While Kelce might be the best pass-catching tight end in history — rivaling Rob Gronkowski — and seeking his third Super Bowl ring, Kittle is the NFL’s most complete tight end. There is nothing on a football field Kittle can’t do, and there’s nothing he won’t do. Indeed, the 49ers’ run game has been outstanding in the Kyle Shanahan era, in large part because of Kittle’s blocking skills.
Gronkowski, Kelce and Kittle have succeeded in revolutionizing the way the tight end position has been played over the past 10-plus years. All three players have totaled at least 450 receptions, 6,000 receiving yards and 37 touchdown catches throughout their celebrated careers, and all have thrived in an era where the tight end position is being targeted in the passing game more than ever before.
The two-time national champion is expected to be selected in the first round and follow in the footsteps of other elite tight ends, like Gronkowski, Kelce and Kittle.
In three years at Georgia, Bowers accounted for at least 56 catches and 717 receiving yards in each season. He is the only two-time winner of the John Mackey Award — given to the nation’s best tight end — since its inception in 2000.
“I mean, growing up, I loved watching Gronk,” Bowers said in a recent interview on “The Number One College Football Show.” “He was the man when I was growing up watching him play, and then I’d say I model my game after those two [Kelce and Kittle]. They’re the two best tight ends in the game, and I’m just excited to watch them play this weekend.”
Bowers enrolled at the University of Georgia in January 2021 after being raised in Napa, California. He’s the kind of prospect that likely wouldn’t have ended up playing ball at Georgia — let alone becoming the most accomplished tight end in program history — if not for his unique journey.
He played 7-on-7 for KT Prep and changed positions three times — option quarterback, wide receiver and finally, tight end. Throughout the process, he kept growing and putting on weight, so when the 6-foot-4, 220-pound specimen ran a laser-timed 4.5 40-yard dash, the offers began flowing in. First there was Nevada. Then there was everybody else.
“I think the main thing that boosted my recruitment was just one camp,” Bowers said. “It was the Nike Opening. I ran a good 40, jumped high vertical and just tested really well. And that’s kind of what set me off, and I think kind of drew attention to the film of me for the previous year.”
Like Stroud, Bowers launched his recruitment into the top tier of the sport in one of the premier regional high school camps in the country.
With parents that attended Utah State, and a number of outstanding West Coast programs nearby to where he grew up, Bowers might have ended up playing in the Pac-12 rather than the SEC if not for one life-altering event: COVID-19.
In 2020, when programs were shutting down all across the country in order to stop the spread of the deadly disease, when the Big Ten first decided to cancel its season before playing in empty stadiums, when most folks weren’t sure football would be played at all, Bowers wanted to play his senior year.
Unfortunately, Bowers was unable to play football during his final year of high school due to restrictions surrounding COVID-19. He dedicated his time to staying in shape by training in his hometown.
Bowers visited UGA in January 2020, just two months before the U.S. began to shelter in place during the pandemic.
Given his options after blowing up the camp circuit in 2019, as well as the relationship he built with tight end coach Todd Hartley, Bowers told his parents that he wanted to travel across the country for college.
“I mean, it had been a weird time during COVID,” Bowers told FOX Sports. “And kind of everything in California on the West Coast kind of shut down. I wanted to be at a place where I knew it wasn’t shut down. And that was kind of like the Southeast. It kind of doesn’t really shut down. I also wanted to play for the best and just win games. It seemed to work out.”
To say Bowers’ time in Athens “worked out” would be an understatement. The Bulldogs went 42-2 during his three seasons as Georgia, which included two SEC and national championships. The All-American tight end caught seven passes for 152 yards and a touchdown in a 65-7 whopping of Texas Christian in the College Football Playoff National Championship in January 2023. It was the most lopsided bowl game of all time, including national championships.
Bowers finished his three-year career at Georgia with more receptions and touchdowns than former Bulldogs wide receiver and two-time All-American AJ Green. He did that while in a tight end room that at one point featured Pittsburgh Steelers’ Darnell Washington and the highest-rated tight end ever in the recruiting rankings era, Arik Gilbert.
Now, with the NFL continuing to evolve its use of the tight end position and the value an enormous pass-catcher like Bowers can add, there will be no shortage of teams watching and evaluating him as he moves through the next two months of the draft process.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
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