The Top 5 NFL Tight Ends

August 8, 2009

Remember in the 1990's when run-and-shoot offenses were the hot trend in the NFL, and "experts" were predicting the extinction of the tight end position? Obviously, those forecasts turned out to be incorrect, as today the position is a mainstay in every offense with quality talent featured throughout the league.

So, with training camps in full swing and the NFL season fast approaching, we now present our rankings for the top five tight ends in the NFL. Keep in mind that these rankings are not from a fantasy football or purely statistical perspective, but rather from the viewpoint of which guy would a coach most want to have in his lineup in any one-day, do-or-die, single game scenario.

#5 Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts

With Marvin Harrison's decline the past two years, Dallas Clark has emerged as perhaps Peyton Manning's most trusted target. That role should only expand now that Harrison is no longer on the team.

Clark gives the Colts' passing game a tremendous threat, as he consistently is able to find the open seams in the middle of the field. Last season, Clark had 77 receptions for 848 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is also a decent run blocker.

#4 Kellen Winslow Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Winslow's biggest problem is staying on the field, as he missed six games last season, and nearly all of 2004 and 2005. But when healthy, young Kellen does his father proud, as he is capable of producing 80-90 receptions in any given season.

Winslow's combination of size and athleticism can be a nightmare for any linebacker or safety trying to cover him. It makes one wonder just how good this guy could be without all of the injuries.

#3 Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons

The all-time leader in reception yards among tight ends, Gonzalez has been the gold standard at the position for the last decade. And apparently, the 10-time Pro-Bowler has no intentions of slowing down, as he has caught at least 96 balls in each of his past two seasons.

Gonzalez still has the athleticism to embarrass defenders in pass coverage, and remains a solid run blocker as well. Gonzalez's size and excellent hands should instantly make his new Atlanta Falcons team a much more efficient unit in the red zone.

One could make the case that Gonzalez is the best ever at the position, and in today's league, he could very well be the best at the position in any one game scenario. The only thing that drops him down to the number 3 slot is his age. After all, he surely will slow down at some point, right?

#2 Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

Gates does not block as well as Gonzalez, and thus, his game is not as complete. But what separates Gates from his peers is his raw talent, as he is the league's most athletic tight end. It is precisely because of that athleticism that Gates might be the one tight end to have in the game on a 4th down for all the marbles.

Gates' hands, speed, and leaping ability are unquestioned, as he can consistently outjump and beat double-teams to make plays on the ball. He single-handedly can widen the margin of error for any quarterback with his ability to snag off-target throws. The fact that he has caught at least 8 TD's for the past five seasons, indicates that he is a tremendous threat in the red zone.

Although Gates has not had an 80-catch season in three years, that dropoff is not due to any decline in his skills. First, San Diego has had a mediocre receiving corps during that time, causing Gates to get most of the defensive attention in passing situations. The whole stadium essentially knows that quarterback Phillip Rivers is looking for Gates on 3rd down, and that tends to curb his production.

Second, Gates has battled through injuries for many of those games, admirably playing while not being at his physical best. For the Chargers to go anywhere this year, Gates must avoid the aches and pains that have recently curtailed his output because underneath all those nagging injuries, the talent is still there.

#1 Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

Quite simply, Witten is the game's most complete tight end.

A potent run blocker, Witten helps the Cowboys' backs spring free on the perimeter thanks to his outstanding work on the edge. Because of those talents, the Cowboys also have used Witten in the I formation and as an H-back, allowing him to work as an effective lead blocker between the tackles.

In addition, Witten's precise route-running, reliable hands, and good speed, make him a tremendous asset to the Cowboys' passing attack. In 2007, Witten tallied 96 catches, while last year he grabbed another 81. More importantly, Witten is a vertical threat down the middle of the field, and is quarterback Tony Romo's main go-to guy on 3rd down.

Finally, Witten brings leadership and intangibles to the table like few others. Who could forget his memorable run-after-the-catch two years ago with no helmet? That toughness was on display once more last season, as Witten played in all 16 games despite a series of injuries to his ribs and legs.

Throw in Witten's playmaking abilities in the clutch, and it is easy to see why he deserves the top spot. This year, with no T.O. on the roster, the Cowboys will need all of Witten's productivity and leadership if they expect to compete for their sixth Lombardi.

Some Honorable Mentions:

Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans Saints
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

1 comment:

  1. Until he actually shows a decline, I would put Gonzalez #1, Witten 2, Gates 3.


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