We're back after a week off to focus on the Gophers… So, let us first remind you of where we left off last in our trip around the position groups of the Big Ten. First up was a look at the running back groups and we last were with you talking about the secondary's in the the Big Ten – a vastly underrated group of players on the national scale.
So, as we move forward in our countdown we look back to the offensive side of the ball and move to line of scrimmage – but not the biggest of brutes, but rather the big guys who can still run a 4.5 40 yard dash while packing on 250lbs. or more – the tight ends.
1. Penn State: Who is shocked that former Patriots offensive coach has some use for a tight end? I'm not and nor should you either. Of course it helps that they have some talent in this group along with an offensive philosophy that uses them. One of the things I'll be watching for with this group is if they can become better blockers as a unit. I'll also be watching to see how defenses in the conference adjust to things now that they've had a full season to deal with O'Brien's offensive schemes and the skill sets and mismatches the group brings.
2. Wisconsin: I don't know about you, but if Penn State is Linebacker U than Wisconsin is Tight End U – they seem to crank out some of the best tight ends in the conference and the country on a near yearly basis and they'll get a 1st team All-Big Tener back in Jacob Pedersen. It also helps that they have a perfect blocking first complement to him in Brian Wozniack. The only thing that is holding them back is that beyond those two there isn't as much known about the rest of the group than at Penn State. Really you could flip-flop these two teams and I don't think you'd get much of an argument out of me.
3. Iowa: Having one of the better tight ends in the conference sure helps you in the rankings and that's exactly what the Hawkeyes have in C.J. Fiedorowicz (45 rec, 433 yards, 1TD). What separates the other two groups is a bit more in terms of overall talent and proven depth. That's because no one else on the team had more than four receptions last season. The class of freshman could be interesting to watch because there are spots to be won in camp, but don't get it twisted this is all about Fiedorowicz.
4. Nebraska: Losing Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, yet ranking this high on the list? Call it the new Cotton affect if you will. That's because this spring we saw that there was going to be plenty of talent at this position thanks to Sam Cotton and his Red team leading 3 catches. Add in Jake Long who's been waiting in the wings for a few seasons now and you have a damn explosive one-two punch for the group and that's more than you can say for most tight end groups in the Big Ten. Of course this is all based on potential for me, something I'm usually not want to do, but spring results make me confident in this pick.
5. Michigan: This ranking is not about the group as a whole, because on the whole there isn't much to go off of. What it is about though is one of the best prospects at this position – namely Devin Funchess – who was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick as a freshman last season. It was warranted after a 15 reception, 234 yards, and 5 TD performance. He's a known quantity this season, so it will be interesting to see how defenses adjust and how the new more pro-style offense plays out for the tight end group. If you're looking for another name other than Funchess, look for A.J. Williams to be a guy that could step up amongst the crowd behind Funchess.
6. Indiana: Ted Bolser is a star in the making and if you don't know his name by now you should get hip to it before "all the cool kids" are talking about him come November. Kevin Wilson has always had use for tight ends that can stretch the field and Bolser fits that mold. He had 41 receptions for 433 yards and 3 touchdowns. Anthony Corsaro is a nice blocking tight end option, but there's a lot to be desired behind Bolser in the receiving department from this group and that's what is holding them back.
7. Minnesota: This group isn't terrible, however it isn't jump off the page great. I do like the blocking abilities of this group as a whole and it helps that both of the big tight end targets are just that BIG. Of course we've spent all week this week talking Gophers football, so for a full breakdown we'll send you over to our offensive preview to understand why we like, but aren't in love with this group.
8. Purdue: Depth is the issue at tight end for Purdue, but there is a nice option in the passing game named Gabe Holmes. He of 25 receptions and 158 yards for 2TD's. In the new offense of John Shoop expect the tight end to see even more action. The problem is that the tight end group in West Lafayette isn't exactly adept at blocking, which is far more a part of what's happening moving forward than it was in the past. They'll need to show improvement there for them to be any better than this as a unit. Outside of Holmes look for Justin Sinz to become more of a player in this offense as well.
9. Michigan State: Losing a target like Dion Sims (our Tight End of the Year from 2012) will be a blow, however Dantonio's teams are known for finding players to step up into bigger roles. It's asking a lot from a group with a total of FOUR returning receptions from 2012, but from what I have seen this past spring and in tape overall I do like the skill set that sophomore Paul Lang (3 catches last season) and Andrew Gieichert bring to the table. Add in a very intriguing high school prospect (one I've seen in person a few times) named Chumra (yes, the son of former Packers TE Mark Chumra) and you could have the makings of a good group on hand.
10. Ohio State: Tight ends aren't exactly in vogue in the offense that Urban Meyer runs, at least in the mold we think of. I'm also not that in love with what the Buckeyes are bringing to the table overall in returning talent. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Varnett aren't exactly confidence inspiring names and Blake Thomas is the only other TE on the roster that was around this spring – it's safe to say this group needs some help and that could come with 4-star recruit Marcus Baugh (if he doesn't redshirt which is unlikely given lack of bodies at the position). He could save this group from this ranking come the end of the season, but let's not jump to conclusions too much here.
11. Illinois: Judging this group solely on the stats and look of 2012 just isn't fair. That was one terrible season and the offense of 2013 is looking much different to say the least. Having said all of that there is a lot of experience on the roster at this position – at least in age as four of the tight ends are upperclassmen. Jon Davis is the one with the most promise, catching 9 passes for 88 yards and 1 touchdown, but in a new sped up offensive scheme like Bill Cubbit likes to use the tight end may or may not be a weapon they use often if at all. On the whole this is one of, if not the weakest groups of tight ends in the league.
12. Northwestern: The Wildcats are loaded at almost every position group on the offensive side of the ball, except this one and that's partly because they really don't use a traditional tight end. However, Dan Vitale is a good and experienced option – having 28 catches for 288 yards and 2 TD's last season. Problem is behind him aren't a lot of good options or experienced options. In fact outside of Vitale there is a grand total of ONE returning catch amongst the group. They'll add a 3-star recruit in James Taylor to the mix this fall.