In 2017, the John Mackey Award for best collegiate tight end came out of the Big 12 in the form of Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews. Andrews then went on to become a 3rd draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. This recent success may give the perception that the tight end position is prospering in the Big 12, but I am here to tell you not to get your hopes up.
I mentioned during my Top 5 Draft eligible wide receivers piece that the league attracts elite receiver recruits with the array of wide open, spread style offensive systems. As a byproduct of that, the tight end position is scarce throughout the conference.
Look no further for evidence than the Preseason All-Big 12 team. Grant Calcaterra, a true sophomore for Oklahoma, was named preseason All-Big 12 team 1st team. Calcaterra is coming off a 10 reception, 162 yards, 3 touchdown true freshman season. Not exactly world beating production.
Tight end is a dying breed in the Conference as a whole, and predictably there isn’t much pro potential with the graduation of Andrews and Calcaterra not yet draft-eligible.
1. Mavin Saunders, Kansas (6'5, 256)
Mavin Saunders ceiling is untapped and he’s never had solid production in college, but he oozes potential. The Florida State graduate transfer is hoping to finally put everything together for the Kansas Jayhawks this season. The former 4-star recruit has averaged nearly 17 yards per catch in his career, and is an athletic downfield threat. He has high-point ability and potential in the redzone. At 6-foot-5 and 256 pounds, he also has an ideal physical profile for the next level. If he’s able to consistently showcase his ability for a full season, Saunders could find himself with a draftable grade come 2019.
2. Chase Allen, Iowa State (6'6, 240)
Allen was named All-Big 12 second team last season, his first time suiting up for the Cyclones. A towering 6-foot-6 with an athletic build, he is already an excellent run blocker with swift feet. He wasn’t able to produce much as a pass catcher (4 receptions, 39 yards), but his run blocking showed up enough to warrant postseason recognition. Allen is a former All-State basketball player, whose tools suggest that he could develop into an NFL prospect with more receiving opportunity. For the time being, the RS-sophomore may find himself returning to school to continue to refine his game and carve out more production.
3. Andrew Beck, Texas (6'4, 260)
Texas Senior Andrew Beck has the thickness of an NFL tight end, and the potential to be on some teams’ big boards come 2019. Like Saunders, he has yet to fully put together his potential into even average production. Beck is a solid run blocker in space who is quick enough to eat up ground and be effective latching onto defensive backs. He has natural hands as a receiver in the open field, as well as yards after catch ability. However, he’s limited in blocking opposing edge rushers because of a lack of power. Additionally, he struggles to operate as a receiver in traffic. Beck will need to refine his all-around game to become a viable option for NFL teams.
4. Britton Abbott, Oklahoma State (6'2, 245)
Abbott is built like an H-back or fullback, and will probably realize his best chance at making an NFL roster will be through this route. At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, he has the build of a potentially dominant run blocker, but has shown decent hands as a check-down option in the pass game. He has a strong upper body and will meet any defender in the hole, as well as showing active pass sets. With that said, unless he shows special teams ability, he will probably struggle to stick on a roster at the next level.
5. Sione Finefauski, Oklahoma State (6'0, 252)
Another Oklahoma State “Cowboy Back,” Finefeuiaki is a former highly ranked junior college player. He has some ability as a receiver, and the 6-foot, 252 pounds has the body of someone who could open up running gaps at the next level. Similar to Abbott, Finefauski will project as a natural fullback for the NFL. With few teams still utilizing the position, and Finefauski having to compete for collegiate reps, it's tough to see a path where he sticks on an NFL roster.