Top 10 Tight Ends in the NFL
NFL is still expecting to get their season started in early September as they plan on playing a full 16-game slate this season. With that thought process in mind, it never hurts to take a look at any kind of information we can get about how teams may fare this season. The sound way to do that is to evaluate some of the talents that teams have around the league and identifying the elite players at each position to see how they stack up. Earlier this week, we took a look at the top 10 quarterbacks and the top 12 running backs in the league. We also looked at the top 15 wide receivers in the league and today we look into the top 10 tight ends that impact things, both in the blocking department and in stretching the field in the passing game.
1)George Kittle, 49ers
Last season: 85 receptions, 1053 yards, 12.4 yards per catch, five TD, 79.4 percent catch rate
PFF Grade: 95.0
Kittle is a force to be reckoned with whether the 49ers are moving the ball through the air or with their ground game. He bulldozes linebackers to create holes for the run game for Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert, helping the 49ers offensive line. When he goes out on routes, he has the ability to pulverize defensive backs with his size and the speed to create separation. With Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback last season, his catch rate improved nearly 15 percent over his 2018 mark of 64.7 percent. The biggest thing right now for Kittle is whether he’ll get the kind of money that he wants as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
2)Travis Kelce, Chiefs
Last season: 97 receptions, 1229 yards, 12.7 yards per catch, five TD, 71.3 percent catch rate
PFF Grade: 85.1
Kelce is a solid safety valve down the middle of the field and having a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes makes him that much more dangerous. He can stretch the seam and creates a difficult matchup for opposing defenses. He is too quick for most linebackers and too powerful for most defensive backs to handle. One thing that he could effectively work on is his blocking but the Chiefs aren’t as run-oriented as some other teams in the league. However, seeing how dangerous he is in the passing game and the fact that Kansas City is the defending champs, you have to put him near the top of the list.
3)Darren Waller, Raiders
Last season: 90 receptions, 1145 yards, 12.7 yards per catch, three TD, 76.9 percent catch rate
PFF Grade: 83.2
Waller flourished in his first season as the full-time starter for the Raiders at the tight end spot. He delivered in a big way and developed a rapport with Derek Carr, really turning things around after having issues with substance abuse prior to coming to Oakland. He missed a potential Pro Bowl berth due to the fact that he had thumb surgery after the season ended. Waller is capable of making plays after catching the ball as well: he had 570 yards after the catch last season, which was only five less than he gained before the catch. With the Raiders starting to solidify skill position players, Waller should have a big year this year.
4)Zach Ertz, Eagles
Last season: 88 receptions, 916 yards, 10.4 yards per reception, six TD, 65.2 percent catch rate
PFF Grade: 73.4
Last season was a bit of a down year for Ertz. While he still reeled in 88 passes, his catch rate dropped more than nine points from his mark in 2018. He didn’t stretch the field as his longest reception was only 30 yards. Playing in a two tight-end system with Dallas Goedert, it kind of limited the big plays that Ertz created. Nagging injuries have hampered Ertz in the last couple of seasons. He’ll still be the likely top name in terms of targets for the Eagles in 2020 but he gets knocked down a peg or two in our rankings.
5)Austin Hooper, Browns
Last season: 75 receptions, 787 yards, 10.5 yards per reception, six TD, 77.3 percent catch rate
PFF Grade: 78.3
Hooper has the ability to stretch the field vertically thanks to his speed. That part of his game was underutilized in Atlanta thanks to the presence of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, opening the middle of the field for Hooper to work in. He moves to Cleveland after inking a four-year, $42 million deal in free agency this offseason. Hooper hopes to be a force for the Browns, while providing a solid safety valve for quarterback Baker Mayfield. He’ll likely be a third option behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry but that’s not necessarily going to slow his numbers all that much.
6)Mark Andrews, Ravens
Last season: 64 receptions, 852 yards, 13.3 yards per reception, 10 TD, 65.3 percent catch rate
PFF Grade: 90.8
Andrews is extremely dangerous in the red zone, which makes life tough for opposing defenses. He hauled in 10 touchdowns last season with eight of those coming inside the 20-yard line. One thing that Andrews has to try to avoid is the little injuries that pile up and can hamper his production. At times, he ceded reps to Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle in the passing game. With Hurst gone now after being dealt to Atlanta, Andrews’ health and production become that much more important, especially for the reigning MVP, quarterback Lamar Jackson, as he tries to evolve into a more effective passer.
7)Evan Engram, Giants
Last season: 44 receptions, 467 yards, 10.6 yards per reception, three TD, 64.7 percent catch rate
PFF Grade: 64.1
Engram was very productive in his work last season. The problem for him was that he was injured and logged just eight games before dealing with a foot injury that ended up putting him on injured reserve and curtailed his season. When he’s healthy, he’s extremely dangerous as he has the size and speed (4.67 40-yard dash time) to stretch the field. With Daniel Jones entering his second year as the starting quarterback, he’ll need a reliable safety valve to lean on. Engram fits that bill to a T and should be a bounce-back candidate this season. It would surprise no one to see him hit the 1,000-yard plateau this year.
8)Tyler Higbee, Rams
Last season: 69 receptions, 734 yards, 10.6 yards per reception, three TD, 77.5 percent catch rate
PFF Grade: 86.1
Higbee really broke out last season for the Rams, especially in the second half of the season. His ability to make plays, either in a two tight-end set with Gerald Everett or in two or three-receiver sets, really helped Jared Goff when he was under duress. Higbee’s catch rate has climbed in each of his seasons, going from 37.9 percent as a rookie in 2016 to 55.6 percent in 2017 and 70.6 percent in 2018 before hitting career-highs last season. He should be able to take the next step again this season and continue to develop in the passing game for Sean McVay’s group.
9)Jared Cook, Saints
Last season: 43 receptions, 705 yards, 16.4 yards per reception, nine TD, 66.2 percent catch rate
PFF Grade: 75.9
Cook started slowly in his first year with the Saints after making the transition from the Raiders, where he had played the previous two seasons. Once he started to get in the groove, he became more of a force in the passing game for New Orleans. He set career-highs in yards per catch, receiving touchdowns and yards per target (10.8) last season. With Drew Brees still in the mix, along with Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Alvin Kamara as weapons, it should be a good year for Cook to showcase his worth.
10)Hunter Henry, Chargers
Last season: 55 receptions, 652 yards, 11.9 yards per reception, five TD, 72.4 percent catch rate
Henry bounced back after missing the entire 2018 season with knee injuries by putting up a solid 2019. After starting his career in the shadows of likely future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, Henry is now the #1 tight end. One thing that Henry is going to have to adapt to is a new quarterback. For the first time in more than a decade, it will be someone other than Philip Rivers running the offense for the Chargers. Henry will be catching passes from Tyrod Taylor or first-round pick Justin Herbert. If the rookie earns the job, Henry’s stock should go up as the Chargers will need a safety valve.
(Statistics provided by profootballreference.com and PFF.com)