Between Rob Gronkowski, Mercedes Lewis and Zach Miller, some of the NFL's best tight ends began their journeys playing in the Pac-12 (or Pac-10). In today's Pac-12 conference, the level of tight end play continues to get better.
The entire House of Sparky staff voted and collectively ranked the Pac-12 tight ends as follows.
1) Washington - 4 first place votes
Washington Husky tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins garnered pre-season first team All-American honors. Therefore, I'm still perplexed on how Seferian-Jenkins didn't earn a unanimous six votes. Seferian-Jenkins was also ranked as college football's premier tight end by ESPN analyst Danny Kanell.
Last season Seferian-Jenkins posted 852 yards receiving, seven touchdowns and hauled in 69 receptions. At 6-foot-6 and 266 pounds, Seferian-Jenkins may be the biggest matchup problem in the country. He's as fast as most linebackers and is way too big for cornerbacks and safeties. Head coach Steve Sarkisian is a brilliant offensive mind and does a great job lining Seferian-Jenkins up in countless different looks. Seferian-Jenkins goes up and snatches the ball at its highest point, providing quarterback Keith Price a large margin of error.
The Huskies will struggle to compete against Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North, but heavily relying on Seferian-Jenkins would be their best chance of surprising media experts.
2) Arizona State - 2 first place votes
ASU's best receiving weapon has to be tight end Chris Coyle, who blossomed under Mike Norvell's offense. Coyle was an afterthought under Dennis Erickson, earning the majority of his playing time on special teams. However, Todd Graham saw Coyle's potential and made the California native the focal point of the offense. Quarterback Taylor Kelly and Coyle head into 2013 with great chemistry, and the connection will seem more potent because of surrounding help at wide receiver.
Last season Coyle posted 696 yards, five touchdowns and hauled in 57 receptions. Coyle's work ethic and extra-practice reps shouldn't go unnoticed as well. Going forward, Coyle needs to develop dependable blocking skills to be an asset in the running game. The good news is that after spring ball finished, Coyle reportedly made significant strides in the blocking department. However, let's save the judgment for Saturdays. The best part of Coyle's game is still his precise route-running,
The Sun Devils also posses great depth at tight end. Backup Darwin Rodgers is a viable option and third string highly touted recruits De'Marieya Nelson and Grant Martinez can get the job done. ASU's high tempo offense averaged an impressive 38.4 points, yet it needs Coyle and company to get even better to reach the teams' goal of a Rose Bowl berth.
USC contains a plethora of offensive weapons headlined by wide receiver Marqise Lee, but tight end Xavier Grimble could be the ultimate X-factor. Grimble was the odd man out in 2012, as Matt Barkley somehow overlooked the 6'5 tall and 255-pound Grimble.
Last season Grimble posted 316 yards, five touchdowns and hauled in 29 receptions. Grimble should see increased responsibilities because of Robert Wood's departure. Max Wittek, the inexperienced quarterback, needs a safety valve to thrive and Grimble will be the answer. Grimble's disappointing statistics are deceiving and could cause opposing defenses to get burned.
After looking into my crystal ball, Grimble ends up with at least 700 yards and around eight or nine touchdowns. Grimble also will receive support from backup Randall Telfer, who collected 100 yards, four touchdowns and 12 receptions in spot duty. In order for USC to regain elite national prestige Grimble must be ready to rise to the occasion.
The tight end situation in Palo Alto still looks solid despite Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo moving on to the NFL.
Last season Toilolo posted 393 yards, four touchdowns and hauled in 24 receptions. But when you factor in that Ertz accumulated 898 yards, six touchdowns and 69 receptions, it's entirely feasible for Stanford to lose significant production at the position. However, David Shaw's ball club has depth at tight end, as the team lists nine different tight ends on the roster including touted recruits like Austin Hooper and Greg Taboada.
Quite simply, it's hard for our staff to imagine the Cardinal not having great tight ends.
Oregon football is known for running the rock, but tight end Colt Lyerla gives quarterback Marcus Mariota a valuable outlet in the passing game. Some would argue Lyerla deserves to be higher on the list, as ESPN's Kanell said Lyerla is the second best tight end in the nation. Maybe HoS snubbed Lyerla?
Last season Lyerla posted 392 yards, six touchdowns and hauled in 25 receptions. Lyerla's numbers are way worse than Coyle, therefore he's not as high in the pecking order. The sexy part about the tight end position is the receiving dimension and the blocking dynamic can get overlooked. Lyerla's best asset is blocking and some of us at HoS (including myself) failed to factor the dirty work in. By the end of 2013, Lyerla could end up making us look like fools.
6) Oregon State
Oregon State tight end Connor Hamlett can barely drink a beer legally, but nobody would pick a bar fight with this 6'7, 259-pound behemoth. Throughout Hamlett's career, gradual improvement has been the main theme. In 2010, Hamlett was the offensive scout MVP. In 2011, Hamlett saw the majority of his playing time at special teams. In 2012, Hamlett earned a starting spot at tight end, showing omens of a bright future.
Last season Hamlett posted 403 yards, three touchdowns and hauled in 32 receptions. If the steady growth trend continues, Hamlett will be a force to be reckoned with.
The loss of Joseph Fauria at tight end presents a daunting obstacle for Jim Mora Jr. Although, Darius Bell may be an underrated asset. Bell is only 5'11 tall and 205 pounds, which appears to be unusually small for a tight end. On the contrary, everything Bell lacks in size he makes up for in athleticism. Bell even played quarterback for UCLA in 2010, showing his ultra versatility.
Last season Bell posted 143 yards, one touchdown and seven receptions. Much of the reason for those underwhelming statistics is the fact Bell was limited to a mere five games due to injuries. While Bell doesn't appear to be the next Fauria, Brent Hundley could certainly make him shine if the targets are there.
No tight end on California's roster collected 100 or more yards in 2012. We'll have to wait and see if the tight end position plays a more prominent role under new coach Sonny Dykes. The competition for the starting spot will go deep into summer camp, but Jacob Wark is expected the get the nod.
Last season Wark posted 74 yards, no touchdowns and seven receptions. Wark remains a question mark but the 6'4, 250-pound junior has the build to be big time.
The days of Rob Gronkowski are long gone for U of A. The tight end position isn't an integral part of Rich Rodriguez's game plan. The top of the depth chart starts with Terrence Miller, who posted 143 yards, two touchdowns and hauled in 13 receptions.
Utah's tight end situation is hard to evaluate due to a lack of consistent quarterback production. Jake Murphy is the leader in the clubhouse to start and he posted 349 yards, four touchdowns and 33 receptions. Murphy is 6'4 and 252 pounds and could help turn around the Utes awful aerial assault.
11) Washington State
According to ESPN.com and Washington State's football website, the team has no tight ends on roster. However, the team's passing attack wasn't the problem, averaging 330.4 yards at 9th overall in the country.
The Colorado Buffalo quarterbacks had a hard time throwing a rock in the ocean from the beach and therefore the tight ends didn't have ample opportunities. The 6'4-tall, 230 pound DaVaughn Thornton graduated, meaning the competition for starting reps remains open. Thornton posted 73 yards, no touchdowns and hauled in seven passes.