Heading into the 2012 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation's leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall's stars could be the headline players next April for the 2013 NFL Draft.
First-Team Tight End: Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Eifert was the Second-Team All-American tight end for his excellent 2011 season. Only Clemson's Dwayne Allen was rated ahead of him. Eifert was chosen over Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, the first tight end selected in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Fighting Irish had a two-pronged passing attack featuring wide receiver Michael Floyd and Eifert.
The Irish had inconsistent quarterback play last season, but Eifert was excellent with his performance. He caught 63 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns. Eifert did a decent job as a blocker, but he should still improve his blocking ability for the next level.
Eifert had a solid debut with 27 receptions for 352 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore in 2010. With Floyd in the NFL, Eifert could be the No. 1 receiver for quarterback Tommy Rees. Eifert is a good security blanket for a quarterback, especially a limited one like Rees, so it wouldn't be surprising if the tight end increases his reception total in the 70-85 range.
The 6-foot-6, 251-pounder runs well, has great hands and is a tough receiver. Eifert has made a lot of difficult catches in the middle of the field where he was laid out with some big hits. Eifert took the hits and kept coming back. Right now, he has NFL receiving ability and looks secure as a first- or second-round pick.
Second-Team Tight End: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
From the beginning of the 2011 season, Seferian-Jenkins was a freshman star for the Huskies. He was a superb receiving target for new starter Keith Price. Seferian-Jenkins totaled 41 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns last season. He is a great athlete who combines rare speed and quickness. The 6-foot-6, 258-pounder is already built like an NFL tight end.
It is rare for underclassmen to make the All-American teams as the majority of players are juniors or seniors. Still, Seferian-Jenkins is probably the most athletically-gifted tight end in college football. Thus, I see him being an All-American over upperclassmen. He showed his athleticism by playing on Washington's basketball team after football season ended.
Seferian-Jenkins has massive upside and should be even better as a sophomore and junior. With the NFL's increased emphasis on the tight end, there figure to be a ton of teams that will be dying to land him when he turns pro.
Third-Team Tight End: Joseph Fauria, UCLA
Fauria is a very well-rounded tight end. He is a solid blocker and a nice receiver. Fauria was UCLA's second leading receiver last year, catching 39 balls for 481 yards and six touchdowns. With Corey Harkey in the NFL, Fauria should see more playing time in 2012. He was a backup in 2010 after sitting out the 2009 season because he transferred from Notre Dame.
Fauria (6-7, 258) should see plenty of opportunities this season since he is one of the Bruins' best weapons on offense. Fauria is a good red-zone weapon who could produce more if UCLA works the ball to him.
Honorable Mentions: Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner, Nebraska tight end Kyler Reed, Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, Alabama tight end Michael Williams, Stanford tight end Zac Ertz, Florida tight end Jordan Reed and Rutgers tight end D.C. Jefferson.