senior season in which he was slowed by an ankle injury. He had a big-time season as a junior, though, with 50 receptions for 635 yards and one score. Those 50 catches tied the school record. His high school quarterback was Jameis Winston, so Saxton should be a popular interview for quarterback-hungry teams picking early in the first round. The limited numbers notwithstanding, he’s the type of weapon that has the play-caller putting notes on his clipboard that read “Get No. 13 the ball.”
Jean Sifrin, Massachusetts (6-6, 257): Sifrin might have the best combination of size and speed in this year’s tight end class. At 6-foot-6, he was clocked in 4.55 in the 40 by scouts this fall. He had a big-time junior season with 42 receptions for 642 yards (15.3 average) and six touchdowns to earn FCS All-American honors. The catch? Sifrin is 27, which is why he declared for the draft. After taking several years off from school to provide for his family, he enrolled as ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., before moving on to El Camino College in Torrance, Calif. When Mark Whipple was named UMass’s coach last January, Sifrin became one of his top signings. He had only five practices before the season-opening game against Colorado but provided an instant impact. He got his big chance when the coach at ASA saw him playing flag football.
Randall Telfer, USC (6-4, 258): Telfer hauled in 21 passes for 197 yards (9.4 average) and two touchdowns as a senior. It wasn’t a great season but it sure beat the past two seasons. After catching 26 passes and scoring five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman to earn second-team Freshman All-America honors, he caught 12 passes in 2012 and six passes in 2013. It was a trying five years considering the turmoil at USC from coaching changes to NCAA sanctions. Telfer made his impact long before he was a football standout. When he was 11, he led a battle against a proposed sewage sludge recycling plant. He’s working toward his masters in marketing management.
Eric Tomlinson, UTEP (6-6, 261): Tomlinson started 30 games during his four seasons. He caught 30 passes for 304 yards and one touchdown as a junior. In a run-heavy attack as a senior, he did a lot of the dirty work while hauling in 18 passes for 128 yards and a score.
Clive Walford, Miami (6-4, 263): Walford was one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end. As a senior, he caught 44 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns, his average an impressive 15.4 yards per reception. He showed his wheels with a 61-yard touchdown against Florida State. On Nov. 29, he broke Kellen Winslow’s school record for most career receptions by a tight end, and he departed as the leader in catches, yards and touchdowns. Walford sustained a knee injury in the record-setting game. He underwent surgery, then shined at the Senior Bowl. Walford grew up playing basketball and didn’t try football until his senior year at Belle Glade (Fla.) High School. He cut off his precious dreadlocks when his son was born on Aug. 2, 2013.
Maxx Williams, Minnesota (6-4, 254): Williams is the No. 1 prospect at the position and perhaps the lone first-round pick. He was one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end, and was voted the Big Ten’s top tight end in 2014, his redshirt sophomore season. Williams led the Gophers in receptions (36), yards (569), receiving touchdowns (eight) and was fourth in yards per reception (15.8). His receiving yards and touchdowns are single-season records for a Minnesota tight end. His eighth touchdown came in the Citrus Bowl, when he hurdled two defenders. He was also a first-team Academic All-American. Athletics are in his genes. Williams’ father, Brian, played at Minnesota and played center for the Giants. His mother, Rochelle, played volleyball at Minnesota. A grandfather, Robert, was a quarterback at Notre Dame who was drafted by the Bears. An uncle, Ron, played for the Gophers and for Barcelona in the World League of American Football. “Me and my dad have that fun connection, because he still works out hard,” Williams said. “Just having those fun days in the gym. Every day getting up, knowing I’m going to go lift with dad, work out and get my run in. It’s just kind of that bonding experience,” Maxx Williams firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.