There is absolutely no question about who the No. 1 college fantasy tight end is in 2009. You'll find a few rankings with someone else listed No. 1, but I would immediately click the little X at the top right of the screen and never return to that site again. Gresham is probably better than half the receivers ranked in my top 10, and he's easily the best option at this position.
With Manny Johnson and Jauquin Iglesias gone to the NFL, Gresham is the unparalleled No. 1 option for Sam Bradford. So when you think about the fact that he'll probably improve upon his 66 catches for 950 yards and 14 TDs, you have to be excited. Gresham caught at least five passes in nine games last season and he scored at least once in nine as well. Even more impressive is the fact that he managed five multiple touchdown games. I would imagine he'll easily have more than the one game over 100 yards that he had in 2008 since he's now the undisputed top target for Sam Bradford.
Pitta is the only other guy I've seen ranked atop the fantasy tight end standings, and while I don't believe he's worthy of that spot, he's clearly the No. 2. Like Gresham, Pitta is the top returning option for a strong passing team with a talented returning quarterback. And he's also going to benefit from the loss of a top wide receiver in Austin Collie.
Pitta wasn't exactly a touchdown threat as a junior, but that should all change now that Collie's 15 scoring grabs will have to be replaced by someone. In 2008, Pitta had three games with 10-plus catches and four with more than 100 yards. And it didn't hurt that he opened the year with an 11-catch, 213-yard performance followed by 10 catches, 148 yards and one touchdown the next week. He's got loads of upside with Max Hall entering his final season at quarterback, and two of the Cougars' top receivers no longer on campus.
Gronkowski is a touchdown machine. He's a great NFL prospect with excellent size for the red zone, and it showed last season as he found paydirt 10 times. But unlike the top two guys, Gronko is losing his quarterback and won't have the luxury of that relationship returning.
The good news is that there may not be a better safety net for a first-time passer in the entire country. At 6-6, 260, he shouldn't be a hard-to-find target for whomever ends up replacing Willie Tuitama. Gronkowski was held scoreless in only three of the games he played in last season, and scarier still is the fact that he missed the first three contests of the season with mononucleosis and still put up amazing numbers. He's a bit riskier because of the quarterback situation, but that becomes a wash if he can stay on the field for all 12 games.
DJ Williams might be the most underrated tight end in the country. I've got him ranked a little bit higher than most sites. If a guy can grab 58 passes with the Dick brothers running the show under center, then he can certainly best those numbers with a guy like Ryan Mallett (or Tyler Wilson - don't laugh he's still competing) throwing the ball. And oh yeah, he did all that as a sophomore.
Now, Williams is a junior and he's finding himself in a great situation. He's the leading returning receiver by 28 catches and 200 yards, and the Razorbacks' passing game should only get better. He caught six balls for 41 yards and a touchdown from Mallett in the spring game, so you know he's being targeted. And besides the two games he missed last season, he was held to less than four receptions only once.
Marshall's probably going to throw a really sweet mountainy party when they find out they've got a player getting national recognition for anything, even if it's only fifth place in a fantasy tight end ranking sheet. But Slate is definitely the top dog for Matthew McConaughey's team.
Slate's been a star for the Herd since his 2006 season, and he doesn't appear to be slowing down. He's grabbed at least 40 balls and five touchdowns in every season, including eight last year even though he missed two games with a leg injury. He should be in for a career year as a senior; Darius Passmore is gone, and his absence should mean more passes headed Slate's way. See what I did there?
Jason Harmon, Florida Atlantic 2007 Stats: 63 receptions, 825 yards, 5 TDs (injured in 2008)
Harmon is a slight risk considering he missed the entire season last year, but he's playing in a great system for tight ends. Florida Atlantic places as much emphasis on the position as anyone in America.
In his absence, backups Jamari Grant and Rob Housler combined to catch 77 balls for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. Harmon may not reach that total on his own, but he should get close. He's got an experienced and talented quarterback in Rusty Smith returning to lead the attack. I would imagine Smith will look Harmon's way quite a bit considering his passer rating was almost 20 points better with Harmon in the lineup in 2007.
Just about everyone on the Florida offense seems to be a good candidate to be hurt by the losses of Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, but if you're looking for one guy who could benefit from their absence, it has to be Hernandez. He's the top returning receiver for Tim Tebow, and he should become even more of a factor in his second season as the starter.
Tebow and Hernandez developed a pretty nice rapport as the season progressed, and that ended with Hernandez catching 12 balls for 161 yards and two touchdowns in the Gators' last three games, including five receptions in the national title tilt. With Tebow moving under center more as a senior, look for Hernandez to be targeted even more as a safety outlet. He's got the athleticism to be a first option and a threat to score from outside the red zone as well.
Jamie McCoy might be the only person in College Station still excited about having Mike Sherman as a head coach. Under Dennis Franchione, McCoy was a rarely used quarterback and wide receiver, but now he's the top tight end on a team that will probably lean on him heavily in the passing game.
He finished third in the Big 12 among tight ends to Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman when he grabbed 43 passes for 500 yards and five scores. Those numbers should definitely rise now that he's in his second year at the position. He ended up with eight catches for more than 20 yards, while 30 of his 43 total grabs went for first downs. With Jerrod Johnson stepping into the quarterback role full time, he'll likely look to McCoy quite a bit. There really aren't that many other options for the Aggies.
Dickson has been one of the most consistent tight ends in the country over the last two years, even if he hasn't been the flashiest. He was given the No. 18 jersey by Jacob Hester who received it from Matt Mauck. That's a pretty decent string of college players.
Now Dickson is a senior, and even with all of the Tigers' talent at receiver, he should figure prominently in the passing plans. Once again, it's important to remember the value of a big tight end when the quarterback is young. Jordan Jefferson will do a lot of scrambling, but he'll also need a safety valve like Dickson on more than a few occasions. He may not be the guy with the most upside, but you know you're getting a near lock for six scores and 500 yards.
Wisconsin just lost a pretty talented tight end, but considering Travis Beckum was often injured and the Badgers run a lot of two tight end sets, Graham has already gotten his fare share of playing experience. That experience should only blossom further into more production now that Beckum is off to the NFL.
Graham came out of nowhere (in most fans' eyes) last year and scored in the Badgers' first three games. He also managed to lead the team in receiving despite missing two games. Over the last two seasons he's grabbed 70 balls for almost 900 yards and nine touchdowns. Then there was his four game streak of at least five catches during the middle of the 2008 season.
He'll once again be the top target in the Badgers' sometimes-anemic passing game, but, like Dickson, he has proven to be a consistent performer that shouldn't let you down, even if he never puts up amazing numbers.