2016 Preseason Award Projections: Mackey Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2016 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 May for the 2017 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. Last year, our prediction was Arkansas’ Hunter Henry and he won the award. The previous year, we hit it with Florida State’s Nick O’Leary bringing home the honor. That made for the fourth year in a row WalterFootball.com correctly predicted the Mackey Award winner after getting it right with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tyler Eifert, and O’Leary before Henry made it four straight.

Mackey Award Winner:

Jake Butt, Michigan

The Mackey Award favors tight ends who are more than just blockers or receivers. The award committee likes the winner to be effective in both aspects of tight end play. With that in mind, Butt makes a lot of sense as the favorite to win the Mackey Award. I think I stand a good chance of hitting five straight with Butt as my prediction.

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, Butt was one of the most consistent and top receiving tight ends in college football, totaling 51 receptions for 654 yards with three touchdowns. He is an athletic, quick receiver who presents mismatch problems. Butt 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 about getting the ball to his play-makers and mismatch-creators. Butt could produce a big senior year and be regarded as the top tight end in the nation.

Mackey Runner-Up:

O.J. Howard, Alabama

From a skill-set perspective, I would have Howard rated first, but I don’t trust Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to give 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. In 2015, Howard did receive more targets, though not by a tremendous amount. Prior to last season’s National Championship game against Clemson, Howard totaled 394 yards on 33 receptions with zero touchdowns across 14 games. In that 15th game, however, Howard exploded as he lit up the Tigers for five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns.

The senior 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 in 2015, so 2016 could be the year that he dominates.

Mackey Dark Horse:

Evan Engram, Ole Miss,

Engram is a dynamic receiver and mismatch weapon who could see 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, totaling 38 receptions for 464 yards and two touchdowns on the year. Engram had 38 receptions for 662 yards and two touchdowns in 2014. While the 6-foot-3, 228-pounder0 needs to get bigger and be a better blocker, he is already an effective cut blocker. That keeps him ranked lower despite the fact that he could be the most natural receiver of these special tight end prospects.

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

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