The Top 10 Tight Ends in the NFL
Over the past couple of years, the NFL has seen the importance of tight ends grow enormously. Super Bowl LIV featured two of the best tight ends in the NFL in Travis Kelce and George Kittle who each received contracts last week valued at over $14 million. With the talent of a team’s tight end being more integral to that team’s success than ever before, let’s take a look at the top ten tight ends in the NFL.
10. Rob Gronkowski (TB)
A few years ago, Rob Gronkowski would have been on the top of this list, but this time he made it by the skin of his teeth. I was extremely close to putting Evan Engram over Gronkowski but thought it would be unwise not to put one of the best tight ends of all time onto our top ten.
While not with the Patriots, with whom he won three super bowls with, Gronk will be with his favorite quarterback and long-time teammate, Tom Brady. Many are skeptical of how effective Gronkowski will be in his return, as he had visibly lost weight and muscle mass after his retirement. There is very little possibility that at 31, Gronk will be his former self, but with his innate football ability, a Rob Gronkowski at even 75% of what he used to be is still a force to be reckoned with.
9. Hunter Henry (LAC)
While he may be somewhat low on this list, for now, I am close to certain that Hunter Henry will be in the top five of this list within the next couple of years. Henry has a vast amount of potential and was a rare bright spot in a grim 2019 season for the Los Angeles Chargers.
In 2019, Henry recorded 652 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns on 55 receptions in 12 games. After spending the first years of his career with Philip Rivers, it will be interesting to see how Henry plays with either Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert, depending on who winds up starting for the Chargers under center.
One of the biggest challenges Henry faces going forward is staying healthy as he has missed games in the past with a knee injury and missed the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL. That being said, if Henry can keep off the IR, he has a bright future in the NFL.
8. Tyler Higbee (LAR)
Tyler Higbee may not be the flashiest tight end in the league, but he quietly had a successful 2019 season. Higbee had 734 yards and 3 touchdowns on 69 receptions. Higbee is certainly not the best route runner nor receiver, but he is the perfect tight end for the Rams right now.
With Todd Gurley gone, Jared Goff will likely be forced to throw the ball much more than he is used to, and a big target to either run short routes or check down will be the receiver Goff needs right now especially with Brandin Cooks no longer on the team. With the way Higbee has been performing as of late, he might just be the extra push that gets the wavering Rams into the playoffs.
7. Jared Cook (NO)
Jared Cook has had quite the career dating all the way back to 2009 with the Tennesee Titans. Though Cook has been around the league a while, playing for five different teams, some of his best years have come recently towards the end of his career. After having a career-high 896 yards in Oakland in 2018, Cook signed a two-year contract with the Saints valued above $7 million a year.
Cook proceeded to have another good year with 705 yards and a career-high 9 touchdowns on only 43 receptions. Cook shined last year as one of the most efficient receiving tight ends in the league with Drew Brees passing him the ball. While his career may be winding down, Cook has shown in recent years that he’s still got it.
6. Austin Hooper (CLE)
Over the past couple of years, Austin Hooper’s potential has grown like bamboo, as he has quickly become regarded as a formidable tight end in NFL. Hooper had the best year in his four-year career last year as he recorded 787 yards and 6 touchdowns on 75 receptions, all of which are career-highs. Hooper has spent his last four years with the Atlanta Falcons, but he will be playing for the Cleveland Browns this year after signing a four-year $44 million contract with the team.
Hooper has certainly played with a stacked receiving corps before in Atlanta with the likes of Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones, but it will still be interesting to see him play with an already strong Cleveland offense. If Baker Mayfield can become the player he was expected to be in the NFL, the Browns could be a real problem for other AFC teams, especially considering they now have Hooper.
5. Darren Waller (LV)
Darren Waller was a much need pleasant surprise for the Las Vegas Raiders last year after Antonio Brown left the Raiders’ receiving corps in complete disarray in his wake. After not recording over 100 yards in his first three seasons and having no more than 10 receptions, Waller shocked the league last year when he had 1,145 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on 90 catches.
Waller was the best of the very little receiving talent the Raiders had to offer last year. Thankfully, the Raiders will receive backup this year in the forms of wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and future hall of fame tight end, Jason Witten. It will be interesting to see how much of a hit Waller’s stats will take with the addition of this talent, as well as the possibility of Marcus Mariota starting at quarterback instead of Derek Carr.
4. Mark Andrews (BAL)
Though the Baltimore Ravens are certainly known for being a running team, they had one of the best tight end cores in the league last year. Andrews is not too much of a blocking tight end, but his quickness and adept route running almost make him look like a wide receiver. With 852 yards and 10 touchdowns, which was the most regular-season touchdowns among tight ends this year, Andrews was easily Lamar Jackson’s favorite target as he led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns and receptions.
Since Hayden Hurst has been sent to Atlanta for a fifth-round draft pick, Andrews will likely get the ball even more than he did last year. Andrews will be going into his third season in the league this year, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to grow as a receiver with reigning league MVP, Lamar Jackson under center.
3. Zach Ertz (PHI)
There have been some major ups and downs over the past few years for the Philadelphia Eagles from finishing last in their division in 2016 to winning Super Bowl LII. With a team vastly lacking consistency, they can always count on their Pro-Bowl tight end, Zach Ertz. Ertz has been the epitome of consistency for the Eagles and among tight ends over the past six years, as he hasn’t recorded less than 700 yards since his rookie season in 2013.
Ertz continued his success last year, as he recorded 916 yards and 6 touchdowns on 88 receptions. The Eagles’ talent is dwindling while the Cowboys seem to be doing nothing but growing, so Ertz will need to bring his A game once again this year if Philadelphia is going to have any hope of winning the NFC East.
2. Travis Kelce (KC)
While it could easily be argued that Kelce is the best tight end, we can’t put him over Kittle. In 2019, Kelce had a league-leading 1,229 receiving yards among tight ends as well as 5 touchdowns and 97 receptions. Kelce was also first among tight ends in receiving yards per game, but he only beat Kittle by less than two yards per game.
Many argue that Kelce is better than Kittle because the Cheifs have a stacked receiving core, and Kelce still records incredible stats. It is very easy, however, to have such great stats with a generational talent like Patrick Mahomes under center.
It also can’t be ignored that Kittle had to share the ball with the 49ers stellar running corps as well as Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders. My problem with putting Kelce at number one is that he has seemingly already reached his full potential. He’s still one of the best tight ends in the league, but at 30 years old, the only realistic way for the Chiefs tight end is down.
1. George Kittle (SF)
While Kelce is one of the best tight ends in the league, I would be remiss not to put The People’s Tight End in the number one spot. George Kittle came out of nowhere a couple of years ago when he recorded 1,377 receiving yards on 88 receptions. While slightly less impressive, Kittle had another great season last year, as he recorded 1,053 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns on 85 receptions.
Kittle may be an excellent receiving tight end, but he is also a great blocker, too. While most of the credit is due to the San Francisco offensive line and running corps, Kittle helped the 49ers run game to become one of the best in the league. Travis Kelce has a quarterback who has the potential to be one of the best of all time while George Kittle is receiving from Jimmy Garoppolo who I believe the jury is still out on.
With Deebo Samuel very likely to miss week one, Emmanuel Sanders now on the Saints, and Matt Breida now in Miami, it is very likely that Kittle will get the ball even more this year than he had previously. Kittle and Kelce may be on the same level now, but I truly believe Kittle still has some potential that he has yet to tap into. If Kittle keeps performing as he has been, he has the chance to go down in history as one of the best tight ends of all time.
Pierson Scheinberg is a student who lives in California, and attends the College Preparatory School. Pierson lived in Baltimore, Maryland until August 2017 when he moved to the Bay Area. Pierson is an avid golfer who enjoys watching all sports. He is a writer and sports analyst for At the Buzzer.