There might not be a better time to be a tight end in the NFL. More and more teams are finding a way to incorporate diverse players into the offensive game plan, highlighted by what the Patriots have done with their dynamic duo. More and more teams are heading to a double threat at tight end, or trying to find one at any rate, trying to get more out of the position than check downs in the flat and blocking help.
Not that those things are not important. Ranking the tight ends for all 32 NFL teams will look slightly different than what you see on the fantasy football player rankings for the position. With the help of SB Nation's football bloggers, I folded in the entire list of considerations from just how effective a tight end is catching the ball to the contributions from blockers. Of course, the contributions as receivers weighs far more than blocking.
As usual, we open the floor to debate, discussion and angry tweets. Hit us up in the comments below with your thoughts on the tight end rankings.
1. New England Patriots
"Bro, you're like, totally the top tight end in the NFL!"
"So rad. Shirts off, high five, bro!"
I somehow doubt Rob Gronkowski gets "so stoked" about our tight end rankings, because he already knows, bro. Whatever your personal feelings on the Summer of Gronk, the pairing of the world's ultimate bro and Aaron Hernandez makes it easy to put the Patriots on top of this list. The addition of bit players like Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells seem excessive, but could prove important down the line.
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2. New Orleans Saints
Gronk better not get too chill, because Jimmy Graham is going to give him a run for his money as the NFL's top tight end. With Drew Brees locked up as the Saints quarterback, Graham will put up some very impressive numbers.
3. San Francisco 49ers
From Niners Nation:
The 49ers tight ends struggled to get much going for most of 2011, but Vernon Davis finished the regular season strong before blowing up in the postseason for 10 catches, 292 yards receiving and four touchdowns in two games. Davis expressed frustrating in learning the offense early on, but with a full offseason this year, Harbaugh's frequent use of tight ends at Stanford might show through further in San Francisco.
4. San Diego Chargers
From Bolts from the Blue:
The Chargers have everything at the Tight End position. Antonio Gatesis one of the best pass-catching TEs of all-time and isn't a bad blocker either. Randy McMichael has been brought back mostly because of his blocking skills. At 6'6", with soft hands and good speed, Ladarius Green will pair with Gates to make an offensive attack that looks awfully similar to what the Patriots run.
5. Dallas Cowboys
Jason Witten's production took a slight dip last year with a productive trio of receivers. It was the first time since 2008 his catch rate dipped below 70 percent, and his 79 catches were his fewest since 2006. With Laurent Robinson gone and Dez Bryant's off-field issues, Witten will be especially important, more so than he already is. John Phillips, second on the depth chart to Witten, is a player to keep an eye on as well.
More: Ranking the offensive lines
6. Denver Broncos
The last time Jacob Tamme played alongside Peyton Manning, in 2010 with Dallas Clark injured, he caught 67 passes for more than 600 yards. In Denver, Tamme will be paired with Joel Dreessen who had 10 touchdowns over the last two years in Houston.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
From Behind the Steel Curtain:
Steelers TE Heath Miller is one of the more underrated players of the game. The fact he hasn't been used exclusively as an in-line receiver, thus has been utilized as an actual tight end. He has great hands, is an outstanding blocker and will fill any role he's asked to fill at a high level. Expect to see his reception numbers increase this year with a new offensive scheme in Pittsburgh. Also, emerging stud TE Weslye Saunders will have an impact after the first quarter of the season (he is currently suspended for four games for a violation of the league's policy against banned substances).
8. Detroit Lions
Detroit has what might be the second-best duo of pass-catching tight ends behind New England with Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. Only Calvin Johnson had more receiving yards than Pettigrew, which is admittedly an odd way of wording that given, you know, Calvin Johnson.
9. Washington Redskins
From Hogs Haven:
This is one of the positions Redskins have quality depth in. Chris Cooley appeared to be fully healthy in mincamps running without a knee brace. Fred Davis has been playing at a Pro Bowl level with subpar QBs his entire career. Logan Paulsen and converted WR to TE Niles Paul also have proven abilities. The Redskins love using the middle of the field and that shows given their TE depth chart.
10. Philadelphia Eagles
Brent Celek had 811 yards and five touchdowns last season, totals that are more impressive when you consider he had to have hernia and hip surgery after the season. The Eagles are confident in Celek's return, and he could be in for a big year if he opens the season with no limitations. Clay Harbor does not catch the ball well enough to be more than a backup.
11. Green Bay Packers
Jermichael Finley tied a career high in receptions (55) and set a new highs for yards (767) and touchdowns (eight). Yet, he still had a disappointing season, thanks in large part to 12 dropped passes to lead all tight ends. Green Bay re-signed him to modest two-year, "prove it" deal. Considering his quarterback you have to expect better numbers.
12. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore ran a fair number of two-tight end sets last season with a pairing of Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. The later is the better of the two, giving the Ravens a little more athleticism from the position and possesses better hands.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
From Cincy Jungle:
Bengals have the best tight ends in the history of football? A bit much?
A little young on experience, but rich in prospect and talent with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Orson Charles, forecasting effective double-tight formations that grants a little variety in the passing and running game.
14. Atlanta Falcons
From The Falcoholic:
The Falcons have one great tight end and a series of question marks. Tony Gonzalez is an all-time great, of course, and even in the twilight of his career he's one of the most complete tight ends in the game. He'll remain a force in what may be his last season in the NFL. His backup is likely Michael Palmer. He's well-rounded but not particularly good at anything. A competent backup. Their third tight end is unsettled. The frontrunner may be Tommy Gallarda, a block-first guy who doesn't have great hands. He spent part of last season on the practice squad.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars
Marcedes Lewis is a much better tight end than the version Jaguars fans saw last year. His catch rate bottomed out at just 51 percent, and he did not see the end zone at all, a year after scoring 10 times. You can point to the obvious offensive struggles in Jacksonville as a part of the reason, but Lewis blames off-field distractions. Whatever the reason, Lewis will be essential if the team hopes to make a quarterback out of Blaine Gabbert.
Defensive rankings: Cornerbacks | Safeties | Linebackers | Defensive Lines
16. New York Jets
Dustin Keller led the Jets in receptions and receiving yards last season. You can attribute that to both Mark Sanchez and former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. His role could decrease a little with Tony Sparano calling the plays, but it is unlikely that Sanchez will forget about his top option. Keller's hands are not elite and his catch rate consistently hovers around 60 percent. The loss of Matthew Mulligan leave the Jets without a blocking specialist, something that could be a problem.
17. Kansas City Chiefs
From Arrowhead Pride:
The Chiefs tight ends are highlighted by a guy who didn't play last year. Tony Moeaki tore his ACL in the preseason and stopped the momentum coming off a solid rookie year. He's joined this year by Kevin Boss which, when you look at how much they'll run the ball (read: a lot), means you can expect more two tight-end sets.
18. Minnesota Vikings
I wanted to rank the Vikings higher because I am bullish on Kyle Rudolph's future. The Notre Dame product possesses Gronkowski potential, though I have no idea about his bro cred. The addition of John Carlson was a smart move too, assuming Carlson can get back to the form he showed during his first two years in the league. A shoulder injury kept him on the shelf last year.
19. Houston Texans
Joel Dreessen ended up a casualty in Houston's free agent exodus this year. They will miss him, especially those six touchdowns and his work as a blocker. Owen Daniels is all by his lonesome atop the depth chart now. Houston did not do much to answer its need for a second wide receiver, so Daniels could see even more targets this year because of that and his counterpart's departure. Backup Garrett Graham could be in for a bigger role. He has the bona fides coming from Wisconsin.
20. Buffalo Bills
From Buffalo Rumblings:
Buffalo uses so many receivers that the only tight end of relevance is Scott Chandler. He was relevant for a time in his first season as a full-time starter, catching six touchdown passes in the Bills' first seven games last season, but then he got banged up, missed three games and didn't score again the rest of the year. Chandler's height, length and soft hands make him a good short-area receiving threat, and he's a problem in the red zone, as well. But this is not a seam-busting tight end, nor an after-the-catch threat. He's a big and reliable target that still has some productivity upside, but he's a very average blocker and not a game-breaker
21. Miami Dolphins
From The Phinsider:
The Dolphins tight ends are hard to predict this year. Last year's starter, Anthony Fasano, is back and is a solid tight end. He blocks well, and he has shown he can catch, a good target in the passing game. But, he's never going to be a dominating, stretch-the-seam type. For that, the Dolphins drafted Michael Egnew, who should be able to fill the Jermichael Finley role for Miami. The wildcard in this is sophomore H-back Charles Clay, who has spent the preseason working with the tight ends. Clay has the ability to add another dynamic to the offense, and showed last year that he can make the tough catch over the middle. The Dolphins tight ends may not be sexy on paper, but they have the potential to develop into something special.
22. Carolina Panthers
I expected more from Greg Olsen last season with a rookie quarterback and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. This could be a much better year with Jeremy Shockey, who caught 37 passes on 59 targets, out of the picture and Cam Newton vowing to put more burden on his teammates in the red zone. Gary Barnidge could emerge as a pass catcher as well. Ben Harstock is their blocker.
23. Seattle Seahawks
Zach Miller had a rough start in Seattle last season, catching just 22 passes for 233 yards. It was a far cry from his production in Oakland where he combined for 126 catches, 1,490 yards and eight touchdowns in his two previous seasons. He is unlikely to see those kind of numbers this season thanks to the addition of Tampa castoff Kellen Winslow. He regularly caught 60 or more balls per year with the Bucs. Winslow has six knee surgeries on his resume.
24. Tennessee Titans
Jared Cook had a breakout year in 2011. He caught 49 passes for 759 yards and three touchdowns, with an impressive 15.5 yards per catch. This is the final year of his rookie contract, which makes you wonder if he could be in for even bigger numbers. Tennessee liked blocking specialist Craig Stevens enough to give him a four-year, $15 million contract extension.
25. Indianapolis Colts
After drafting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts added his former tight end, Coby Fleener, for him to work with. It could prove to be an underrated move by the new administration in Indy. Another rookie tight end, Clemson's Dwayne Allen, could end up seeing more snaps because of his blocking. Fleener has the hands and moves to catch 40-50 passes as a rookie, and grow from there. This is a team that could jump up the tight end rankings just a few games into the season.
26. New York Giants
The addition of free agent Martellus Bennett was a good move to shore up a position marked by injury concerns. Bennett is a good blocker that never realized his potential as a pass catcher playing behind Witten in Dallas. Despite the addition of Bennett, it hurt to lose Jake Ballard, especially to the Patriots. Ballard had knee issues, but he caught 43 passes (five of those in the postseason) and scored four times last year. He would have given the Giants a two-headed option at the position. Travis Beckum tore his ACL in the Super Bowl.
27. Cleveland Browns
It looked like Ben Watson might get Das Boot for a time this spring, but the Browns kept him. He now could be an integral part of the offense with Brandon Weeden at the helm. Concussion troubles last year do not bode well for the 31-year-old's future. Evan Moore jumped from 16 receptions to 34 between 2010 and 2011. He could be in line for bigger numbers after catching 72 percent of the passes thrown his way and scoring four times.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Not that Kellen Winslow could be considered a difference maker at this point in his career, but you would have assumed that the Bucs could have found a way to keep a decent pair of hands in the lineup. Replacing Winslow and his six knee surgeries is Dallas Clark. Injuries have hampered his last two seasons, limiting him to just about 700 yards over that time. He looks like more of a mentor than a contributor.
29. St. Louis Rams
The Rams' lack of receiving talent gets plenty of attention, but quarterback Sam Bradford could have benefited from some help at tight end too. Last year's second-round pick Lance Kendricks had a disappointing introduction to the pros, dropping passes at key moments. He does block well, but teams need second-round picks to do more than block. If Kendricks washes out, it will be trouble for Bradford. Michael Hoomanawanui has caught the ball well, but his knack for getting injured holds him back.
30. Oakland Raiders
From Silver and Black Pride:
Brandon Myers is the starter by default after team let Zach Miller and Kevin Boss go in consecutive seasons. David Ausberry is a former college wideout looked great in camp and will push to be the starter. Tory Humphrey was a free agent pickup with limited experience, mostly as blocker. Richard Gordon is blocking tight end who filled in at fullback last season. The team needs to pick up a free agent especially with two-tight end sets in new West Coast Offense; Visanthe Shiancoe comes to mind.
31. Chicago Bears
Mike Martz sent all of Chicago's tight ends off to live on Corsica during his disastrous time as the offensive coordinator. Kellen Davis, who had 18 receptions last year, gets the nod as the team's top tight end. But he does block okay. Matt Spaeth gives them another blocker.
32. Arizona Cardinals
The dry desert air did not do much for Todd Heap, who caught just 24 passes and struggled with a hamstring injury. At 32, his best days are behind him. Second-year player Rob Housler will be expected to do more in the passing game this season.