By Steve Silverman
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Tight end continues to be a position that is looked at in a variety of ways around the league.
While there are still some teams that are willing to go into battle every week with a tight end who can block and catch the occasional pass, the presence of high-profile pass-catchers like Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen and Tyler Eifert demonstrate just how dangerous and effective the best at the position are on a day-in, day-out basis.
It does not appear that even the best defenses have a true answer for the top tight ends in the business. The combination of strength, speed and the ability to get open causes nothing but headaches for opposing coordinators and safeties around the league. The New England Patriots are all-in at the position with Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett this season. That should give head coach Bill Belichick devastating options.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Gronkowski (72 receptions, 1,176 yards, 11 TDs in 2015) is now in the debate of best tight end in league history. There is little doubt that he is the best in the game right now. He runs outstanding patterns, and in the event he does not get open, he can still make the huge play because of his size, strength and battle level. The 26-year-old behemoth is also a fine blocker, and as long as he stays healthy, the Patriots are going to have a chance to win every week.
2. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
While Gronkowski is clearly No. 1 at the position, Olsen is a very solid runner-up and he has been Carolina’s best receiver since coming to the Panthers in a 2011 trade with the Chicago Bears. Olsen runs some of the best routes in the league at the position, is quite athletic and is a willing and an effective blocker. He rarely drops the ball and can catch the tough pass in traffic.
3. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
As he prepares to play his 14th season in the NFL, Witten may be somewhat off the radar because the Cowboys had key injury problems at the quarterback position last year and their offense lost its effectiveness. Witten still caught 77 passes and blocked well, but his ability to make big plays will be in greater evidence this season as long as Tony Romo can stay healthy.
4. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Walker is clearly the best and most effective receiver on the Titans, and second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota knows that he can depend on him. Walker caught 94 passes for 1,086 yards and six TDs last year, and he finds a way to get open and make big plays even though he lacks prototypical size, standing just 6-foot. Walker uses his toughness and athleticism to make plays, and he could have a sensational year if Mariota continues to develop.
5. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
A huge specimen at 6-6 and 250 pounds, Eifert has been on the verge of greatness but he has not been able to reach his full potential because injuries have prevented him from remaining in the lineup. He still managed to find the endzone 13 times on his 52 receptions last year, and he excels at running through tackles once he gets up to top speed.
6. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
The 2015 season was a breakthrough for Reed, and the numbers bear that out as he caught 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. In addition to the numbers, Reed’s confidence grew dramatically as the season progressed, and he should take on an even bigger role for the Redskins this season. He is a very dangerous performer and is still improving.
7. Martellus Bennett, New England Patriots
Look for a huge year from Bennett as he plays opposite Gronkowski in the New England offense. Playing with a chance to go to the Super Bowl in the final year of his contract should ensure that that Bennett plays with maximum effort every time he steps out of the field. He brings big-play ability, along with the hands to make the tough catch in traffic.
8. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Look for a big year from Ertz, as he caught 75 passes last year and is one of the most sure-handed players at the position. Additionally, the Eagles are not a dominant team at the wide receiver position, and that should pave the way for Ertz to continue to pad his stats. He sells out to make the catch, and he is not going to go down after the first hit.
9. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
A couple of years ago, Kelce developed a “mini-Gronk” reputation because he appeared to have a similar style, build and attitude. He hasn’t quite been able to match the Patriots’ superstar, but he is a very effective player who is often quarterback Alex Smith’s first option. Kelce is also one of the league’s best blocking tight ends.
10. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
A year or two ago, Graham was the clear No. 2 tight end in the league behind Gronkowski, but he was not as effective in the Seattle offense last year as he had been during his best years with the New Orleans Saints. Graham is coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season, catching just 48 balls for 605 yards and two TDs, but, still, at 6-6 and 260, with all the athleticism in the world, you get the feeling that Graham could bounce back if he gets off to a good start this year.
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