The start of the college football season is just a few short weeks away and it promises to be an entertaining race in the Big Ten. Now, if you are an Ohio State fan, you are hoping it is not too interesting, especially after coming up short last season. But the other 13 teams have scholarships and uniforms too and there is no denying that there is plenty of talent spread out around this conference.
It got us to thinking about the top players at specific positions going into the season. Ohio State fans are always well-aware of who their favorite team has but what about the rest of the teams in the league?
Believe it or not, programs do use the tight end as an offensive weapon, don’t let Ohio State’s use of the position fool you. That doesn’t mean that Ohio State has not had some tight ends in the past, but with so many other weapons, the tight end is far from a focal point within the Ohio State offense.
Programs like Wisconsin, Michigan and others within the conference for one reason or another don’t see it quite that way and have had a lot of success with the position in terms of offensive numbers. In fact, the Big Ten has had a pair of Mackey Award winners for the nation’s top tight end over the past six seasons with Jake Butt (Michigan) and T.J. Hockenson (Iowa).
Who makes the cut this year for the top five going into the 2022 season? Let’s take a look.
5. Brevyn Spann-Ford – Minnesota
Some tight ends are a biscuit away from being an offensive tackle and for Spann-Ford, he is close with his size, 6-foot-7, 270-pounds but he is more than just a blocker.
It would not be fair to take away from his ability to block, which is ever present, but he also had 23 catches for 296 yards and a touchdown last season, and while he never had more than four receptions in any game last year, he is still a constant threat if you forget about him
Minnesota figures to be a solid running team with Mo Ibrahim next season but Tanner Morgan is too good of a quarterback not to let throw the ball around the field and Spann-Ford is someone you better keep an eye on.
4. Brenton Strange – Penn State
Strange is a smaller tight end, at least smaller than Spann-Ford at 6-foot-3, 246-pounds. He has not had big numbers yet in terms of being a pass-catcher, but he did find the end zone three times during his 20-catch for 225-yard campaign in 2021.
With all of that, he was still 4th on Penn State last season in receiving, more of a testament of Penn State not exactly having it all working last year.
The media sees something in Strange as they had him named an all-B1G honorable mention coming out of the 2021 season, so that has to be worth something.
3. Erick All – Michigan
The Fairfield (Ohio) product did not make any friends in his home state by going to Michigan or announcing that he never liked Ohio State at any point. But this is not about being well-received by fan, but rather by us.
His 38 catches for 437 yards last season with two scores are hard to ignore, he just really was a player who was able to step up when needed as the Wolverines had to go last year without their top receiver and the Michigan offense really looked to spread the ball out.
Michigan has another good one in Luke Schoonmaker who just missed the list.
2. Payne Durham – Purdue
The numbers are there for the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder from Purdue. Durham had 45 receptions for 467 yards and six scores in 2021, including a two-touchdown game against Tennessee in the bowl game as Purdue gutted out a big overtime win in the Music City Bowl
We know that Purdue is going to throw the ball around, that is the Boilermakers offense. Aidan O’Connell is going to be looking for someone to step into a key role with several losses in the passing game including David Bell.
Now, is that void going to be filled by a tight end? If you watch Ohio State, the idea of a tight end being the focal point seems to be foreign, and while we know that someone else will need to step up for Purdue, we also know that when you have someone as talented as Durham, you surely need to utilize him.
1. Sam LaPorta – Iowa
Here we go again, talking about an Iowa tight end. The Hawkeyes offense was largely stagnant last season, but it did not slow the 6-foot-4, 249-pounder from having a big year.
How big? How about 53 catches for 670 yards and three scores.
LaPorta had 22 more catches than anyone else on the team (running back Tyler Goodson) and almost twice as many yards as the next most proficient receiver (Keegan Johnson).
It is not much of a stretch to say that LaPorta is the most productive player coming back on this offense, but can a tight end really lead an offense, an offense that finished in the bottom 10 nationally in total offense and bottom 25 in passing offense?
That may be a big ask but LaPorta will still be a fun player to watch in an offense that has plenty to prove in 2022.