Austin Hooper, Stanford (6-3, 248): Underclassman. Hooper was a third-team All-American and a finalist for the Mackey Award. He caught 34 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns. He’ll obviously be compared to fellow Stanford-turned-professional tight end Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener. "It's coming together the way we all thought it would when we saw him as a junior (at California high school powerhouse De La Salle),'' Stanford coach David Shaw said during the season, "but maybe faster than we anticipated." Those aren’t the only footsteps that Hooper is following. His father played football at San Diego State. His younger brother, Justin, plays baseball at UCLA and was drafted in the 25th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. One uncle played fullback for Stanford and another played professional tennis.
Ryan Malleck, Virginia Tech (6-4, 256): Malleck caught 62 passes for 658 yards (10.6 average) and four touchdowns during his career. Even with standout Bucky Hodges being the primary passing-game target, Malleck’s senior season was his best season. While his 21 receptions weren’t quite a career high, his 289 yards was almost 100 yards better than his previous best. His yards per catch went from 8.1 in 2014 and 13.8 in 2015. Malleck missed the 2013 season with a torn rotator cuff. "Ryan Malleck has been fantastic," position coach Bryan Stinespring said in the spring. "Not good, but fantastic. He has become a major leader for us. He does everything that you can ask a tight end to do. Block in tight, block from the line of scrimmage, block out in space, get involved in protection, makes plays in the passing game. Other than selling popcorn, I’m not sure what else he could do for us."
Jake McGee, Florida (6-5, 252): McGee knows about Senior Days. In 2013, he played in Virginia’s Senior Day game. With a year of eligibility remaining and diploma in hand, he transferred to Florida but sustained a broken leg during the first game of the season so was on the sideline for the 2014 Senior Day. The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility, and McGee was a key cog for the surging Gators this past season. “Big Gronk,” as his teammates called him, caught 41 passes for 381 yards and four touchdowns, including four catches for 34 yards in this season’s Senior Day. McGee, who will turn 25 in September, went to Virginia intent on playing quarterback but switched to tight end during his redshirt season of 2010. He caught 71 passes and scored seven touchdowns in 2012 and 2013.
David Morgan II, Texas-San Antonio (6-4, 262): Morgan, a part-time starter as a junior, recorded 45 receptions for 566 yards (12.6 average) and a program single-season record five touchdowns as a senior to become the fledgling program’s first-ever All-American. “Coming to UTSA, coach (Larry Coker) always said you were coming on a dream and a prayer,” Morgan said. “It’s just crazy to see how everything has happened and evolved over the years. I’m just thankful to be a part of all that for five years. For all the work to pay off in my senior year, it’s incredible.”
Beau Sandland, Montana State (6-4, 258): Don’t discount Sandland just because he played far, far off the beaten path at Montana State. At Pierce College, he was ranked the No. 1 tight end in the junior college ranks. That made him quite a catch at Miami. Sandland caught nine passes for 94 yards and one touchdown in 2013. Not thrilled with his career track and with the kickoff to the 2014 season approaching, Sandland wanted out. “The writing was kind of on the wall where they were taking care of some guys while I was just a junior college guy from California who had only one year left,” Sandland said. “They didn’t really know what kind of player I am.” So why Montana State? Sandland said he always wanted to live in Montana. After redshirting in 2014, Sandland put up big numbers in 2015 — 37 receptions for 632 yards (17.1 average) and nine touchdowns. “I remember hearing about him during last fall camp — Coach (Tim) Cramsey thought it was some sort of prank,” quarterback Dakota Prukop said. “It was one of those things that sounded too good to be true. … I remember Coach Cramsey saying he’s not huge on transfers offensively, but the ones he does take, sometimes things work out kind of in a magic way and just drop into your hands.”
Nick Vannett, Ohio State (6-6, 256): Vannett caught 55 passes for 585 yards and six touchdowns during his four seasons. After scoring five times as a junior, he closed his career with 19 receptions for 162 yards and no scores as a senior. With stud running back Ezekiel Elliott and three wide receivers good enough to earn invitations to the Scouting Combine, Vannett was an overlooked part of the offense. In the Senior Bowl, he caught three passes for 58 yards. That’s more yardage than he recorded in any game with the Buckeyes. “I feel like I've always been a good receiver,” Vannett said at the Senior Bowl. “At Ohio State I never really had the opportunity to showcase that. I had limited opportunities there. That's why I saw this game as a great opportunity to be able to show that.” He had to make a deal to get off the swim team and onto the football team.
Bryce Williams, East Carolina (6-6, 260): Williams walked on at Marshall in 2011 but redshirted. He was listed at just 186 pounds. Seeking an opportunity to play, he transferred to East Carolina, again as a walk-on, but didn’t play in 2012. The next three seasons saw Williams capture all-conference honors as he became the latest in a long line of successful walks-ons at ECU. Williams caught 58 passes for 588 yards and four touchdowns to earn first-team honors as a senior. The 58 receptions marked a single-season program record for a tight end, surpassing Luke Fisher's total of 48 set in 1991. He had 96 catches for 1,045 yards and 13 scores in his three seasons. The touchdown total broke a 25-year-old school record by a tight end. Williams’ twin brother, Shawn, is a kicker for East Carolina. A cousin, Brooks Williams, played tight end for the Saints, Bears and Patriots in the 1970s. In high school, he was an all-conference basketball player and qualified for state in the 110-meter hurdles.
ALSO IN THIS SERIES
Tight ends, Part 1 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 2 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 2
Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 2 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 3 (FREE)
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.