When I saw the words “TE Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina,” I shook my head. What it should’ve said was “TE Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M.”

That’s no shot at Likely, nor is it a shot at the fine folks at ESPN. Chris Low does great work. The vast majority of his way-too-early 2021 All-American team yielded nods instead of head shakes.

But yeah, when I didn’t see Wydermyer’s name listed as the best tight end returning in 2021, it didn’t sit well. Having watched nearly every snap that Wydermyer played in 2020, I feel compelled to bang the drum for the junior-to-be.

To be fair, it’s not that Wydermyer is totally off the radar. The guy was one of 3 finalists for the Mackey Award, which was never not going to Kyle Pitts. Wydermyer was second-team All-SEC … behind Pitts.

Well, now Pitts is gone. For my money, Wydermyer should be on every preseason All-America team.

Why? I’m glad you asked.

There was a reason Wydermyer was considered 1 of the 3 best tight ends in America in 2020. And while fellow Mackey Award finalist Charlie Kolar is returning to a loaded Iowa State squad, I’d argue that Wydermyer was better all around.

Let’s get the basic stat comparison out of the way. You know, the receiving numbers.

Receiving yards
Receiving TDs
Receiving yards/game
Receiving TDs/game

I’d call that a wash.

Wydermyer only ranks No. 6 among returning tight ends in 2020 receiving yards, though he was within 100 total yards of No. 1 on that list (Nevada’s Cole Turner). I’d argue the degree of difficulty in which those yards were gained certainly should count for something, but it’s not just receiving yards that should determine a preseason All-American tight end.

Actually, hold on a second. Look at a couple of the catches that Wydermyer hauled in because this seemed to happen each week:

Wydermyer might not be the physical freak that Pitts was, but like the Florida tight end, he can high-point and catch passes in traffic. He didn’t get many cheap yards in 2020.

Still, though. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that Wydermyer was the No. 1 overall tight end in the 2019 class and not teammate Baylor Cupp, who suffered 2 season-ending injuries in fall camp. No worries. Wydermyer single-handedly took care of everything Jimbo Fisher demanded of the tight end in his system. That’s where this preseason All-American argument really favors Wydermyer.

If we’re not just looking at 1 receiving metric — a stat that really doesn’t have much separation at all on a per/game basis among the returning tight ends — then Wydermyer is easily the most complete player at the tight end position.

In 2020, here’s the list of returning tight ends who Pro Football Focus had grades of 70 or better as both a receiver and run blocker:

  • Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M
  • Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State
  • Sam LaPorta, Iowa
  • Nick Muse, South Carolina
  • Jerome Jackson, Liberty
  • Chris Cameron, Army
  • Kyle Patterson, Air Force
  • Treyton Welch, Wyoming

For what it’s worth, Wydermyer was the only guy among that group with both 250 receiving yards and multiple touchdowns in 2020. But again, it’s not just about receiving stats for tight ends, so we’ll move on.

Here’s the next question. How many of those 8 guys played at least 150 snaps as a receiver and 150 snaps as a run blocker? The list is narrowed to Wydermyer, LaPorta and Muse (I realize that Ruckert had a shortened season, but he only averaged 16 snaps per game as a receiver).

Now how many of those 3 guys played at least 300 (!) snaps as a receiver and 300 snaps as a run blocker? The list is Wydermyer. He had 311 total snaps as a receiver and 340 snaps as a run blocker. Why? He was that good at both. Including his 19 snaps as a pass blocker, Wydermyer played a total of 669 offensive snaps, which is just 13 snaps less than the 682 snaps that Kellen Mond played as A&M’s starting quarterback (he attempted all but 4 of the Aggies’ passes in 2020). That means Wydermyer averaged 67 offensive snaps per game and was exceptional for a 1-loss team that won a New Year’s 6 bowl.

That, my friends, is value.

Oh, before I forget to mention this for the “run blocking doesn’t really matter for modern tight ends” crowd, I should probably also note that while you remember Devon Achane’s go-ahead touchdown run in the Orange Bowl, check out No. 85 in white setting it all up with the key block:

Wydermyer played 173 more snaps than Kolar, and he played 158 more snaps than Likely. Even while fulfilling those responsibilities in the ground game (PFF had him graded in the top 1/5 among qualified tight ends as a run blocker), Wydermyer still led the team in catches, he was tied for first in receiving touchdowns and he was second in receiving yards. Kolar and Likely both played in offenses wherein a teammate had at least 20 more catches than they did.

Again, Kolar and Likely are extraordinary tight ends. They deserve plenty of preseason attention.

But if we’re talking about who is most worthy of being considered the best tight end in America to start the year, it’s Wydermyer.

It’s the guy who became an incredibly important piece for a top-4 team. Yeah, that was true before and after bowl season.

Over the course of the next 7-8 months, we’ll see a bunch of preseason All-America teams. My advice?

If you see anyone other than Wydermyer on the tight end line, just shake your head.