Dylan’s top 10 tight ends heading into 2015/16

As with my top ten lists for quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs, there is much to consider, and many reason why certain players make the top ten and others miss out, but the bottom line is, it’s an opinion piece so don’t be too upset if your favourite fails to make the cut. Here are my top 10 tight ends heading into 2015/16.

10) Antonio Gates

The most experienced player who makes my top 10 is 34 year old Antonio Gates, whose 12 touchdowns in 2014 was the joint most in the NFL along with Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas. He was one of the Chargers most potent offensive weapons last year, finishing the season with 821 yards from 69 receptions, and his catch percentage of 70.4 was the fifth best of anyone who made my list. There were other names who were vying for this spot, such as (spoiler alert) Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz, who possesses massive amounts of talent and has the potential to make me look very foolish if he steps up to become Chip Kelly’s number one tight end in 2015, and both tight ends in Indianapolis, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, who both enjoyed great seasons in 2014 and are part of what could be the most impressive attack in the NFL led by Andrew Luck. Still, although age is a factor and Gates is not at the level he once was, I still see him being a major weapon for Phil Rivers in 2015, so for one more season (at least) I’ll take Gates in my top ten.

9) Julius Thomas

If Thomas was still a member of the Denver Broncos, he would be higher on this list, obviously. Even taking into account my mistrust in Peyton Manning’s ability to regain his elite level of play, Thomas’s performances over the last two years as an efficiently unstoppable red-zone target, would justify a far higher placing than number nine. However, there is no denying that catching passes from Blake Bortles is going to be a step down from Manning, and that’s the main reason why Thomas sits as low as he does. As the marquee free agent signing in Jacksonville this summer, Thomas will be the stand out weapon for Bortles in 2015 and will therefore see a lot of targets, but whether he will be able to continue his high level of production faced with double-teams and more stellar defensive attention is up for debate. His injury history is also a concern, having played just 32 games in four years, and if any team is ‘cursed’ enough to see it’s star miss time through injury, it’ll be Jacksonville.

8) Jordan Cameron

After breaking out in 2013 with 80 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, Cameron’s production dropped off last season, mainly due to missing six games through injury and being part of a poor Cleveland team with it’s well documented struggles at quarterback. 2015 brings a fresh start with a move to Miami, replacing the Buffalo-bound Charles Clay, and it looks to me like a great fit. Clay may have offered a more consistent level of production over the last few years, but I think Cameron is a much better red zone target, an area that Miami have to improve, and in Ryan Tannehill Cameron will be playing with the best quarterback of his young career to date. One of Tannehill’s major strengths is his mid-range passing between 10-19 yards, and I see this very much as Cameron’s area of expertise also, with his huge frame making him a favourable target over the middle. In addition to this, with Mike Wallace’s departure Jordan Cameron could realistically become Tannehill’s favourite target in the red zone, and if he can stay fit I am expecting not just a return to his pro-bowl form of 2013, but the most productive season of his career so far.

7) Delanie Walker

A Tennessee Titan on a top-ten list? Yep, it’s just happened folks. Delanie Walker thinks he has been overlooked and under-valued after an excellent 2014 season where he caught for 890 yards at an impressive 14.1 yards per reception, and I must say I agree with him. The Titans were an awful team in 2014, and I expect them to be awful again in 2015, and though I am far from convinced by the all-in play on Marcus Mariota, Walker proved last season he can perform when all around him was tumbling down, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and believe he can do it again this year. His 414 yards after catch figure stands out impressively as the fourth highest of anyone on this list, as does his 18 missed tackles, the third most of the top ten. I don’t have much faith in the Titans ability to run the ball, so short simple passes to his athletic tight end could well be a much used crutch for Mariota in his debut season. The Titans probably won’t win many games, but Walker will get the opportunity to shine again.

6) Jason Witten

This was a hard player to place. One of the great tight ends of all time, an argument could be made to put Witten higher on this list, but his age was a big concern coming off a season that saw him record his lowest figures since he entered the league in 2003. 703 yards and five touchdowns was by no means bad, but if we see another drop in production from the ever-present Cowboy in 2015 then it will be hard to justify his placing as high as number six. Still, if history is anything to go by, at least fitness won’t be a concern, as Witten’s record of 187 consecutive regular season games played is far and away the most impressive streak in the NFL. He is an excellent blocking tight end, and in a Dallas offence that last season concentrated far more on their ground attack, this is the main reason behind his drop in statistical value. If this is the case, then I don’t see much changing, as the Cowboys will again look to make use of their dominant O-Line and embrace the running game in 2015.

5) Jimmy Graham

It’s hard to know where to place Jimmy Graham after his summer move to Seattle. After putting up monumental figures over his five years in New Orleans (4,752 yards and 51 touchdowns), last year’s total of 889 yards was his lowest haul since his rookie season, and there is no doubt in my mind that in Seattle’s offence he will see a reduction in targets. However, the Seahawks team is an upgrade from the Saints, and Russell Wilson could very well see Graham as his primary red zone weapon in an offence that routinely gets inside their opponent’s 20 yard line, leading to an influx of touchdown-targets for Jimmy. The fact that he is now playing in an offence with far more distracting weapons will also help him, and a reduction in the intensity of his coverage will obviously be beneficial. In summary, less overall targets and therefore potentially less yards, but an increase in scores and ‘stand-out’ plays in 2015 would not surprise me, and as such he remains a valuable commodity. Just not as valuable as the four guys above him.

4) Martellus Bennett

Perhaps I’m a tad biased when it comes to Bennett, the most targeted tight end in the league last season, as I enjoyed having him on my fantasy team and therefore paid closer attention to him than perhaps I otherwise would have. Still, even if I am playing favourites, his 2014 catch success rate of 72% was the third highest of any player in my top ten, as was his 916 receiving yards. 470 of those yards came after the catch, the second most of any tight end in the league, and his strong running ability was illustrated further by his 25 missed tackles, the most of any tight end. There are some question marks regarding his contract situation in Chicago, and he is yet to show up at OTA’s, however, I fully expect things to fall into place before the new season, and expect Bennett to be just as valuable if not more so in 2015.

3) Travis Kelce

In one of the most lackluster offences in the league last year, Kelce was the brightest light, establishing himself as Alex Smith’s most valuable and dependable target in a passing game almost completely devoid of entertainment value. Kelce’s catch percentage of 82.7 was the highest in the NFL among tight ends, as was his yards after catch figure of 503. He led his team in terms of catches (67), yards (862) and receiving touchdowns (five, joint with Jamaal Charles). Of those who made my top ten list, only Rob Gronkowski and Delanie Walker averaged more yards per reception than Kelce, and his 17 missed tackles ranked him fourth among those profiled. I don’t see any scenario (barring injury of course) where Kelce doesn’t see an increase in targets, and therefore I can only see an increase in terms of both yardage and scores from last season.

2) Greg Olsen

In eight seasons as an NFL tight end, Greg Olsen has missed just two games. He is a man of steel, the best blocking tight end in the league and an ever-present on the field for Carolina, lining up for 1,091 snaps in 2014, the most of any tight end in the league and second most of any player on the Panthers roster. He is a powerful weapon in the passing game, receiving for 1,008 and six touchdowns last season, and has excellent hands, catching 69.4% of targets and dropping just 3 passes. I see Olsen as an under-rated player due to the sheer amount of unfashionable and unspectacular work he does, and the fact he manages to put up such impressive receiving stats alongside his monumental hard graft makes every yard gained and every touchdown scored even more impressive. He is the most versatile and hard-working tight end on this list, and is the sure-fire number two with a bullet.

1) Rob Gronkowski

This one is a no-brainer. The easiest and most clear-cut decision included in any of these positional breakdowns. Gronkowski is not only obviously the best tight end heading into 2015/16, I would put him number one on my list of most impactful tight ends of all-time. It’s no coincidence that the Super Bowl winning Patriots are a far superior side when Gronkowski is fit, and I’m certain that without him they would not have picked up the Lombardi last season, making him one of the most valuable players in the league at any position, let alone just at the tight end spot. Over the last three seasons Jimmy Graham has been, statistically speaking, far and away the top performing tight end in the league, receiving for 3,086 yards and 35 touchdowns. In comparison, Gronkowski’s figures over the same time period of 2,506 yards and 27 touchdowns may look significantly lower, however when we take into account the fact that Graham has missed just one game in three seasons to Gronkowski’s fifteen, it puts it all into perspective. Rob Gronkowski is the most talented and dominant tight end in the NFL by far, and a clear number one on this list.

Agree? Disagree? As always feel free to comment, like, share and review at all the usual places, and find me on Twitter @Dylanbaker1986