As we barrel towards the start of the 2022 college football season, let’s take a look at who the top players are in the Big Ten. These lists won’t be biased towards the Badgers in any way although we all know that every player on Wisconsin is better than every player on any other team.
No. 5: Brenton Strange, Penn State, Junior
I’ll be honest with you folks...after the top-four players on this list there were a large number of candidates for the fifth spot. All of them were either young and unproven but with potential or older and kinda proven trying to meet their potential. I think Wisconsin’s Clay Cundiff could find his way onto this top-five by the end of the season, but he has to stay healthy and Graham Mertz needs to improve and...well, we’re not here to talk about that.
Strange is one of the latter players. He was named Big Ten Honorable Mention by the media last year but hasn’t quite lived up to his 4-star billing coming out of high school. To be fair to him, he was behind current Pittsburgh Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth for a couple of seasons, and PSU always has a talented receiver or two on the outside as well.
Last season, Strange was fourth on the team in receiving, hauling in 20 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns. He is also a good run blocker, which will always get you points in my book.
No. 4: Brevyn Spann-Ford, Minnesota, Junior
The absolutely enormous Spann-Ford (6-foot-7, 270 pounds) is a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators. Wisconsin fans may remember him from last season’s Axe game when he caught three passes for 62 yards, including a back-breaking 30-yard reception at the beginning of the fourth quarter that pushed the Gophers into Badgers territory, eventually setting up a field goal to cement their win.
Last season, Spann-Ford caught 23 balls for 296 yards and a touchdown. While all of Minnesota’s top-five pass catchers return from last season, new/old offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca should infuse the passing attack with more potency. The massive junior is a good run blocker and is also shifty after the catch, averaging 7.1 YAC, which was third best in the conference for tight ends.
No. 3: Erick All, Michigan, Junior
The Wolverines have the best group of tight ends in the conference, as All and Luke Schoonmaker would both start at most other schools in the Big Ten. All is the better of the two and is really good at just about every aspect of being a tight end. He caught 38 passes last year, which was second on the team, for 437 yards and two touchdowns.
Outside of PSU’s Strange, All was rated as the best run blocker in the conference at the position by Pro Football Focus. The only reason that All isn’t rated higher is due to all of the returning production Michigan has at wide receiver.
They return eight of their nine top receiving options from last year and will also get No. 1 WR Ronnie Bell back, who suffered an ACL injury in their first game last season. All should still be one of the best tight end’s in the conference but his numbers could suffer due to the talent around him.
No. 2: Sam LaPorta, Iowa, Senior
A player that won’t have to worry about a bunch of offensive talent taking away stats from them is Iowa’s LaPorta. The star tight end for the Hawkeyes snatched 53 passes for 670 yards last year and found the end zone three times. All of those numbers were best on the team and the catches and yards were the best of any tight end in the Big Ten.
Iowa actually has a couple of interesting pieces at wide receiver, but the Quarterback Situation is, well, it’s not great. Spencer Petras stinks. Alex Padilla isn’t any better.
Add in the fact that they lost their best offensive lineman from an offensive line that wasn’t very good as well as their top running back from a running game that wasn’t very good and you have a recipe for another dreadful offensive season in Iowa City.
LaPorta is, by far, the best player on offense, so he will fill up the stat sheet...but it’ll be a real slog. He should continue Iowa’s successful run of players at the position who move on to the NFL, but sometimes I like to imagine him playing in an offense that is run by a competent person and not Brian Ferentz.
No. 1: Payne Durham, Purdue, Senior
While most publications that I’ve read have LaPorta as their preseason first team tight end in the Big Ten, I am partial to Purdue’s Durham. His combination of size, blocking ability, pass catching and overall offensive scheme of the Boilermakers makes him the best in the conference.
Last year, Durham caught 45 passes for 467 yards and six touchdowns. With the recent dismissal of WR Milton Wright, Durham is the leading returning receiver for Purdue’s pass-happy offense and should see his numbers improve with QB Aidan O’Connell under center for his third season.
If Purdue is able to develop some of their new options at wide receiver, a likely outcome, then defenses won’t be able to key in on Durham and he should find open space in the middle of the field.