Dan’s Top 10 Tight Ends Going Into the 2015 NFL Season

The focus of the Gents love of lists this week is the final group of weapons, the tight ends. I have zero doubt that this could be the most contentious group yet with a variety of different ways it can be looked at. My view is that I want a tight end that can block as well as be prolific in the passing game; as such I’ll be looking at it like that. Before you read my views, don’t forget to check out the other posts from both Dylan and Simon.

With very few official stats for blocking, this week’s list will be heavily based on personal opinion, so feel free to tell us where we got it wrong ( @gridirongents), as always we’d love to hear your opinions.

Anyway, let’s look at the list.

10) Antonio Gates

Gates is low on the list of tight ends going into 2015. However considering the impact that he’s had on the position throughout his career, I have to think he’s heading to the Hall of Fame. 2014 wasn’t the best season for Gates, but it certainly wasn’t the worst, clocking up 12 touchdowns, best in the league for tight ends and the 2nd best performance in terms of scoring in his 11 year career. Gates may not have had the most yards but his 99 targets were the 2nd most on the chargers team and his 821 yards were only 35 yards behind the team leader Malcom Floyd. Gates was also the most reliable target on the Chargers with a 70.6% catch percentage, making Gates the Chargers best weapon last year. I do however have a couple of issues that had me keep him relatively low on this list. For starters he’s not that great a blocker, so despite a decent season as a pass catcher, he’s beaten out on this list by tight ends that do both exceptionally well. Finally he’s entering his 12th season and a drop off is overdue. Regardless, Gates is a game changer and he’ll be productive, with potential to be the Chargers no. 1 target.

9) Dwayne Allen

Dwayne Allen was 1 of 2 potential Colts tight ends that could have made this list thanks to issues on the offensive line. Despite Fleener taking away a good chunk of the Colts targets, Allen still had a solid all round season in all facets of the position, which is ultimately the reason I picked him ahead of the other Colts tight end, despite having less targets. Whilst Allen seemed to take the role of the blocking tight end, he was still effective in the passing game. Allen has by far and away the fewest yards on this list, but his position on this is mostly due to gut feeling more than anything. I just think with more weapons and a better offensive line (hopefully), we see fewer multiple tight end sets, at which point I think they go with the better all-round tight end. Which I think is Allen. Allen’s biggest concern is undoubtedly his injury history, which could leave him on the bench with Fleener taking all the reps. This will almost certainly be the pick that will cause the biggest stir on this list.

8) Delanie Walker

I was somewhat reluctant to include a Titan on this list as they are dead to me (podcast joke). Delanie Walker’s 2014 season though was simply too good to ignore, as both a pass catcher and a blocker. It says a lot that after coming out of Vernon Davis’s shadow and finding a new team, he’s ranked higher on this list and I’d imagine quite a few lists. Walker managed to clock up 890 yards, and forced an excellent 18 missed tackles. Whilst the Titans were falling apart in 2014, Walker was having a career year. So why so low? Age is a big concern. Admittedly for his first 7 years he didn’t have an insane amount of targets, but still he is on the wrong side of 30, which is a concern, but not enough of one to move him off this list, especially with a rookie QB, who will undoubtedly be looking for his bigger targets this year.

7) Julius Thomas

Let’s start this with a negative. I am not at all sold on Thomas. I think his stats are heavily elevated by being in THAT Broncos system, with THAT QB throwing to him and really he was only used as a red zone target, especially when compared to the other Broncos targets who generated an insane amount of 1st downs. His blocking was not good, which I have taken into consideration, if you want an example of this check out his chop block against Calais Campbell, which injured the Cardinal and got Thomas fined. However there is something to be said about giving a QB with accuracy issues, especially in the red zone where he is the 2nd worst in the league a reliable target that scores TDs for fun. With the Broncos, Thomas was competing with elite pro-bowl talent at receiver for targets. As much as I love the Jags wide receivers, they’re not in the same league as Sanders or Demaryius, making Thomas almost certainly the no. 1 target. Thomas could actually have a career year

6) Jason Witten

When I look at this list I see at least 3 hall of famers. We’ve already mentioned Antonio Gates, the number 1 on this list will almost certainly be another and the 3rd will be this guy. Witten is another 11 year veteran and has some frankly staggering stats. Over 1000 targets, 10,000 yards, 57 TDs and 537 1st downs. What doesn’t get mentioned very often amongst these gargantuan stats is that Witten has only fumbled the ball 5 times in his 11 year career. 943 receptions, 57 TDs and only 5 fumbles. Witten’s “down year”, involved him getting 48 first downs and 703 yards, which are stats that a lot of receivers would love to have, but for Witten they were his worst in 9 years. It’s the slight drop off that has me hesitant to put him any higher than 6, even though I do still see him being a monster. Witten can still hang with the best; I just think the younger targets ahead of him will have a better year. Never let it be said though that I don’t worship at the church of Witten.

5) Jimmy Graham

This seems to be a popular spot with the Gents for Graham. Graham is a head scratcher to me. Yes he had some good numbers last year and yes he seemed to finish the season with an injury that stopped him from performing. But this wasn’t the first time we’d seen it. Graham has taken his foot off in the last 6 games of the last 3 seasons. Something doesn’t seem right. There is a lot of talk about Graham being the missing piece on a talented Seahawks offence. About how he is the big target that Wilson craves. But does he? Have we ever talked about Wilson having accuracy issues? From what I understand, Wilson prefers the smaller guys that he can hit in stride and generate yards after catch. That’s not Graham. Graham’s yards after catch are amongst the worst on this list. I just can’t help but feel that if this was the player that Wilson needed, then they might already have him, in Luke Willson. Willson was a great tight end for the Seahawks; he just didn’t get the targets.

Despite my negativity, he is still number 5 on this list, because I do believe he is a difference maker. I also think there is a chance that I’m completely wrong. Maybe he’s the giant red zone target this team needs; maybe in a different environment we might see a team get the most out of him. Until I see the old Jimmy Graham that caught for 100 yards and 2 TDs in every game, I can’t move him higher on this list.

4) Martellus Bennett

For all his off field bravado, the ‘Black Unicorn’ (his choice of nickname), Bennett has been nothing short of a solid target for Cutler. The plan seemed pretty simple over the last couple of years… surround Jay with big guys that can go up to catch the ball, of which Bennett has probably worked out the best. Bennett finished the season with more receptions than any other tight end and in a tough spot made the most out of a lot of bad situations, generating over half his yards after the catch, in the process generating a league high for tight ends, 25 missed tackles. With Marshall off the team, Martellus will undoubtedly capitalise. My one major concern is that he is something of a mixed bag when it comes to blocking. We saw some stellar performances from Bennett as a blocker last season, but also some where he almost seemed to give up. If I was to defend him though, I would say that a lot of pressure that was given up was often down to offensive line injuries and being matched up against players that top offensive linemen would struggle against. Despite a few hiccups, I do believe that Bennett is a solid all round tight end and probably a top 5 talent on an already talented Bears offence.

3) Travis Kelce

Considered to be a breakout star for the 2014 season, amongst the likes of Cordarelle Patterson and Kenny Vacarro, Travis Kelce might be one of very few players that lived up to expectations (depending I suppose on whether Le’Veon Bell was on your list). Kelce was a complete tight end, vital in run blocking and Smith’s top target, catching 6 more balls than Dwayne Bowe, despite having 9 less targets. Kelce’s yards per reception are somewhat average compared to some of the names on this list, but decidedly less average when you realise he got over 50% of them after the catch forcing 17 missed tackles and led the team in receiving 1st downs, Kelce should be number 2 on this list. But as mentioned in previous lists, with Odell Beckham and Jeremy Hill, he’s only done it once. For me to move him up will require more of the same next season, which I believe he is more than capable of doing.

2) Greg Olsen

If the Gents had a team of players based on the amount we heap praise on them, it would have an offence that regularly lines up in 2 tight end sets, with Olsen and the number 1 player on this list. Olsen has some great stats, with 1008 yards receiving being at the top, but these only tell part of the story. If you want to understand how good he is, you need to watch him play. He never lets up. He played on an offence with an injured QB, broken offensive line and poor wide receivers outside the inexperienced rookie Kelvin Benjamin and was dominant on the line and in the receiving game. amongst pass/run blockers on the Panthers Olsen is probably the 3rd best, putting a lot of linemen that are a good 100 pounds heavier than him to shame. Olsen is a classic tight end that plays every part of his game to a near perfect standard.

1) Rob Gronkowski

There was very little choice here. I think there would be little argument against Tom Brady being the most important piece on the Patriots team. Not far behind him however is Gronk, who is undoubtedly a mismatch against nearly every defensive player in the league. If you line up your big guys against him, he’ll outpace them. If you line up your speedy guys against him, he’ll out muscle them. If you want a perfect example of the unstoppable nature of Gronk, see what he did to the Chicago Bears last year. Gronk’s only question mark is his health, which was a giant issue going into the 2014 season, with many believing we’d never see the elite tight end that we’d seen dominate defences in previous years. But if Gronk has proved anything in 2014, it’s that he’s near indestructible.

So tight ends done, next week it’s the offensive line. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out the podcast and