In the next installment of our “Big Ten Breakdown” series, we will examine the five best players in the conference at each position. The series continues with a look at the top tight ends in the Big Ten.
The tight end position isn’t one of the deeper groups in the Big Ten. Six tight ends were named to the Mackey Award watch list, but the position is pretty barren entering the 2016 campaign.
Here’s a look at the five best tight ends in the conference entering the 2016 season:
5. Troy Fumagalli, junior, Wisconsin
Fumagalli is the only tight end on this list not to be named to the Mackey Award watch list, but he was deserving. Fumagalli caught 28 passes for 313 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt sophomore with the Badgers. He finished fourth on the team in receptions and third in receiving yardage.
The Badgers will be without leading receiver Alex Erickson this season and those 77 receptions will have to be spread around somehow. Fumagalli could be a candidate for a statistical boost as the Badgers’ offense attempts to retool without Erickson and quarterback Joel Stave.
4. Cethan Carter, senior, Nebraska
Carter sort of gets forgotten because of all the firepower returning for Nebraska at wide receiver. Carter shouldn’t be ignored after reeling in 24 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns during his junior season. Carter caught 10 of those passes during Nebraska’s final three games.
Nebraska’s passing game will be explosive and Carter will serve as a reliable safety valve for quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly will likely get most of the attention, but defenses would be wise to keep an eye on Carter too.
3. Josiah Price, senior, Michigan State
Price could be an important piece of Michigan State’s retooling offense. Leading receivers Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr., are gone and Price is the second-leading receiver returning to the Spartans offense.
Price caught 23 passes for 267 yards and was second on the team with six touchdown receptions. The fifth-year senior was named third-team All-Big Ten last season and should challenge for a similar honor this season.
2. Brandon Lingen, junior, Minnesota
Lingen is one of two tight ends to catch at least 30 passes last season. He might’ve been snubbed of an All-Big Ten spot after catching 33 passes for 428 yards and three touchdowns for the Golden Gophers last season.
Minnesota is without leading receiver K.J. Maye and his 73 receptions, which means Lingen’s production could see a significant spike this season. Lingen should be in play for a spot on one of the All-Big Ten teams this season and will likely be a beneficiary of more targets from quarterback Mitch Leidner.
1. Jake Butt, senior, Michigan
There’s every other tight end on this list, then there’s Jake Butt standing alone. Butt is by far the best tight end in this conference and putting him at No. 1 on this list was arguably the easiest decision of this series.
Butt is a dynamic playmaker, which some of these other tight ends haven’t proven. He finished 15th in the Big Ten with 51 receptions for 654 yards and three touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Big Ten and it probably wasn’t a difficult decision.
Butt should see more targets next season as Michigan’s wide receiver depth still isn’t spectacular outside of leading pass catchers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh. If the Wolverines can find a proficient quarterback, Butt could be in the running for the Mackey Award.
George Kittle, senior, Iowa
Mike Gesicki, junior, Penn State