2016 Preseason All-American Projections: Tight Ends

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2016 college football season Walter Football will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises and the stars of next fall could be the headlining players next May in the 2017 NFL Draft.

First-Team Tight End: Jake Butt, Michigan

Butt contributed as a freshman (20-235-2) and sophomore (21-211-2), but took his game to another level under new head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2015. Last year saw Butt serve as one of the most consistent and top receiving tight ends in college football. For the season, he totaled 51 receptions for 654 yards with three touchdowns.

Butt is an athletic, quick receiver who presents mismatch problems. He also contributes enough as a blocker to be an every-down player. Michigan has a quality receiver in Jehu Chesson, but Butt should see plenty of passes thrown his direction because Harbaugh is smart to get his play-makers and mismatch creators the ball. Butt could produce a big senior year and be regarded as the top tight end in the nation.

Second-Team Tight End: O.J. Howard, Alabama

From a skill-set perspective, I would have Howard rated first, but I don’t trust offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to get Howard many opportunities. Kiffin has gone overboard with calling plays for a single receiver in the past. He did that with Amari Cooper, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. I think Kiffin may do that this season with Calvin Ridley.

As a freshman (14-269) and sophomore (17-260), Howard flashed his skills, but didn’t have many passes thrown his direction. Howard did receive more targets in 2015, but not by a tremendous amount. Prior to the National Championship game against Clemson, Howard totaled 394 yards on 33 receptions with zero touchdowns in 14 games. In the 15th game though, he exploded as he lit up the Tigers for five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns.

Howard is fast, athletic, and very dangerous as a receiving weapon. He presents a lot of mismatch problems. Howard was just scratching the surface of his potential, so 2016 could be the year that he dominates.

Third-Team Tight End: Evan Engram, Ole Miss

Engram is a dynamic receiver and mismatch weapon who could get a lot of targets from Chad Kelly with Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core moving on to the NFL. Engram had somewhat of a down season in 2015, but he played better late in the year. Engram totaled 38 receptions for 464 yards and two touchdowns on the season. He had 38 receptions for 662 yards and two touchdowns in 2014.

Engram (6-3, 228) needs to get bigger and be a better blocker, but he is an effective cut blocker. That keeps Engram lower even though he is could be the most natural receiver of these All-American tight ends.

Honorable Mentions: Clemson’s Jordan Leggett, Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges, Arkansas’ Jeremy Sprinkle, Georgia’s Jeb Blazevich, Oklahoma State’s Blake Jarwin and Michigan State’s Josiah Price.

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