As the 2021 football season draws near, SI All-American continues to evaluate the nation's top prospects at every position for the college football recruiting class of 2022. The first wave of the evaluations are the 'Watch List' selections, also known as SI All-American candidates, to be released throughout the month of July.
It precedes the SI99 rankings, our preseason mark of America's top college football prospects regardless of position, to be released the first week of August.
Naturally, the quarterback watch list was up first, rolled out in several releases two weeks ago. Last week we moved to skill positions, beginning with a pair of cornerback releases ahead of the nickel defensive back watch list. To cap the week, the flip side is considered in a look at the nation's most impressive wide receiver projections. The top 10 wide receivers were released on Friday and slot receivers debuted Monday.
Edge rushers capped last week's releases, including the first batch released Thursday ahead of the top 10 reveal Friday. After a step back on offense at running back Tuesday, the interior defensive line took center stage Wednesday. Friday, we flipped back to the offensive side of the ball with our tackle rankings and broke down the interior prospects soon after.
The final positions are upon us and tight ends are atop the discussion today.
1. Jaleel Skinner
Vitals: 6'5", 210 pounds
School: Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy
Recruiting: Considering Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Texas
Built like a jumbo wide receiver moreso than a classic tight end, and he'll let you know about it as well. Skinner has enough speed, and certainly the stride given his elite length, to run by linebackers and even secondary players at times. A pass catcher with a basketball background, the South Carolina native is quite comfortable attacking the football at its highest point, even through traffic. Skinner is a willing blocker with skills in space, with the ability to punch and extend enough to create angles. As he adds mass and strength, each of which he has room for, he can project as more of a balanced player. Relatively polished in the route tree, Skinner will have plenty of attention at IMG Academy this fall.
2. Keyan Burnett
Vitals: 6'5", 215 pounds
School: Anaheim (Calif.) Servite
Recruiting: Committed to Arizona
Fresh off of his commitment to Arizona, Burnett fits the bill as a major passing threat one could see making a strong early impact. Towering with a lighter build, he works quite well against tight coverage, with the type of body control and hands to maximize the width and depth of the field. Burnett runs well for his size and can go up and get it, making his ability to carry more weight that much more intriguing. The Wildcats have a jumbo wide receiver type committed but Burnett has some physical capability to work as a blocker with more time and game reps.
3. Jake Johnson
Vitals: 6'5", 225 pounds
School: Watkinsville (Ga.) Oconee County
Committed To: LSU
Johnson is a long and thin tight end that is going to fill out nicely as he gets older. When that happens his game is really going to take off. Johnson is part wide receiver and part tight end right now, and his ability to do as much damage from an attached position as he does lined up out wide makes him a difficult matchup for defenses. Johnson gets off the line in a hurry and shows the speed to stretch the field, which he combines with quality route running ability. Johnson shows good body control and strong hands as a pass catcher and he’s more than willing to take a hit. The LSU pledge needs to add a lot of strength and improve his pad level but he’s a willing blocker and shows toughness on tape.
4. Donovan Green
Vitals: 6'4", 235 pounds
School: Dickinson (Texas) High School
Recruiting: Committed to Texas A&M
Built more like a modern, balanced tight end with good length and mature width, Green is among the nation's best at attacking the football. There is an effortlessness in his game, redirecting to track the ball or securing it away from his body, that widens the margin of error for the passer. The frame and bulk enables him to balance out his game as not only a blocker, but also after the catch as smaller defenders struggle to slow him down. Green has experience attached, split out and everywhere in between, too, so college schematics shouldn't overwhelm him early on at the next level.
5. Micah Riley-Ducker
Vitals: 6'6", 235 pounds
School: Bellevue (Neb.) West
Committed To: Auburn
Riley-Ducker is a massive tight end with a catch radius that can be matched by very few players at his position. While Riley-Ducker lacks some of the top-end speed that other tight ends in the class possess, he’s still a smooth athlete that has the potential to be a quality route runner. He has a lot of throwback to his game, with Riley-Ducker doing a lot of damage over the middle of the field and in the intermediate zones, where he uses his huge catch radius and strong hands to do damage. Riley-Ducker is capable of moving around the field and using his size to win matchups out wide, and he’s a strong player in the run game.
6. Oscar Delp
Vitals: 6'5", 225 pounds
School: Cumming (Ga.) West Forsyth
Recruiting: Considering Georgia, South Carolina and Michigan
Delp certainly has the size you look for in a tight end, standing every bit of 6-5 with a frame that will allow him to pack on plenty of weight and strength. He will need to improve his burst off the line, but Delp is an advanced route runner that can line up all over the field and do damage. The West Forsyth tight end knows how to manipulate defenders in order to get free, and he shows a nice downfield burst that allows him to explode out of vertical cuts. Delp catches the ball like a receiver and tracks the deep well. Delp lacks punch in the run game and his pad level is inconsistent. He’ll need to become more effective in the run game to take the next step and become a more complete tight end, but few are better in the passing game.
7. Kaden Helms
Vitals: 6'6", 220 pounds
School: Bellevue (Neb.) West
Committed To: Oklahoma
If you want to play tight end in the Oklahoma offense you need to be a legit pass game weapon, and ideally you need to be able to attack down the field. That makes Helms a great fit for the Sooners, and his willingness/ability to block only adds to his all-around game. Helms is a tall and athletic pass catcher that explodes off the ball and gets over the top of the defense in a hurry. He’s quick out of cuts and he can do damage from the slot or out wide, where his speed and ability to win one-on-one battles makes him a significant matchup problem. Helms will need to fill out his 220-pound frame, but in the Oklahoma offense he won’t need to add as much weight as he would in an offense that would ask him to play attached more frequently.
8. Holden Staes
Vitals: 6'4", 230 pounds
School: Atlanta (Ga.) Westminster
Committed To: Notre Dame
Staes is raw player that is still developing the technical parts of his game but his upside is quite high. He is a very long player with a thick build, and Staes shows good punch as a blocker. The Westminster standout has one of the higher ceilings in the class as a blocker as both an attached and from a wing/h-back position. Staes has an impressive catch radius and strong hands. He is a smooth athlete that shows the second gear to stretch the field, and Staes has outstanding downfield ball skills. Staes is outstanding catching the ball in traffic due to his strong hands, focus and size. As his route running improves his ability to dominate the pass game will take a big jump.
9. Amari Niblack
Vitals: 6'5", 225 pounds
School: St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood
Recruiting: Committed to Alabama
Stop me if you've heard this before, but this is yet another jumbo wide receiver disguised as a tight end on this list. Niblack works all over the Lakewood offense, as a lead blocker, as part of the bunch and split out by himself at times, with success. He is a long and lean athlete at this time, with good linear torque and plus ball skills to his name. While we're not ready for any Crimson Tide comparisons, the muscular build combines with the length to make for a complete tight end prospect in Tuscaloosa.
10. Ryan Otton
Vitals: 6'6", 230 pounds
School: Olympia (Wash.) Tumwater
Recruiting: Committed to Washington
The Washington legacy prospect, who recently committed to the program, bring a balance to the table. He’s big, strong and relatively versatile as a tight end prospect, with prowess as a blocker and pass-catcher on an ideal 6’6” frame. Whether needed to move the sticks, in the red zone or as an extension of the offensive line with low pad level and drive, he can assist a modern offense in many ways. His height leaves room for added strength and bulk to reinforce strengths so when the polish and route tree develops, he can fit just about any collegiate offensive style.
Best of the Rest
* Elijah Brown, another Alabama commitment, has some H-back traits in how versatile and athletic he projects. Comfortable in the phone booth or in space, he is an active and aggressive blocker with true finishing ability. Smooth as a route-runner and after the catch, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see him moving the chains on Saturdays.
* Jack Pedersen flashes on tape. The Californian has a classic tight end built and the traits fall in line thereafter as a big, linear target with soft hands. He works in line more than not and is strong off the ball, with a decisive approach at getting to his spots. Pederson can sell a play fake, and adjust to the ball well for his size. Good leverage and short-area bust enables the UCLA pledge1 to hold his own as a motivated blocker, too.
* Jerry Cross is a big body headed to Penn State and he's among the most productive at the position, with a reported 11 touchdowns in 2019. We didn't see much from him in 2020 but he has added weight to a muscular frame over the last year. More polish will result in an unstoppable rise for Cross.
* CJ Hawkins may have the least pass-catching experience on the list, with just three catches in 2020, but we have seen big flashes from the Florida commitment since. He was stellar in the 2021 offseason and capped it with flashes of contested catches and productive route-running at the final Florida camp, where is verbally committed.
* Ryan Miller offers balanced physical gifts along with one of the taller physiques in the class. The Indiana commitment flashed split ability and YAC skill to go along with a blocking intensity every offensive coordinator could appreciate.
* Sam Roush lost out on a big chunk of the season because of the pandemic, but the Stanford commitment fits the bill of what we've come to expect of the program. He works in line and out with success, displaying a technically-sound blocking game and explosion on a low plane.