Top 10 returning tight ends in college football for the 2023 season

Inglewood, CA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers (19) with the ball against the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half in the CFP national championship game at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia’s Brock Bowers: The reigning John Mackey Award winner is easily the best returning tight end in college football.

Minnesota’s Brevyn Spann-Ford: The redshirt senior is one of the most well-rounded tight ends returning in 2023.

TexasJa’Tavion Sanders: The sophomore rounds out the top three and is living up to his five-star hype.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins

It’s officially time to hit the reset button.

Now that we know who will continue playing on Saturdays next fall, let's take an early look at the top returning players at every position.

Here are the top 10 tight ends returning to college football next season. Please note that NFL projection is not taken into account.

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1. Brock Bowers, Georgia Bulldogs

There are some positions where the best returning college player is debatable. Tight end is absolutely not one of them. Bowers is easily at the top because he’s arguably been the best tight end, period, in each of his first two seasons.

As a true freshman in 2021, Bowers was the highest-graded Power Five tight end and the most valuable player at the position in college football, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. He was once again the most valuable tight end in the nation this past season and led the position in receiving yards (942), yards after the catch (479) and receiving yards after contact (274). He’s the reigning John Mackey Award winner, given to the best tight end in college football. 

And not only is Bowers the best tight end in the country, but he’s also on pace to be the best in the PFF College era.

2. Brevyn Spann-Ford, Minnesota Golden Gophers

Spann-Ford is arguably the most well-rounded tight end returning to college football.

The redshirt senior’s 82.5 run-blocking grade in 2022 ranked second among FBS tight ends, while his 82.1 receiving grade placed eighth. His 2.22 yards per route run also ranked fourth among all tight ends. No matter what the Golden Gophers asked of him, Spann-Ford delivered.

3. Ja’Tavion Sanders, Texas Longhorns

Sanders joined Texas with a ton of hype as a top-15 recruit in the 2021 class.

He began to live up to that billing in his sophomore season, catching 32 combined first downs and touchdowns in 2022, which trailed only Dalton Kincaid, Michael Mayer and Brock Bowers among FBS tight ends. His 613 receiving yards also trailed only Bowers among returning Power Five tight ends. He’s a freak athlete at 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds, and he is the early favorite to be TE2 in the 2024 draft behind Bowers.

4. Jaheim Bell, Florida State Seminoles

The first of three tight end transfers on this list, Bell was criminally underutilized by South Carolina in 2022. The junior saw only 28 targets this past season, ranking 91st at the position. He actually played some running back for the Gamecocks this past year, as his 257 rushing yards led all tight ends in the country.

Bell makes the top five of this list for what he did in 2021. As a sophomore, he led all tight ends with 3.67 yards per route run. His 354 yards after the catch trailed only Brock Bowers among Power Five tight ends. Even that year, his 41 targets still ranked 42nd at the position.

Florida State, his new home, should utilize his talents more than South Carolina did.

5. Bryson Nesbit, North Carolina Tar Heels

Nesbit was more of a downfield threat than most tight ends.

His 11.8-yard average depth of target ranked sixth highest among Power Five tight ends, and that helped him average the fifth-most yards per route run in the country (2.21). He was the only tight end in the top 15 of yards per route run with a double-digit average depth of target.

With both Josh Downs and Antoine Green off to the NFL, Nesbit could have a massive year as Heisman-candidate quarterback Drake Maye’s top returning target.

6. Benjamin Yurosek, Stanford Cardinal

Like Bell, Yurosek had a relatively disappointing season after breaking out in 2021. 

The junior’s 65.3 receiving grade this season was nearly 15 points lower than what he posted last year. He tallied more than 200 fewer receiving yards in 2022 despite receiving four more targets.

Still, his 1,099 receiving yards and 596 yards after the catch over the past two seasons trail only Brock Bowers among returning Power Five tight ends. He adds nothing as a run blocker, but Yurosek earns a spot on this list for his receiving production as of late.

7. Cade Stover, Ohio State Buckeyes

Unlike Yurosek, Stover has no such issues as a run blocker. He made five big-time blocks this past season (PFF’s highest-graded blocks), which was tied for fourth among Power Five tight ends.

Working against Stover as a receiver is the fact that he plays with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, the two best returning wide receivers in college football. He still impressed as a pass catcher, though, as his 110 receiving yards after contact ranked 11th among Power Five tight ends.

8. Jalin Conyers, Arizona State Sun Devils

Conyers was a monster after the catch this past season, forcing 21 missed tackles — which led all tight ends in the country — and ranking fourth among FBS tight ends in receiving yards after contact (170). New head coach Kenny Dillingham will have a lot of fun incorporating Conyers into his offense next season.

9. Caden Prieskorn, Ole Miss Rebels

Prieskorn was a John Mackey Award semifinalist this past season at Memphis. The redshirt junior tied for fourth among all tight ends in the country with 340 yards after the catch. Among those with at least 50 targets, his 133.7 passer rating when targeted trailed only Brock Bowers.

He’ll test his talents in the SEC next season with Ole Miss.

10. Seydou Traore, Colorado Buffaloes

Traore was a standout goalie in London before moving to the U.S. for his senior year of high school with dreams of playing football. 

As a sophomore at Arkansas State, his 89.6 receiving grade ranked fourth among all tight ends in the country, and his 340 yards after the catch tied for the fourth most. Reminder: This was only his third year of playing football.

Traore will play for Coach Prime, Deion Sanders, at Colorado next season.

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