• 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.
• Texas’ Ja’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.
The 2022 college football season has come and gone, and so has the deadline to enter the 2023 NFL Draft. 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.
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.
Brock Bowers has a very good chance at surpassing Kyle Pitts as a prospect.
Was the best tight end in the country as a true freshman and looks the same as a sophomore.
In a generational TE room at Georgia, he’s clearly the generational talent.pic.twitter.com/Fq1pnLIDrw
— Max Chadwick (@Chad_Maxwick) September 18, 2022
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.
Brevyn Spann-Ford is 270 pounds and doing this ???? pic.twitter.com/WY3Rm2RJVj
— Joe Broback (@joebroback) October 23, 2022
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.
Meet my #1 ranked tight end in the BIG 12 for 2023 and top 5 nationally, Ja’Tavion Sanders of the Texas Longhorns.
54 receptions | 613 receiving yards | 5 receiving touchdowns | Averaged 11.4 YPC.@Jatavionsanders pic.twitter.com/qhsJzX4o69
— CFBLIVE247 (@CFBLive247_) January 24, 2023
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.
Jaheim Bell WILL NOT BE DENIED! ????@GamecockFB pic.twitter.com/5Edscb76x4
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 16, 2021
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.
Drake Maye throws a DART to Nesbit and this game is TIED ????????@UNCFootball pic.twitter.com/GzvzExQgJ9
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 29, 2022
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.
???? @StanfordFball takes one back!
Yurosek takes it 49 yards to the ???? pic.twitter.com/4qNxh5pN8f
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 28, 2021
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.
Cade Stover would not be denied ????
(via @CFBONFOX) pic.twitter.com/jb7B2Y10tH
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 29, 2022
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.
Not giving in.@ASUFootball's Jalin Conyers gets the Sun Devils on the board.
????: Pac-12 Network
????: https://t.co/vWglww6POD #ForksUp | #Pac12FB pic.twitter.com/15Krz25Msp
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) November 12, 2022
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.
Seth Henigan found a way to connect with Caden Prieskorn to add another TD for the Tigers????#AmericanFB x @MemphisFB pic.twitter.com/Zw5D9OpnJW
— American Football (@American_FB) October 8, 2022
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.
He did WHAT ????
Seydou Traore with a CATCH OF THE YEAR candidate ????????pic.twitter.com/B3MAalHCMm
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) September 10, 2022