College News & Analysis

College Football: The top-10 returning tight ends for the 2024 season

2WBH2TY Houston, United States Of America. 08th Jan, 2024. January 8, 2024: Michigan Wolverines tight end Colston Loveland (18) running after a catch during the College Football Playoff National Championship game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Washington Huskies at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. Darren Lee/CSM/Sipa USA. (Credit Image: © Darren Lee/Cal Sport Media/Sipa USA) Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News

• Michigan’s Colston Loveland: The rising junior assumes the throne left behind by Brock Bowers as the best tight end in college football.

• Notre Dame’s Mitchell Evans: The rising senior was on pace to be one of the best tight ends in 2023 before a torn ACL ended his season after eight games.

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With the 2023 college football season in the books, it’s time to turn our attention to 2024 by ranking the top returning players at every position. 

Next up is tight end. While the sport loses some superstars to the 2024 NFL Draft, including the college GOAT in Brock Bowers, the tight end position is still one of the strongest in college football entering next season.

Below is a list of PFF’s top-10 returning tight ends in college football in addition to an honorable mention nominee. Please note that NFL projection was not taken into account in these rankings.

(Be sure to view PFF’s top-10 returning quarterbacks, top-10 returning running backs and top-10 returning wide receivers lists.)

1. Colston Loveland, Michigan Wolverines

Loveland went from a promising freshman to one of the nation’s best tight ends as a sophomore. He finished as the fourth-most valuable FBS tight end this past season according to PFF’s wins above average metric and was fifth among them in receiving yards (649). 

Loveland’s elite athleticism at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds makes him nearly unguardable. His 88.7% open-target rate in 2023 placed him in the 97th percentile for all tight ends in the country. 

2. Mitchell Evans, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Evans was playing like one of the best tight ends in the country before a torn ACL ended his season after just eight games. Before going down though, his 422 receiving yards stood fourth among all tight ends in the nation. The only ones who had more were Dallin Holker, Brock Bowers and Cade Stover. All three are among the top-five tight end prospects on PFF’s 2024 NFL Draft big board. Evans’ 10 forced missed tackles in that span trailed only Bowers among FBS tight ends as well. 

The junior finished with an 83.7 PFF receiving grade on the season, which placed him seventh among all tight ends in America. He particularly excelled at finding the soft spots in zone coverage. The junior’s 97.3 PFF receiving grade against zone/underneath/top coverage was in the 96th percentile for all tight ends in the country. As long as he can regain his pre-injury form, Evans should be the ultimate security blanket for new quarterback Riley Leonard next year. 

3. Brant Kuithe, Utah Utes

Evans isn’t the only tight end on this list who’s recovering from a torn ACL. Kuithe missed the entire 2023 season and all but four games in 2022 after tearing his right ACL and meniscus against Arizona. While he’s been mostly absent for the last two seasons, Kuithe still deserves a high ranking on this list for what he did in the three years prior. 

He was named to PFF’s All-Pac 12 team every year from 2019-2021 and was a third-team All-American as a sophomore in 2019. He led all FBS tight ends in that span with 31 forced missed tackles while having the fifth-most receiving yards in that span (1,449). With both quarterback Cameron Rising and Kuithe returning for their seventh seasons, Utah should be seen as the favorite in the new-look Big 12 next season.

4. Benjamin Yurosek, Georgia Bulldogs

Yurosek is the first of four tight ends mentioned in this article who’ll be playing for a new school in 2024, transferring to Georgia from Stanford in February. The senior had a disappointing last couple seasons for the Cardinal. In 2022, his PFF receiving grade dropped by nearly 15 points compared to what it was the year prior (65.5 compared to 79.9). In 2023, he missed the final six games of the season with a shoulder injury. 

He deserves a high placement on this list for what he accomplished as a sophomore. In 2021, he was named first-team All-Pac-12 by PFF and was fourth among Power Five tight ends that year with 335 yards after the catch. Despite a lackluster last couple of seasons, Yurosek’s 1,338 receiving yards since 2021 lead all returning tight ends in college football. The only three who had more in that stretch were Bowers, Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid. After dealing with one of the worst quarterback situations at Stanford, Yurosek will be catching passes from the top returning signal-caller in the nation next year in Carson Beck. 

5. Bryson Nesbit, North Carolina Tar Heels

Nesbit blurs the line between wide receiver and tight end, spending the vast majority of his snaps in the slot for North Carolina. Regardless of what he’s listed as, he’s still one of the top returning pass-catchers in the nation. 

The junior’s 1,092 receiving yards over the last two years lead all returning tight ends in college football. His 32 catches of 15-plus yards in that span trail only Bowers and Ja’Tavion Sanders among Power Five tight ends. They’re the top-two tight end prospects on PFF’s 2024 draft big board. While Drake Maye is gone, Nesbit will still likely be relied on heavily by Texas A&M transfer quarterback Max Johnson.

6. Oronde Gadsden II, Syracuse Orange

Just like his ACC counterpart in Nesbit, Gadsden is a hybrid between a wide receiver and a tight end. While listed by Syracuse as a tight end, Gadsden has played far more career snaps lined up out wide (273) than he has in-line (85), while spending the vast majority of his time in the slot (553 snaps). 

Gadsden played in just two games as a junior in 2023 before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury in his right foot. Even so, his 1,033 receiving yards since 2022 are third among returning FBS tight ends. The only two players who have more are the aforementioned Nesbit and the next player on this list. Gadsden’s 2.35 yards per route run in that span trails only Bowers, Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid among FBS tight ends over the last couple of seasons. The arrival of former Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord should only boost Gadsden’s production in 2024.

7. Caden Prieskorn, Ole Miss Rebels

Prieskorn missed the first three games of the 2023 season due to a knee injury. Once he returned, the Memphis transfer showed why he was so highly coveted in the portal. From Week 4 on, Prieskorn’s 449 receiving yards were the ninth-most among all tight ends in the country. Since 2022, his 1,051 receiving yards and 527 yards after the catch are each fourth among FBS tight ends.

He saved his best for last too in the Peach Bowl against No. 10 Penn State. The senior caught 10 of his 11 targets for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the Rebels’ victory. 

8. Jack Velling, Michigan State Spartans

Velling is following head coach Jonathan Smith from Oregon State to Michigan State. No tight end in college football found paydirt more than he did this past season, tying for the national lead with eight receiving touchdowns. Velling was also eighth among Power Five tight ends with 13 catches that went for 15-plus yards in 2023. He and Loveland are the only rising true juniors in the top 10, so the best could be yet to come for the two tight ends in the Great Lakes State. 

9. Jalin Conyers, Texas Tech Red Raiders

Conyers is a menace with the ball in his hands. Since 2022, his 517 yards after the catch trail only Bowers and Sanders among Power Five tight ends. His 28 forced missed tackles in that span are third among FBS tight ends as well. After a productive career at Arizona State, the fifth-year senior will play for Texas Tech in 2024. 

10. Luke Lachey, Iowa Hawkeyes

Lachey is the next-in-line to the Iowa tight end dynasty, following past greats like George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant and Sam LaPorta. Despite sitting behind LaPorta on the depth chart in 2022, Lachey was still 12th among Power Five tight ends with a 77.7 PFF receiving grade while placing 14th with 22 receptions that went for a first down or touchdown. The then-redshirt sophomore finished the season as one of the 20 most valuable tight ends in the nation according to PFF’s wins above average metric.

As LaPorta spent 2023 dominating his rookie year with the Detroit Lions, Lachey was expected to take the next step as the top tight end for Iowa as a redshirt junior. Like many on this list, his year was prematurely ended following an ankle injury in the third game of the season. He looks to bounce back in 2024 and build off the promise he showed two years ago. 

Honorable Mention: Harold Fannin Jr., Bowling Green Falcons

Fannin was quietly one of college football’s most productive tight ends this past season. The true sophomore’s 406 yards after the catch and 2.62 yards per route run were second to only Brock Bowers among FBS tight ends. His 86.5 PFF grade was also the highest among all tight ends in the nation as well. While he might not play in a Power Five conference, don’t forget about Fannin next year. 

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