Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst lead top CFB TEs to watch in 2017

Editor's note: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein will reveal the top CFB players to watch in 2017 at each position over the next two weeks, continuing today with tight ends.

NFL scouts are always looking to the CFB ranks to find next-level talent. While we won't speculate about where these potential future NFL stars will go in the draft one day, it's not too soon to take a peek at their game tape and start to stack them as the top players to watch.

Most tight ends classes are going to pale in comparison to last season's uber-athletes at the position. While this list isn't filled with future NFL Scouting Combine superstars like last year's, I do see some combination tight ends who could become better blockers than many of the prospects from the 2017 draft.

Oklahoma's Mark Andrews keeps getting better and he's the clear top choice for me, but South Carolina's Hayden Hurts and South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert are two excellent athletes with tape that makes you take notice. Florida's DeAndre Goolsby has a chance to become the best pro on this entire list, but we need to see more production from him this year.

Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done in evaluating each player during and after this season. Of the TEs I've studied, here are the top 8 to watch.

8. Mike Gesicki, Penn State

Smooth in his release and can generate some vertical concern. Has the ability to sneak past linebackers with those open hips and long strides. Saw his drops go from 5 in 2015 to zero last season to go along with 48 catches. Gesicki has "every day" hands. If the throw is there, he's going to snare it. Gesicki shows an ability to make the necessary body corrections and adjustments when the ball is in the air. He's a very tough pass-catcher. He's not a great blocker but he does his part.

7. Ryan Izzo, Florida State

The first thing that stands out about Izzo is his toughness as a blocker. He's an excellent lead blocker in space and has the scrappy demeanor and size necessary to do battle at the point of attack. Has a feel and understanding for leverage in his routes and uses soft hands with natural attack of the ball away from his body when able. He's a little slow in and out of his breaks and has been penalized 14 times over the last two seasons.

6. C.J. Conrad, Kentucky

The greatest compliment paid to Conrad last season came from his coaches, who trusted him to single block Da'Shawn Hand and Jonathan Allen at times during Kentucky's matchup against Alabama (and he actually hung in on most reps). Conrad has good play speed to challenge linebackers on crossing routes. He has the hand-eye coordination to reach with outstretched hands and bring in some tough throws. He plays with an elevated sense of energy and abandon. Conrad has a highly competitive, infectious personality on the field.

5. DeAndre Goolsby, Florida

Very natural athlete with easy, smooth movement skills. Glides into routes with good speed and sinks into his cuts like a wide receiver. Goolsby has the necessary route skills and athletic ability to win against man coverage and he is more than capable of slipping tackles and adding yards after catch. He might lack the aggressiveness and size to be considered as an in-line blocker, but that's not what is going to get him drafted anyway.

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4. Dalton Schultz, Stanford

Schultz has never been charged with a dropped pass in his career, but then again, he has just 33 catches. What he lacks in splashy production he makes up for in gritty trench play as a blocker. Stanford's running game requires legitimate blocking effort from tight ends and Schultz is up to the task. He's also very sharp coming out of his breaks, snapping his head around to find the ball quickly. He lacks production and needs to prove he can attack the second and third levels.

3. Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State

Goedert has paws like a bear, and those paws allow him to make one-handed highlight-reel catches. Goedert can work all three levels and he has a history of lining up all over the field. He utilizes strong hands to secure the challenging catch as well as snatch and secure his block at the point of attack. Goedert's size and ability as a blocker should fit with teams looking for a quality combination player who is able to help the offense as a pass-catcher or run blocker. He could use better sink into his breaks and will need to keep adding strength to his frame to prepare for the eventual step up in competition.

2. Hayden Hurst, South Carolina

Hurst went from high school to minor league baseball after being selected in the 17th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. After three years, Hurst decided baseball wasn't for him and decided to become a 22-year-old walk-on for the South Carolina football team. Now, he plays every snap like a man who has had a second shot at a sports career. Hurst is a very good athlete who has the heart to play over the deep middle even with safeties waiting to strike. He's a reliable target and will go out of his way to punish tacklers rather than run out of bounds.

1. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

Andrews is very crafty at adjusting his routes and has learned how to catch defenders on his hip and keep them there during the catch. Andrews is a former receiver with the ability to challenge all three levels, and he has enough size to be a mismatch for defensive backs. He plays with desired acceleration out of his breaks to create separation. He has the athletic ability and footwork for slick runs after the catch. Look for Andrews to become Baker Mayfield's safety blanket and add more touchdowns to his already impressive 14 TDs in 50 career catches. What would really make scouts happy is to see Andrews chew a little more glass as a run blocker.