The importance of the tight end position varies from team to team.
Some use that position mostly as an additional blocker. Some use the guy as an effective weapon in the passing attack. And some – actually several – utilize it as a position that can do both. It’s a position for a big, athletic guy to make a difference in a variety ways offensively.
And it’s become a prominent spot in the B1G.
While the conference doesn’t have a lot of teams that integrate the tight end into their passing offense, there are some teams that have found plenty of success doing so. And some big stars have emerged.
Before we count down the top five from the 21st century, here are some really good players that didn’t quite make the top five:
- Matt Spaeth, Minnesota (2003-2006)
- Tony Moeaki, Iowa (2005-2009)
- Owen Daniels, Wisconsin (2002-2005)
- Jesse James, Penn Sate (2012-2014)
- Maxx Williams, Minnesota (2013-2014)
- Ben Hartsock, Ohio State (2000-2003)
That’s a pretty good list, wouldn’t you say? So you should have fun reading about the guys we’ve anointed as a top five player over the past 17 years.
Here are the top five tight ends from the B1G that’ve had the best careers since 2000:
5. Garrett Graham, Wisconsin (2007-2009)
Career stats: 121 catches – 1,492 yards – 16 TDs
Graham was a reliable target in Wisconsin’s offense, catching at least 30 passes in each of his three seasons in Madison. His production improved every season and he finished his senior year with 51 receptions for 624 yards and seven touchdowns, helping the Badgers to a 10-3 record in 2009.
Aside from a three-score effort against Michigan State in his final season, Graham never really had a breakthrough outing. But he caught at least one pass in 35 games where he made an appearance.
And just as impressive, more than half of his career receptions resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. That’s a pretty good weapon for any quarterback.
4. Josiah Price, Michigan State (2012-2016)
Career stats: 104 catches – 1,238 yards – 21 TDs
Maybe he never had a great year, but Price might’ve been one of the best red zone threats the B1G has seen in several years.
Price finished his career with 21 touchdown receptions, the most for any tight end in Michigan State’s history. He scored six times in 2014 and 2015 before closing out his career with five touchdown catches as a senior.
After redshirting in 2012, Price appeared in 51 games for the Spartans and made 21 starts. In 2015 and 2016, Price was a third-team All-B1G selection and was also on the Mackey Award’s midseason watch list each of his final two seasons.
There wasn’t much flash to Price’s game, but he did become one of the most effective tight ends in the B1G. He caught passes in 22 of his final 26 contests as a Spartan.
3. Dallas Clark, Iowa (1999-2002)
Career stats: 81 catches – 1,281 yards – 8 TDs
When he was recruited to play for the Hawkeyes, Clark was actually penciled in as a linebacker.
Thankfully Kirk Ferentz and company realized how effective Clark could be at tight end before he got too far along in his Iowa career. I mean, the guy has the conference’s tight end award named after him.
Most of the attention Clark received came as a junior in 2002, when he caught 43 passes for 742 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged over 17 yards per catch during that season and an outstanding performance against Purdue, catching three passes for 116 yards and a pair of end zone trips:
Clark was named as a first-team B1G and All-American selection after the season, and was also honored as the recipient of the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Iowa finished the year 11-2 and 8-0 in the conference, sharing the B1G title with Ohio State.
The talented tight end elected to forego his senior season to prepare for the NFL. Had he stayed one more season, Clark easily would’ve been at the top of this list.
2. Dustin Keller, Purdue (2004-2007)
Career stats: 142 catches – 1,882 yards – 16 TDs
Often referred to as the most athletic tight end in the B1G during his time, Keller was an integral part of Purdue’s offense from 2004 through 2007.
Keller was more than a traditional bruising tight end, he also had receiver-like speed that made him to tough to bring down. And when he couldn’t outrun defenders, he often powered through several potential tackles:
His 142 receptions for 1,882 yards is an impressive feat, but more impressive was that Keller caught passes in 30-straight games between 2005 and 2007. He had a catch in every game of his junior and senior campaign.
Keller’s stellar career was capped by a sensational senior year, catching 68 passes for 881 yards and seven touchdowns. That year, he caught at least three passes in every game and averaged 13.0 yards per reception.
Though he never gained much recognition nationally, Keller did earn a spot on the Mackey Award semifinalist list and was a second-team All-B1G selection in 2007.
1. Jake Butt, Michigan (2013-2016)
Career stats: 138 catches – 1,646 yards – 11 TDs
One of the most talked-about tight ends in recent memory from the B1G, Butt made an immediate impact for Michigan and was a key contributor offensively each of his four seasons in Ann Arbor.
Butt was another athletic tight end, but was known more for his power than anything. He wasn’t afraid of contact, often lowering his shoulders and carrying defenders to pick up extra yardage. Time and time again, Butt seemed to make plays that tight ends usually don’t make:
The Wolverine had at least 200 receiving yards and two touchdowns every year in Ann Arbor. In his junior season, Butt had 51 receptions for 654 yards and three touchdowns, catching a pass in every game that year.
But most of the accolades came in 2016.
After catching 46 passes for 546 yards and four scores, Butt was honored as the Mackey Award winner and was named to the All-B1G an All-American teams. He also took home the conference’s Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year Award.
Butt leaves Michigan as the program’s leader for the most receptions (138) and yards (1,646) for a tight end. He started 37 games during his career and caught passes in 43 of the 49 contests he played in for the Wolverines.
During his four years, Michigan went 32-19, including a pair of 10-3 seasons in 2015 and 2016.
This century or not, Butt had one of the best four-year careers for a tight end in B1G history.