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

Who doesn’t love a good tight end?

Now that the blatantly obvious and extremely childish innuendo is out of the way, it’s time for another Top 10 list – this time for the multi-purpose men who line up at Tight End.

This list has proven to be the hardest to settle on in terms of who ranks where given the many attributes a Tight End needs to be successful in the League.

I’ve relied a little more on the numbers this time around but it is, as with my other lists, based on who I think will have a strong 2015 rather than a nod to historic performances (as one placement in particular on the list will demonstrate!)

So, without further a do, lets shed a block, sit in the gap, and take one for 25 yards…

10. Zach Ertz

A solid, if unspectacular, year in 2014 saw Ertz finish the season with 702 yards and 3 touchdowns to his name in his second year in the League. He spent most of the year playing second fiddle to Brent Celek on the depth chart, but saw more of the ball than Celek who was often used for his blocking rather than receiving abilities.

Although Celek will still be present for 2015, the departure of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson may see Ertz finally get more playing time and, whilst he’ll need to improve on his blocking, next year could be the year he steps up as the first choice TE for Chip.

9. Julius Thomas

Thomas amassed 12 touchdowns last season for the second year in a row, which is as many as anyone on this list, although three quarters of those came in the first 6 weeks of the season as injury once again hampered his year.

2015 will see him in Jaguars colours having signed a 5-year deal in the off-season, and I think he’ll likely see plenty of targets if he can stay healthy. That said, I’m not sure moving from Manning to Bortles is anything other than a downgrade, so exactly how effective he can be in an offense that has struggled historically remains to be seen, and why I can’t find it in myself to put him any higher.

8. Delanie Walker

Having endured pretty much every game of the Titans’ sorry campaign last season, I have to agree with Delaine when he says he’s somewhat underrated, as he was often one of the few bright lights on an offense that was largely hung out to dry in 2014.

Despite a Quarterback merry-go-round, he still returned 890 yards on the year, with almost half of those coming after the catch. That’s partly the nature of the beast being Tight End, but also a nod to an impressive 18 missed tackles for the season.

He’s a strong blocker for a comparatively small Tight End, particularly in the run game, but that lack of size means he has a decent turn of speed which he showed several times last year, often gaining 30+ yards at a time.

With a potentially completely revamped offense in Tennessee in 2015 and the likelihood that the Titans will still need to rely on the pass game, I think we may see another strong year for Walker.

7. Jason Witten

Outside of 1 & 2, I’ve had Jason in every place on this list at some point as I tried to find a justifiable landing spot for the 13-year veteran.

He is undoubtedly one of the all-time great Tight Ends to have played the game and has the career stats to back up the argument that he should perhaps be headed to Canton come the end of his career. Whilst I don’t necessarily disagree with that, I think it is fair to say his best years are behind him as he turns 34.

With a run-heavy offense in Dallas last year, Witten recorded his lowest numbers on a season since his Rookie year with 64 receptions for 703 yards, being used mainly for his exceptional blocking skills at the line. Whilst I really can’t see them relying quite so much on the run again in 2015, I don’t see them going back to depending on Romo’s arm either as they continue to look make use of the best O-line in the League and, as such, think Witten will continue to see more time on blocking duties than upfield.

It feels wrong having him land at 7 but, looking at those ahead of him on the list and considering his age and gradual downturn in numbers over the past couple of years, I can’t personally place him any higher.

6. Vernon Davis

I said at the very start that my rankings were based on what I thought would happen in 2015 rather than what has gone before, and no one’s appearance on this list epitomises that more than Vernon.

Davis was almost non-existent in the 49ers offense last year with just 26 receptions for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns. This off the back of an 850-yard, 13 TD season in 2013.

Most of that lack of production was blamed on a back injury and, in fairness, it did look as though he was made of stone for the middle half of the season, but I think other factors were also at play with personnel issues leaving Davis looking largely disinterested for most of the season.

With Greg Roman gone and a new offensive philosophy seemingly taking shape in San Francisco, I think we could see Davis return to the sort of form that saw him among the best in the League, particularly as a new deal will be in his sights.

There is the potential for it all to go horribly wrong in San Francisco this year and if it does, it will be hard for anyone to put up reasonable numbers, but if it does click then I personally think the Davis of old will return to the fore, and justify his high placing here.

5. Jimmy Graham

Rightly or wrongly, I can’t ever say I’ve been a fan of Jimmy Graham if I’m honest. His tendency to drop passes that really should be caught and a lack of any real blocking ability always seem to overshadow his undeniable ability to go and get the ball and his excellent route running. I mean, what’s the point in doing all the hard work if you’re then going to let it bounce off you?

In fairness, the drops were less of an issue last year than in previous years, although he did still have 8 on the season, and he does got to some passes that other Tight Ends wouldn’t get close to, so it is in some part understandable as to why he doesn’t always hang on.

His Free Agency move to the Seahawks will see him be part of a more run-centric offense in 2015, but I don’t think that will mean any less involvement for Graham. With Russell Wilson’s excellent short yardage game and his ability to hit receivers in stride, it could be a bumper year.

He’ll definitely need to improve his blocking game in Seattle, and those drops will need to be improved before I’d personally be comfortable placing him above any of my current top 4.

4. Martellus Bennett

Standing at 6’6” and weighing 265lbs, it’s not hard to see why Bennet was the most targeted Tight End in the League last year. Leading all Tight Ends with 90 receptions it’s also little wonder that he enjoyed a career year with 916 yards and 6 TDs.

Often used as a short yardage outlet for Culter, Bennett is adept at using his size to evade tackles and gain extra yardage. With fewer drops and some better passing, I think we could easily have seen him top the 100-reception mark last year.

That said, I think the arrival of new offensive coordinator Adam Gase could be good news for Bennett if Gase continues to look to exploit mismatches as he did in Denver. A lot will depend on how Rookie Kevin White shapes up and which Jay Cutler shows up, but I fully expect Bennett to see another large slice of the action in 2015.

3. Travis Kelce

In an offense that was less than spectacular last year, Travis Kelce continued to make his case for being considered one of the top Tight Ends in the League.

With an amassed 862 yards on the season at a League leading 82.7% catch percentage, he was an ever reliable check down for Alex Smith. At 6’5” and 260lbs, he’s difficult to bring down, too, with more than half of those yards coming after the catch (a League high 503) by way, in part, to 17 missed tackles.

The departure of Anthony Fasano and the arrival of Jeremy Maclin, Kelce could see even more of the ball in 2015. He’ll need to improve on the fumbles (4 last year) if he’s truly to be considered one of the best, but I don’t see any reason why he can’t further his case in 2015.

2. Greg Olsen

For me, the top 2 on this list were the first to be decided upon. The order they ended up in however, was another matter.

It’s easy to argue the case for Greg Olsen being the best Tight End in the NFL, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with anyone who did even though he appears at Number 2 on my list.

It’s not necessarily about the headline numbers with Olsen. Whilst he still managed over 1,000 yards receiving and 6 TDs last year, he took the field for more snaps than anyone on the Panthers roster, save for Ryan Kalil. That alone I think shows the value Olsen brings to the Panthers, and their less than stellar O-line. His blocking is possibly better than some current starting linemen in my opinion, and by far the best of any Tight End.

It’s because of this repeated need for his blocking ability that I think his offensive numbers aren’t as strong as they could be were he to find himself on another roster. He’s the second best receiving option for Newton behind Kelvin Benjamin currently, and should be scoring a little more for me to be able to displace my Number 1 choice, but I just can’t see him being freed up next year given the lack of any real improvement on the Panthers’ line.

As such, I think it will be another year of hard graft for Olsen instead of the breakout year I think he deserves.

1. Rob Gronkowski

As much as I think Olsen is a quality Tight End in every department, it’s very difficult for me to see anyone having a better year next year than “Gronk”, which is why he tops my list.

Probably the best receiving Tight End there is, he’s equally dangerous on short yardage over the middle or going a little deeper and finding gaps in the coverage. It’s bad enough as a linebacker having to tackle someone with Gronk’s speed and size, but against the secondary, it’s almost unfair.

It comes as no surprise then that Gronkowski led all Tight Ends with yards gained last year – an impressive 1,124. Add in 12 TDs and an average of 13.7 yards per catch, and you have a set of numbers many wideouts would have been pleased with, never mind a Tight End.

He’s not often required to display his blocking talents but, when he does, he’s sometimes found a little wanting in my opinion, especially one-on-one, but his sheer size often means he can hold up the opposing defender long enough for the play to develop.

He’s had his problems with injury in the past but, if he can stay healthy as he did in 2014, we will no doubt see another big set of numbers next year, especially as I think an ever-ageing Brady looks to use the short pass a little more.

That party bus better have plenty of gas.