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August 18, 2011

Preseason top 10: Tight ends

While there are a multitude of proven wide receivers this season, there's a relative paucity of star tight ends.

Three tight ends had at least 50 receptions last season, but only one returns, Missouri senior Michael Egnew. He made a colossal leap in production last season; he had 91 receptions after going into the campaign with just seven catches in his career.

Expect a few guys on our list of top tight ends to make a jump in production this fall, though not necessarily at Egnew's level.

We continue our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position with a look at tight ends. "Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.

We will look at a position a day until Aug. 29, when we rank all 120 of the nation's quarterbacks. Friday, we will look at offensive tackles. Here are the tight end rankings.

10. DWAYNE ALLEN, CLEMSON
PARTICULARS: 6-4/255, Jr.; Fayetteville (N.C.) Terry Sanford
THE BUZZ: Allen caught 33 passes for 373 yards and one touchdown last season to earn second-team All-ACC honors. His 33 catches were the most ever by a sophomore tight end at Clemson. Allen caught a combined 19 passes against Auburn, Boston College and North Carolina. His production should increase this season as Clemson adjusts to new coordinator Chad Morris' hurry-up, no-huddle offense.

9. COBY FLEENER, STANFORD
PARTICULARS: 6-6/244; Joliet (Ill.) Joliet Catholic
THE BUZZ: Fleener would love to pick up right where he left off last season, as he caught six passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns in Stanford's Orange Bowl rout of Virginia Tech. Fleener was a second-team All-Pac-10 pick who finished the season with 28 catches for 434 yards and seven touchdowns. Fleener has developed into one of Andrew Luck's favorite big-play targets; his Orange Bowl touchdowns covered 41, 58 and 38 yards.

8. TYLER EIFERT, NOTRE DAME
PARTICULARS: 6-6/249, Jr.; Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger
THE BUZZ: Eifert is the latest in a long line of productive pass-catching tight ends at Notre Dame. He stepped into the starting lineup last fall after a season-ending injury to Kyle Rudolph and emerged as a factor during the Irish's late-season surge. He caught 27 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns. All but one of those catches occurred over the final seven games of the season.

7. KYLER REED, NEBRASKA
PARTICULARS: 6-3/230, Jr.; Overland Park (Kan.) St. Thomas Aquinas
THE BUZZ: After playing sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2009, Reed emerged as a big-play threat last season. He averaged 18 yards per catch, and eight of his 22 receptions resulted in touchdowns. His eight touchdown catches were the fourth-highest single-season total in Nebraska history and the most by a tight end. Each of his first four touchdown catches covered at least 33 yards.

6. BRANDON BARDEN, VANDERBILT
PARTICULARS: 6-5/246, Sr.; Lincolnton (Ga.) Lincoln County
THE BUZZ: This fifth-year senior is a former high school quarterback who has developed into perhaps the most reliable weapons on Vanderbilt's offense. He caught 34 passes for 425 yards last season to lead the Commodores in both categories. That performance earned him second-team All-SEC honors from The Associated Press. He has caught at least one pass in 18 consecutive games over the past two seasons. In his career, Barden has 91 receptions for 1,001 yards and eight touchdowns.

5. DRAKE DUNSMORE, NORTHWESTERN
PARTICULARS: 6-3/235, Sr.; Overland Park (Kan.) St. Thomas Aquinas
THE BUZZ: Dunsmore plays Northwestern's "superback" position, which basically is a hybrid fullback/tight end role. He's enough of a tight end to qualify for the spot in our rankings. Dunsmore has caught a combined 87 passes for 904 yards and eight touchdowns over the last two seasons. He caught eight passes for 65 yards in a victory over Iowa last season and made a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone against Penn State. He and Nebraska's Reed attended the same high school.

4. LADARIUS GREEN, LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
PARTICULARS: 6-6/230, Sr.; Pensacola (Fla.) Booker T. Washington
THE BUZZ: Green caught 44 passes for 794 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He had nearly twice as many receiving yards as any of his teammates. Green led all tight ends nationwide last season in total receiving yards, receiving yards per game (79.4), yards per catch (18.0) and touchdown catches (seven). He had at least 100 receiving yards in four of his final five games last season.

3. ORSON CHARLES, GEORGIA
PARTICULARS: 6-3/241, Jr.; Tampa (Fla.) Plant
THE BUZZ: Charles caught 26 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns last season, but his physical skills make him seem capable of much more. Charles has shown flashes of big-play potential. He caught a 44-yard touchdown pass against Arkansas two years ago and had six receptions for 108 yards in an overtime loss to Florida last season. Charles had a productive spring that makes us believe he's primed for a huge junior season, especially on a team that doesn't have any proven go-to wide receiver.

2. GEORGE BRYAN, N.C. STATE
PARTICULARS: 6-5/265, Sr.; Wilmington (N.C.) New Hanover
THE BUZZ: This fifth-year senior has earned first-team All-ACC honors in each of the past two seasons. He caught 40 passes in 2009 and added 35 catches for 369 yards last season. Bryan is North Carolina State's top returning receiver, so the Wolfpack likely will count on him in the passing game even more this season as they attempt to replace departed WRs Owen Spencer (60 catches, 912 yards last season) and Jarvis Williams (52-713).

1. MICHAEL EGNEW, MISSOURI
THE PARTICULARS: 6-6/240, Sr.; Plainview (Texas) High
THE BUZZ: Egnew is the latest top-flight tight end coming out of Missouri, which has a strong history at that position. He is a big, athletic target who is looking to build on a 2010 season in which he earned All-America acclaim. He led the nation's tight ends with 90 receptions for 762 yards and five touchdowns. Egnew had at least seven catches in seven games after going into last season with seven career catches.

Rankings and player capsules by Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.



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