Another Thursday has come and here we are again with another installment of our Big Ten 2018 positional previews. We’ve already discussed the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers, this week we attack the almighty tight end position. The tight ends are the peanut butter to the jelly of a successful collegiate offense, especially in the Big Ten conference where they may be asked to block more than run routes.
The conference loses a slew of talent at the position with the departures of Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, Wisconsin’s nine finger wonder Troy Fumagalli, and Indiana’s Ian Thomas. While they all look to fit into their new roles in the NFL, today we’ll look at the candidates that have the potential to fill their shoes as the best tight ends in the conference.
1. Noah Fant, Junior, Iowa
Pretty much everyone who follows the Big Ten as a whole knew when they started reading this article who would top this list. Noah Fant was an absolute demon to contain for opposing defensive coordinators in 2017.
Fant reeled in 30 receptions for 494 yards and found paydirt a whopping 11 times. The junior tight end showed ability as a deep threat, constantly beating poor opposing linebackers down the seam for touchdowns.
Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing in around 232 pounds, Fant also has the size to finish in the red zone, as we saw plenty of times in 2017 as well.
Fant is far and away the best tight end in the conference, and if he can replicate what he did last season, he’ll probably be the next Big Ten tight end drafted in 2019.
2. Brycen Hopkins, Junior, and Cole Herdman, Senior, Purdue
Listen, I usually never do this, but there’s nothing better than a dominant duo of tight ends. That’s exactly what Brycen Hopkins and Cole Herdman are for the Purdue Boilermakers.
Both stand at about 6-foot-5 and are athletic marvels that can work downfield and in the red zone for the upcoming program.
Hopkins reeled in 25 receptions for 349 yards and three touchdowns, while Herdman matched that touchdown total with five fewer receptions for 331 yards. In fact, Herdman is rather consistent, as he’s caught a pass in 29 consecutive games for Purdue.
3. Jerome Washington, Redshirt Senior, Rutgers
ICYMI: Have you seen a better snag than this Jerome Washington @RFootball grab?
Considering that Rutgers had almost zero production from the quarterback position in 2017, Jerome Washington did the best he could. Another athletic tight end, Washington transferred home from Miami and excelled with what he had to work with in 2017.
The transfer caught 28 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown in this first season suiting up for head coach Chris Ash. The Elizabeth, New Jersey native is as sure handed (and footed) as they come, and uses his size to body opposing defenders.
He also has the speed to work down the seams much like his counterparts on this list. New offensive coordinator John McNulty, a former tight end coach for the Los Angeles Chargers, will definitely look to get Washington involved the way Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates were used for the Chargers.
I’m also projecting better quarterback play from the Scarlet Knights, so Washington has a change to explode onto the scene in his second season.
Sleeper: Kyle Penniston, Junior, Wisconsin
With Fumagalli heading to greener pastures that the NFL has to offer, a lot of production leaves with him.
Kyle Penniston is a prime candidate to fill the role he leaves behind in the offense. A top-10 recruit at his position in the 2015 recruiting class, Penniston has the size to be a very capable red zone threat and has already shown a nice ability to block.
With only 13 receptions for 158 yards and three touchdowns in his first couple seasons for the Badgers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to me at all if he produces (and maybe surpasses) how Fumagalli did for the Badgers this season.
It also doesn’t hurt that he has one of the best quarterbacks in the conference in Alex Hornibrook throwing to him.