Hernandez, Gresham lead top TEs

NFL executives tend to blame the invasion of spread offenses in college football for the lack of quality tight ends available in recent drafts. Do they have an argument? Of course.

The increased popularity of the spread has directly coincided with the downward trend of tight ends selected in recent NFL drafts. Over the past few years, the total number of tight ends drafted has fallen from 19 in 2007 to 12 in 2009.

But while the spread offense has limited the NFL's selection pool, it by no means has rendered the position useless at the college level. Granted, most college tight ends today look like rocked-up wide receivers, but that's football evolution at its finest. With the majority of teams running some version of the spread offense, it only makes sense for tight ends to emphasize their speed and pass-catching skills while de-emphasizing their strength and blocking technique.

Don't expect the trend to shift in 2009. Several national-title contenders plan on featuring their tight ends prominently on offense. In fact, four of the top seven teams in the AP Top 25 are armed with difference-makers at the position.

Here's a look at how No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 USC and No. 7 Virginia Tech will incorporate their respective playmakers at tight end:

For a look at the tight ends from the teams listed above, as well as Scouts Inc.'s picks as the best overall and pass-catching tight ends, become an ESPN Insider.Insider