August 21, 2012

Best Tight Ends in the NFL Entering 2012: The Top 15

#87 Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots


The 2012 Preseason is on going, meaning the regular season is fast approaching. I've decided to rank the top 15 tight ends entering the 2012 NFL based on a combination of factors such as production, talent, and overall skill set. In today's NFL, faster, more versatile pass catching tight ends are becoming a trend, but a few "old school" tight ends are still in the top 10.

Top 15 Entering the 2012 Season: Quarterbacks / Running Backs / Wide Receivers / Tight Ends / Defensive Ends / Defensive Tackles / Outside Linebackers



1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 265 lbs.
Age: 23 | Experience: 3 Years


2011 Season Stats:
90 Receptions, 1,327 Receiving Yards (14.7 YPC), 17 TD; 69 First Downs

Career Stats:
132 Receptions, 1,873 Receiving Yards (14.2 YPC), 27 TD; 99 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
21 Receptions, 323 Receiving Yards (15.4 YPC), 3 TD

Super Bowl Stats:
2 Receptions, 26 Receiving Yards (13.0 YPC)

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time All-Pro Selection
1-Time AFC Champion
Most TD by a TE in A Season (2011)
Most Receiving Yards by a TE (2011)










Analysis: Rob Gronkowski has emerged as the best tight end in the NFL. He has great size for a tight end, and is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses to defend.

After a very solid rookie season in which Gronkowski caught 42 passes for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns, he responded with the best season for a tight end in NFL history.

He is the best all-around tight end in football. He is a very good route runner, an excellent receiver and red zone threat, and a very solid blocking tight end.





2. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Height: 6-7 | Weight: 265 lbs.
Age: 25 | Experience: 3 Years


2011 Season Stats:
99 Receptions, 1,310 Receiving Yards (13.2 YPC), 11 TD; 74 First Downs

Career Stats:
130 Receptions, 1,666 Receiving Yards (12.8 YPC), 16 TD; 95 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
12 Receptions, 158 Receiving Yards (13.2 YPC), 3 TD

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time All-Pro Selection













Analysis: Jimmy Graham is another young tight end with a ton of talent. Many people, including myself, believe Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the league, but there can definitely be a case made for Graham.

Graham has become one of the best pass catching tight ends in the game. After a solid rookie season, Graham caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011.

His elite athleticism, solid route running, and run after catch ability make him a special breed, and could easily be number one on this list, especially once he improves as a blocker.





3. Vernon Davis, San Fransisco 49ers
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 250 lbs.
Age: 28 | Experience: 7 Years


2011 Season Stats:
67 Receptions, 792 Receiving Yards (11.8 YPC), 6 TD; 33 First Downs

Career Stats:
304 Receptions, 3,803 Receiving Yards (12.5 YPC), 35 TD; 161 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
10 Receptions, 292 Receiving Yards (29.2 YPC), 4 TD

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection














Analysis: The best receiver for the 49ers, Vernon Davis is one of the elite pass catching tight ends in football.

The talented Davis finally put it together 2009, when he made the Pro Bowl. He followed up with an impressive 2010 season. His receiving yards and touchdowns dropped off a little bit, but it was in the postseason where he lit it up.

What is most impressive about Davis is that he has put up really good numbers with average quarterback play. He should continue to be a go to guy for Alex Smith.





4. Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 245 lbs.
Age: 22 | Experience: 3 Years


2011 Season Stats:
79 Receptions, 910 Receiving Yards (11.5 YPC), 7 TD; 46 First Downs

Career Stats:
124 Receptions, 1,473 Receiving Yards (11.9 YPC), 13 TD; 73 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
20 Receptions, 192 Receiving Yards (9.6 YPC), 2 TD

Super Bowl Stats:
8 Receptions, 67 Receiving Yards (8.4 YPC), TD

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time AFC Champion













Analysis: In just his second NFL season, Aaron Hernandez has proved to be a top five tight end. The former Gator had 3 more catches and about 20 more yards than teammate Rob Gronkowski in their rookie seasons.

While he isn't the best tight end on the team, Hernandez can stretch the field with his speed and pass catching ability. While he isn't a great blocker, he is honestly a 245 pound receiver.

He is a complete tight end in what the Patriots like to do on offense, and that is all you can ask for from Hernandez.





5. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 260 lbs.
Age: 32 | Experience: 10 Years


2011 Season Stats:
64 Receptions, 778 Receiving Yards (12.2 YPC), 7 TD; 45 First Downs

Career Stats:
593 Receptions, 7,783 Receiving Yards (13.1 YPC), 76 TD; 426 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
39 Receptions, 449 Receiving Yards (11.5 YPC), TD

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
8-Time Pro Bowl Selection
5-Time All-Pro Selection
NFL All-Decade Team (2000s)
San Diego Chargers 50th Anniversary Team











Analysis: Gates has missed nine games over the last two seasons. Up until 2010, he had only missed 3 games in his first seven seasons.

When healthy, Gates is arguably the best tight end in football. Entering his 10th season, he may be wearing down a bit, but he can still produce.

Two 1,000 yard receiving seasons and three double-digit touchdowns seasons are just examples of how productive and consistent Gates has been. If he can stay healthy this season, he could show everyone why he is still arguably a top 5 tight end.





6. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 261 lbs.
Age: 30 | Experience: 10 Years


2011 Season Stats:
79 Receptions, 942 Receiving Yards (11.9 YPC), 5 TD; 47 First Downs

Career Stats:
696 Receptions, 7,909 Receiving Yards (11.4 YPC), 41 TD; 389 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
28 Receptions, 293 Receiving Yards (10.5 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
7-Time Pro Bowl Selection
5-Time All-Pro Selection













Analysis: Jason Witten is still one of the best at his position. The 10th year veteran from Tennessee has been very consistent in his career, and has been Tony Romo's go to guy.

Although he hasn't caught more than 9 touchdown passes in a season, he has gone for at least 1,000 yards receiving three times.

Witten is far from flashy, but he runs great routes, and is a very good receiving tight end. He is also a really good blocker, proving that he is a complete tight end.





7. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 247 lbs.
Age: 36 | Experience: 16 Years


2011 Season Stats:
80 Receptions, 875 Receiving Yards (10.9 YPC), 7 TD; 53 First Downs

Career Stats:
1,149 Receptions, 13,338 Receiving Yards (11.6 YPC), 95 TD; 743 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
16 Receptions, 157 Receiving Yards (9.8 YPC), 2 TD

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
12-Time Pro Bowl Selection
9-Time All-Pro Selection
First Tight End to Catch 1,000 Passes
NFL All-Decade Team (2000)











Analysis: Arguably the greatest tight end of all-time, Tony Gonzalez is still playing at a reasonably high level in Atlanta.

While many will note his excellent 12 seasons in Kansas City, Gonzalez has put up good numbers since joining the Falcons in 2009. He has amassed 233 receptions, 2398 receiving yards, and 19 touchdowns.

Gonzalez is prepared to retire after this season, but he will be going out on a high note, and is still one of the top 7 tight ends in the game today.





8. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 260 lbs.
Age: 24 | Experience: 3 Years


2011 Season Stats:
56 Receptions, 596 Receiving Yards (10.6 YPC), 6 TD; 31 First Downs

Career Stats:
108 Receptions, 1,067 Receiving Yards (9.9 YPC), 10 TD; 56 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
5 Receptions, 46 Receiving Yards (9.2 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection














Analysis: Once his production improves, Jermaine Gresham could become an elite tight end. He already has the size and receiving ability to go along with his talent.

Besides some drops, Gresham was arguably the second best receiver on the field for the Bengals. After the catch, he is impressive and can make defenders miss in the open field.

In two seasons, Gresham has put up some pretty good numbers, but he will likely need to make a leap this season in order to join the likes of Gronkowski and Graham (all three were drafted in 2010).





9. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 247 lbs.
Age: 25 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
55 Receptions, 767 Receiving Yards (13.9 YPC), 8 TD; 44 First Downs

Career Stats:
137 Receptions, 1,818 Receiving Yards (13.3 YPC), 15 TD; 88 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
10 Receptions, 196 Receiving Yards (19.6 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Super Bowl Champion














Analysis: Jermichael Finley is another really talented tight end who is close to joining the elite group.

After a breakout 2009 season, Finley was likely on his way to a Pro Bowl before he went down five games into the 2010 season. He responded pretty well last year, with career highs in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns.

He dropped 12 passes last season, which is way too much for a player of his talent. However, I will give him a pass, and assume he won't replicate that in 2012.





10. Fred Davis, Washington Redskins
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 247 lbs.
Age: 26 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
59 Receptions, 796 Receiving Yards (13.5 YPC), 3 TD; 39 First Downs

Career Stats:
131 Receptions, 1,648 Receiving Yards (12.6 YPC), 12 TD; 82 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
N/A

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
N/A














Analysis: Fred Davis is a tight end with a lot of talent. He has taken advantage of Chris Cooley missing time, and he can eventually move up this list.

In just 12 games, Davis had almost 800 receiving yards and almost 60 catches. He could become the go to guy for Robert Griffin III, and has the potential to make a few Pro Bowls.





11. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 265 lbs.
Age: 27 | Experience: 4 Years


2011 Season Stats:
83 Receptions, 777 Receiving Yards (9.4 YPC), 5 TD; 37 First Downs

Career Stats:
184 Receptions, 1,845 Receiving Yards (10.0 YPC), 11 TD; 92 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
4 Receptions, 49 Receiving Yards (12.3 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
N/A














Analysis: Next to Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew is the second option for Matthew Stafford. He is already a pretty good tight end, and the arrow is pointing up.

Pettigrew has been very productive in his career thus far, even when Matthew Stafford wasn't throwing him the football. He isn't a game breaker after the catch, but is still a pretty good receiving tight end and blocker.





12. Kellen Winslow, Seattle Seahawks
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 240 lbs.
Age: 29 | Experience: 9 Years


2011 Season Stats:
75 Receptions, 763 Receiving Yards (10.2 YPC), 2 TD; 40 First Downs

Career Stats:
437 Receptions, 4,836 Receiving Yards (11.1 YPC), 23 TD; 249 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
N/A

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection














Analysis: Winslow has always had the talent, though he hasn't always shown it on the field. For example, it would flash many times, but would disappear shortly after.

Winslow turned heads with a Pro Bowl season in 2007, when he had a career high 1,106 receiving yards. Since then, he hasn't really come close to that production.

Also, Winslow has never caught more than 5 TD passes in a season. I wouldn't make too much of a deal out of this, as he hasn't had Pro Bowl quarterbacks throwing him the ball.

Now he is in Seattle, where Matt Flynn is the projected starter. Good luck Kellen.





13. Dustin Keller, New York Jets
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 250 lbs.
Age: 27 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
65 Receptions, 815 Receiving Yards (12.5 YPC), 5 TD; 39 First Downs

Career Stats:
213 Receptions, 2,559 Receiving Yards (12.0 YPC), 15 TD; 131 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
26 Receptions, 302 Receiving Yards (11.6 YPC), 3 TD

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
N/A














Analysis: Dustin Keller is one of the only reliable receiving targets for the Jets quarterbacks.

His production has increased over the past two seasons, but Keller hasn't necessarily improved. All of the blame shouldn't be on him, but he has the talent to be a top 10 tight end.

With Plaxico Burress gone, Keller should become the top red zone target for Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow





14. Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 255 lbs.
Age: 27 | Experience: 6 Years


2012 Season Stats:
62 Receptions, 811 Receiving Yards (13.1 YPC), 5 TD; 35 First Downs

Career Stats:
223 Receptions, 2,789 Receiving Yards (12.5 YPC), 19 TD; 126 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
24 Receptions, 235 Receiving Yards (9.8 YPC), 3 TD

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
N/A














Analysis: Brent Celek is pretty underrated. He has put up some good numbers in Philly, and had his best year in 2009.

He is a perfect fit in the Eagle's offense, and has proven to be a pretty reliable weapon in the passing game. He probably won't be a top 10 tight end, but he may not continue to fly under the radar.





15. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 272 lbs.
Age: 28 | Experience: 7 Years


2012 Season Stats:
39 Receptions, 460 Receiving Yards (11.8 YPC); 35 First Downs; 22 First Downs

Career Stats:
220 Receptions, 2,684 Receiving Yards (12.2 YPC), 17 TD; 128 First Downs

Playoff Stats:
6 Receptions, 90 Receiving Yards (15.0 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection
Jaguars Single Season Receiving TD Record (2010)













Analysis: Based on talent, Marcedes Lewis is a top 5 tight end. Unfortunately, his production doesn't match.

In 2010, it appeared that Lewis finally arrived. 58 catches, 700 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns. All career highs. So how did he go from a career year to just 39 catches, 460 receiving yards, and 0 touchdowns?

Only Marcedes can answer that. Sure his quarterback Blaine Gabbert struggled last season, but I saw Lewis drop several passes in the end zone.

This guy has the talent, if he hones in on it, he can be special. However, he could easily move off this list if he doesn't live up to his talent.