College Football Recruiting TE Rankings 2015: Top 10 After the Opening
No position in football has evolved as quickly and fully as tight end. It demands versatility from players, requiring both downfield receiving and strong blocking abilities.
College programs pursue prospects who can exploit the seam on one play and then spring a big run by laying out a linebacker on the next. The 2015 class has athletes who can do both, though it's difficult to find a complete tight end at the high school level.
Many are wide receivers with tremendous size who will transition during the next phase of their career. Others are punishing blockers who haven't tapped into their potential as pass targets.
Multiple playmakers flashed impressive skill sets at The Opening, an annual July football showcase held in Beaverton, Oregon. Bleacher Report was on hand for the event while gaining familiarity with other recruits through game film.
Here's our breakdown of the top 10 tight ends in this recruiting cycle.
This article is part of Bleacher Report's CFB 200 Recruiting Rankings Series. The overall rankings are based on the 247Sports composite system, which takes into account every recruiting service's rankings. The positional rankings also correspond with those composite scores. Stay tuned over the next two weeks as we take an in-depth look at college football's stars of tomorrow.
10. C.J. Conrad, Keystone High School (LaGrange, Ohio)
Committed to: Kentucky
C.J. Conrad enjoyed an extremely solid run in Beaverton, raising his level of play while working against America's top defenders. The performance proved he belongs in the upper echelon of prospects at the position and should pique the interest of more college programs moving ahead.
Conrad, a 6'5", 225-pound target, caught 59 passes for 924 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. He validated those gaudy statistics at The Opening, making difficult receptions look routine with elite athleticism and underrated agility.
"I wanted to come out here and match up against some of the best in the country to see what I could do against them," Conrad said in Oregon. "It was a challenge, but I feel like I was able to come up with big plays and improve from the experience. I want to become a complete tight end."
His biggest strides will come in the weight room, where physical development is paramount for his potential in the SEC. Despite a somewhat slender frame, Conrad commands respect as a blocker in high school.
He isn't explosive yet in that regard but exerts outstanding effort and holds his own against more powerful opponents. At this stage, Conrad is significantly more advanced as a receiver.
Conrad catches the ball away from his body and can jump up for high targets. He's an absolute beast in the end zone, boxing out defenders and climbing the ladder to corral jump balls.
Improvement is necessary in route running, where sharper cuts can create more room. Still, evidence strongly suggests Conrad will be ready to contribute as an underclassman in college.
9. Garrett Williams, First Academy (Orlando, Florida)
Committed to: Clemson
Garrett Williams opted to join the Tigers rather than follow in his father's footsteps to Florida State, where Dayne Williams played fullback for the Seminoles in the 1990s. The versatile 6'4", 220-pound prospect also has potential to spend time in the offensive backfield.
He projects favorably as an H-back who can lead-block, pass-protect and catch the ball as a safety valve for the quarterback. This doesn't close the door on him taking snaps as an in-line tight end but actually creates more opportunities for him to contribute in Clemson's explosive offensive scheme.
Williams, a tough and feisty competitor, can be a jack-of-all trades in an attack filled with field-stretching weapons. His greatest impact will be felt within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, while teammates do damage further downfield.
He can create after the catch, quickly gaining speed and capitalizing on lanes with good vision. Though Williams isn't a frequent target at First Academy, his receiving skills are at least adequate.
His blocking prowess stands out on tape, as he often drives defenders backward before disengaging to attack another opponent at the second level. Those efforts can turn five-yard gains into game-changing plays for a running back and are a big reason why Williams looks like a player who can compete for early playing time in college.
Williams is a selfless contributor who appears content to protect his quarterback and pave the way for rushers. An occasional reception and perhaps even a handoff will add nice wrinkles to the Tigers arsenal.
8. Jamario Bell, Junction City High School (Junction City, Arkansas)
Committed to: Arkansas
Jamario Bell remains extremely raw as an offensive recruit, but there's plenty to like about his potential at 6'6", 225 pounds. Also an attractive prospect at defensive end, he possesses a blend of measurables and athleticism that college coaches covet.
Bell received heavy interest in SEC territory before announcing his intentions to stay home last summer. He caught 15 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, though he made more of an impact on defense with 81 tackles and five sacks.
His straight-line speed is special for an athlete this large, forcing linebackers to account for both size and burst when he attacks downfield. Clocked at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, per 247Sports, Bell accelerates off the line and builds momentum that gets him moving forward like a freight train.
Though he doesn't look experienced as a route-runner and lacks natural pass-catching skills, there's a lot to work with as Arkansas' staff refines his game. Bell isn't likely to become a top offensive target but could evolve into a valuable asset near the goal line, where his height will draw defenders and give quarterbacks a target easy to locate through traffic.
Development as a receiver may last well into his collegiate career, but there's immediate potential for Bell as a blocker. He's already accustomed to battling in the trenches and won't hesitate to get after it.
He dishes out devastating hits and imposes his will on opponents until the whistle blows. Bell features an impressive reach and can contribute as a pass-protector or lead blocker along the edge.
Consider him a long-term project with high upside who can make a difference on the field as he develops.
7. Jackson Harris, Columbia Central High School (Columbia, Tennessee)
Committed to: Georgia
Jackson Harris is more of a traditional tight end than many of the prospects on this list. In an era when more players at the position are taking on a hybrid role, teams still need players like him in the rotation to provide balance and bully opponents up front.
The 6'6", 250-pound athlete is a punishing blocker, perhaps the most polished in that department among the top tight end recruits in 2015. Harris aims to finish off defenders on every play, maintaining appropriate pad level while driving through opponents.
He won't be a road-grader in college but will provide a valuable asset in jumbo and goal-line packages. Harris is a pure in-line tight end who can create openings for the running back along the outside edge.
His receiving style may not be in the mold of Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham, but he's a capable pass-catcher who can contribute on underneath and sideline routes. The Bulldogs can catch teams by surprise by releasing him in short-yardage situations and hitting him over the top against defenses stacking the line.
Harris caught 16 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, per Maurice Patton of The Tennessean.
Look for him to bulk up into the 265-pound range during his collegiate career and present the skill set to contribute as a situational blocker as an underclassman. Harris provides another key player at a stacked position in Athens.
6. Will Gragg, Dumas High School (Dumas, Arkansas)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Ole Miss (48 percent); Arkansas (43 percent)
Will Gragg opened eyes in Oregon, displaying big-play capabilities that weren't frequently featured in a run-heavy high school offense. He managed to lead the team with 321 yards on 31 receptions last season, hauling in five touchdown passes, per Hootens.com.
Given his explosiveness and soft hands, Gragg can greatly improve upon those yards-per-catch statistics in college. He doesn't display much wiggle in the open field but adjusts well on the fly and looks comfortable when split out wide.
Gragg, the younger brother of former Arkansas tight end and 2013 Buffalo Bills draft pick Chris Gragg, isn't the dynamic threat who can challenge strong defenses deep. Still, his physicality and short-area quickness keep opponents off guard and open things up for him on intermediate routes.
He routinely finds space underneath and can shake off tacklers for extra yards. The 6'4", 245-pound prospect appears college-ready from a physical standpoint and does a great job of catching the ball in stride.
"I want to be a balanced tight end who can make big plays at different parts of the field," Gragg said at The Opening. "I've been working on my game to get ready for what's coming. I think there's been a lot of improvement."
That balance will be achieved when he spends more time lined up inside as a blocker. Though his technique is relatively raw, Gragg has the ability to bludgeon defenders in the rushing attack.
He's the kind of athlete who understands where improvements must be made in order to excel. A high ceiling is in place for a player who is ready to blossom as a pass target in years to come.
5. Jordan Davis, Clear Lake High School (Houston, Texas)
Committed to: Texas A&M
At this stage of his progression, Jordan Davis should be classified as a wide receiver with serious potential at tight end. This isn't a rarity when it comes to recruiting, as many top performers at the position in college often undergo that transition after high school.
Davis, a 6'4.5", 255-pound pass-catcher, hasn't been regularly asked to block inside but already displays raw strength and is equipped with the size to excel in that department. He typically handles blocking duties against smaller defensive backs, who present far less resistance than an SEC linebacker.
Despite the necessary development that lies ahead, Davis could quickly make an impact in the Aggies offense as a pass-catcher. He is a challenging matchup for opponents while roaming downfield, displaying outstanding burst and a high comfort level when the ball is fired in his direction.
"I can bring a different kind of weapon to the offense," Davis said at The Opening. "Teams have trouble figuring out how to defend me because of my size and speed."
That's bad news for Texas A&M's rivals, who already deal with top-tier talent along the offensive perimeter and behind center.
He impressed at The Opening, weaving through defenses with intense focus and agility during seven-on-seven showdowns. Davis became even more dangerous near the goal line, presenting a big target with the footwork to find space and set up shop as a target.
He established career highs across the board as a junior, catching 39 passes for 558 yards and five touchdowns. Davis appears to have polished his route running since last season and should easily surpass those totals as a senior.
He gains a lot of explosiveness from a powerful lower body, allowing him to break through tackles and pick up yards after contact. Davis is a dangerous intermediate playmaker who will gradually adapt to his new role while serving as a receiver in situational settings.
4. Devonaire Clarington, Booker T. Washington High School (Miami, Florida)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Miami (100 percent)
Devonaire Clarington transferred to perennial Miami powerhouse Booker T. Washington for his senior season and should benefit from playing with an impressive supporting cast. He caught 46 passes for 890 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior at Champagnat Catholic High School.
Clarington frequently lines up at wide receiver and would project as a college prospect at the position if not for his formidable frame. Standing at 6'5.5", 222 pounds, he is packed with potential at tight end, though there will be a transitional period that challenges his versatility.
A lot of the success Clarington currently enjoys isn't realistic in college. Elite length allows him to dominate overwhelmed defensive backs downfield, but he doesn't yet excel in several areas in which collegiate tight ends are required to be effective.
Clarington is often sent deep and must develop a better feel for getting open on underneath routes. These require precise footwork and rapid changes in direction—aspects of his game that haven't been tested consistently in high school.
He can feast on jump balls right now, but those opportunities are much rarer when you make the leap to collegiate competition.
We've also yet to see him contribute as a blocker on a regular basis. Though Clarington is routinely utilized out wide, he has to be able to play tight to the line in college at times.
That can't happen until he adds significant bulk and develops the fundamental basics to work against defensive ends and linebackers. There is no doubt that Clarington is capable of making these advancements, but there's also a definitive timetable for his development.
His earliest collegiate appearances could come in the red zone, where he could force the defense to clear out space if lined up out wide. Clarington can command coverage and dare teams to handle him one-on-one in short space.
3. Hale Hentges, Helias High School (Jefferson City, Missouri)
Committed to: Alabama
Hale Hentges brings a lot to the table at tight end, including top-tier athleticism and tenacity as a blocker. He offers flexibility to any offensive game plan and is dependable as an every-down player who can line up along the line or out wide.
This scheme versatility is quickly apparent on tape, as the 6'5", 230-pound playmaker spends his snaps attacking different levels of the defense. Hentges shines in downfield and intermediate routes alike, presenting serious matchup issues at the high school level.
Collegiate linebackers should be able to keep up with him, especially in the SEC, but his size will always give opponents fits. Hentges augments this advantage with tremendous leaping ability, which puts him in position to pull down highlight-reel receptions without sacrificing body control.
He developed as a pass-catcher during his sophomore season, securing 43 receptions for 500 yards and seven scores. Hentges enjoyed a spike in production last fall, catching 61 passes for 940 yards and 15 touchdowns.
His most impressive efforts occur while fighting for contested balls, as he shields defenders and adjusts in midair. Hentges should be able to maintain these abilities while adding weight to his frame in college.
This is a necessary development because, while he already shows effective blocking tendencies, Hentges isn't yet equipped with the physical build necessary to overpower opponents early in a rushing play.
He already flashes proper technique, getting underneath a defender's chest plate with quick hands, and collegiate weight room experience will further fuel those efforts. His opportunity for an expanded role may not come until he's an upperclassman in Tuscaloosa, but expect Hentges to earn time in the spotlight as a dynamic tight end.
2. Chris Clark, Avon Old Farms (Avon, Connecticut)
Committed to: Michigan
No tight end on this list is further along in his development as a complete prospect than Chris Clark. The 6'6", 247-pound prospect presents much more than just a big target, exhibiting elite traits as a receiver and blocker.
Even top players at the position often lack that desired balance, being much further advanced in one department. Clark can constantly clear paths in the run game and racks up receptions in bunches, making him a legitimate candidate to compete for an expansive role with the Wolverines next season.
After a brief commitment to North Carolina, he committed to Michigan over Ohio State in June.
"I think the Michigan (visit) went a little bit better than Ohio State to be honest, just because I felt a little more comfortable with the players at Michigan," Clark said at a Nike camp in New Jersey this spring. "I also like how Michigan uses its tight ends."
He dominated at that camp, quickly emerging as a go-to target for various quarterbacks in seven-on-seven action. Clark flashed the blend of receiving skills that sets him apart, outmaneuvering linebackers with tight route running, extending over defensive backs and catching everything thrown his way with massive mitts.
That effort earned him an invitation to The Opening, but he did not attend the event.
Clark, who caught 39 passes for 417 yards and six touchdowns in 2013, is always in attack mode downfield. He fights his way off the line, challenges linebackers to keep up with him and locates space in the secondary where a major size advantage provides an edge.
Quarterbacks can hit him up top with passes to the back of the end zone or find him flying down the seam with impressive speed for an athlete of his stature. He's a natural pass-catcher who plucks the ball out of the air and fights for it in traffic.
Clark can also snare over-the-shoulder receptions that would challenge the coordination of other large tight ends.
He looks equally aggressive when assigned blocking duties, firing off the snap and smothering defenders with a long reach. He drives opponents downfield and does an excellent job of turning their shoulders at the point of attack.
He'll need to approach that facet of his game with lower pad level at the next level, but college coaches love that Clark is a willing blocker. It makes him a well-rounded threat who is capable of contributing on every down.
1. Aliz'e Jones, Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Committed to: UCLA
Aliz'e Jones emerged as a key weapon for pre-eminent Nevada powerhouse Bishop Gorman during the past two seasons, helping the team claim consecutive state championships (that's now five straight for the Gaels). He enters his senior season recognized as the consensus top tight end in America.
Jones gradually developed during his sophomore season, capping it off with two touchdown receptions in the state title game. He set career highs in 2013, catching 35 passes for 571 yards and 10 scores.
The 6'4", 222-pound playmaker smoothly pulls off playing two positions in high school, lining up at wide receiver and tight end depending on the offensive package. Jones certainly fits the "hybrid" mold we've seen grow in the game during the past decade.
He isn't a pass-catcher primed to burn defensive backs vertically on a regular basis, but sharp route running and impressive burst set the stage for him to routinely exploit the seam 10-15 yards downfield. Jones is physical, fights for positioning and understands how to attack space in the defense.
His most impressive plays often occur on crossing patterns, which he often punctuates with sizable gains after the reception. If the quarterback finds him in stride, it makes life difficult for the trailing defender.
Jones is a go-to target in the red zone, where his leaping ability and coordination shine. He is often targeted on fade routes, enabling him to go up and grab the ball at its highest point.
His ability to tip-toe along the sidelines on several receptions highlights strong awareness of where he is on the field. You get the sense he really started to understand the complexities of how to slice and dice defensive secondaries during his junior season.
Though Jones' technique occasionally wears down when he allows the football to come into his chest plate, he typically attacks the ball. His biggest challenge in college will be dealing with more contested releases during the early stages of routes.
Unfortunately, Jones suffered a head injury early at The Opening and wasn't able to compete afterward. Most expected him to excel in seven-on-seven action.
Jones isn't relegated to blocking duties much at Bishop Gorman, so that part of his game predominantly remains a mystery. Developing those skills to contribute in the run game will be key to earning early playing time as a Bruin.
Expect Jones to provide a crucial resource for top-ranked 2015 quarterback Josh Rosen early and often at UCLA.
All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.