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. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.
The Mackey Award is given to the top tight end in college football.
Mackey Award Winner:
Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen beat out Eifert for the Mackey Award and the First-Team All-American tight end spot last year. Eifert enters the 2012 season as the top tight end in the nation since Allen is now playing for the Indianapolis Colts. Another new NFL receiver was Eifert's former teammate Michael Floyd. With Floyd in the NFL, Eifert becomes the top receiver for the Fighting Irish offense.
The Irish had inconsistent quarterback play llast year, but Eifert was excellent. He caught 63 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns. Eifert made many clutch, difficult catches in the middle of the field and showed his toughness by taking a lot of hard hits after being laid out by high passes. He caught 27 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore.
It wouldn't be surprising if Eifert increases his reception total to the 70-85 range. The 6-foot-6, 251-pounder runs well and has great hands. Unlike the majority of tight ends, he enters the season as the No. 1 receiver for his offense. As a result, Eifert should have a big year and lay claim to the Mackey Award.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
The supremely talented Seferian-Jenkins should only be better in 2012. He was a standout as a freshman who took the Pac-12 by storm, snagging 41 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns. Seferian-Jenkins worked extremely well with new starting quarterback Keith Price. After gaining experience, the connection between Seferian-Jenkins and Price should be even more prolific this season.
Seferian-Jenkins is probably the most athletically gifted tight end in college football. The 6-foot-6, 258-pounder is already built like an NFL tight end. He is extremely fast and agile for such a big body.
Few defenders were able to keep pace with Seferian-Jenkins in the open field in 2011. Once he refines his route-running and blocking, he should be an elite tight end in every manner measurable. Seferian-Jenkins showed his athleticism by playing on Washington's basketball team after football season ended.
The dynamic tight end should take on a bigger role in the Huskies offense in his sophomore year. Running back Chris Polk and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse have moved on, so Seferian-Jenkins should receive more opportunities. He has massive upside, and he could definitely overtake Eifert for the Mackey Award.
Mackey Dark Horse:
Jordan Reed, Florida
If Florida gets some stability and productivity at the quarterback position, Reed could put together a big junior season. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder is extremely quick and athletic. Reed has some similarities in his skill set to former Gator Aaron Hernandez, who has been tutoring Reed in the offseason. With more experience and his athletic ability, he has a real capacity for a breakout season in 2012.
Reed played some spread-option quarterback as a freshman, completing 26 of 46 passes for 252 yards. He ran for 328 yards and five touchdowns, plus caught six passes for 79 yards.
The Gators switched to a pro-style offense in 2011, and they moved Reed to tight end. He caught 28 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns. His totals could have been better, but Florida struggled at quarterback with injuries to the starter and was forced to play two freshman signal-callers.
Reed is said to have bulked up from his previously listed weight and that could help him this season. He is a fast and agile receiver who just needs consistent opportunities. If Florida can work him the ball, Reed could be a dangerous weapon for its offense.
Honorable Mentions: UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria, Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner, Alabama tight end Michael Williams, Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo, Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, Nebraska tight end Kyler Reed and New Mexico tight end Lucas Reed.