Best TE in NFL – Ranking the Best Tight Ends in the NFL
Tight ends were once just an extra man on the line for blocking, and now they are big-time receiving weapons in offenses. There is a pretty easy one-two punch here with Travis Kelce and George Kittle, but see who takes the cake between them? There have been a lot of stories over the offseason, but Rob Gronkowski coming back to the league was quite the surprise. Below are the top 25 tight ends in the league right now. There will be no fantasy points taken into consideration with these, as you can find our fantasy rankings here.
Top 25 Tight Ends
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Travis Kelce has been the top tight end over the last few seasons, as he has been a massive part of the Kansas City Chiefs offensive success. Kelce is coming into 2020 with four straight seasons over 1,000 receiving yards. He has not had a season under 800 receiving yards in his career. Now you can make a case for pedestrian touchdown numbers, but Kelce has been one of the most effective receivers over the last five seasons. George Kittle has not been in the league as long as Kelce and is four years younger. Coming off back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons, he has been a monster no matter who has been under center for the 49ers. Not only does Kittle have no weakness, but he also excels in run blocking as well. Kittle is a complete tight end and still has plenty of prime years in front of him.
The Mark Andrews break out season came last year, as he produced ten touchdowns and 852 receiving yards. Andrews made a jump from 50 targets to 98 targets. Looking to the future, Andrews was a former third-round pick from back in 2018. He has caught 66% so far in his career and entering into his third year, and we should expect Andrews to produce yet again. Zach Ertz is your typical receiving tight end, and he has been a central part of the Eagles offense. While not quite as fast as some of the other names here, Ertz has been a solid route runner and brings in almost everything that is thrown his way. Ertz is part of a dynamic tight end group, with Goedert coming alive last season.
Darren Waller is a late bloomer, as he was drafted back in 2015 and failed to make an impact. He was suspended during the 2017 season, signed with Oakland, and 2019 was the breakout year for him. Waller averaged 71 yards per game, caught 90 balls, and had a 77% catch rate. You might be wondering why Waller is so high, but that is because we are looking at right now instead of five years ago. He will be 28 when the season starts and is a mismatch for defenses. I don’t believe 2019 was some one-year fluke as he has the tools to carry out reliable production over the next few seasons.
Dallas Goedert is the second Philadelphia Eagles tight end within the top eight. He was drafted in 2018, and while he plays behind Ertz as the primary tight end, he has a lot of worth to this Eagles team. Goedert has been rated as a top ten tight end in each season coming into the league. He excels in receiving and run blocking and can also get out in the slot when healthy Evan Engram has been a premier receiving tight end. However, health has been a significant knock against Engram. He has averaged 11.5 yards per reception in his career and has 12 touchdowns in 25 starts. If Engram can stay healthy in 2020, there is no doubt he is a top-eight tight end.
Austin Hooper will move from Atlanta to Cleveland this year, coming off of a couple of productive seasons. While he will move to a lesser quarterback, the receiving core around him is going to be very similar. Hooper should still see steady targets to produce, but he won’t be the first or second option, just like that was the case in Atlanta. Hooper is more geared to be of a receiving threat, despite not being a tremendous athlete. Jared Cook had a rough first half of 2019 but produced big numbers in the second half. Cook has floated around the league as a deep threat tight end and has been rated as a top ten tight end in two of the last three years. Cook still has big-time speed, and at 6’5, this is going to be tough for opposing defenses to cover. Despite being on the older side, Cook has 15 touchdowns over the last two seasons and averaged 16.4 yards per reception in his first season with New Orleans.
It took a while for Hunter Henry to get playing time with the Chargers. Antonio Gates was finishing out his career despite having very little to offer, and then once snaps became available, he tore his ACL. Henry played 12 games last season and posted a 55-652-5 line on 76 targets. Henry caught 72% of the balls thrown his way. There was a reason why many were calling for Henry to get more snaps over the last few seasons because he is a mismatch in the slot. Henry’s breakout season is still in the works, and the quarterback play for him this year, along with passing volume, there is a slight concern.
The Los Angeles Rams have not been a team to use their tight ends heavily, but that changed a bit in the second half of last season. The lack of usage has never been about Tyler Higbee’s skills but more about how the Rams offense was run. Higbee is a mismatch at 6’6 and is a solid run blocker as well. Higbee should continue to have a more significant role in the offense, and his production trajectory is not something that is a shock given most tight ends have this route to success. If I were ranking the best tight end ever playing in the NFL today, it would be Rob Gronkowski at number one. However, he has been retired for a year and is on the other side of 30 these days. We also saw a drop off in production during his last season. I am just not quite sure what Gronkowski we will see show up in 2020.
There are a few young tight ends that will be getting a more prominent role in 2020. Jonnu Smith is one of them. He is a quick, tight end who can line up in the slot and dominate in the passing game. Smith is an athletic tight end who has averaged 12+ yards per reception in the last two seasons. Smith has only seen 104 targets in his career but has posted a 73-854-8 line. While Kyle Rudolph is not quite the same as he was a few years ago, he still serves as a genuine red zone threat at 6’6. Targets dwindled for the former Notre Dame man, but the touchdowns remained consistent. He is trying to hold off the younger and more impressive Irv Smith, who is likely going to surpass him within the next year or two.
Ian Thomas is another one of those young names who is starting to get an opportunity. We had only seen glimpses of Thomas when Greg Olsen was injured, but now that he is out of Carolina, Thomas will be the go-to tight end. We may still not see big production in year three because there are so many mouths to feed, but Thomas is an exciting young name to keep an eye out for. If he can manage to find some consistent targets in the offense, there is no doubt the production will come with it.
Eric Ebron has been a middling tight end for most of his career despite being a top ten pick back in 2014 and having a strong athletic profile. He failed to make the most of his time in Detroit, and while he had a career year in Indy back in 2018, he fell flat in 2019. Still just 27 years old, Ebron has a chance to rebound in Pittsburgh, but it is hard to put him over any of the names above. His efficiency has always been an issue, where drops definitely knock him down the list a bit. Going to Pittsburgh and what has been a good passing offense, there is a chance he can bounce back.
A pair of 2019 draft class tight ends have a chance to break out in 2020. Noah Fant of the Denver Broncos and T.J. Hockenson of the Detroit Lions both are first-round picks from last year. Hockenson had a shortened season playing just 12 games but was not healthy for even those 12 games. He is an impressive prospect, as is Fant. Both are going to be promising tight ends in the passing game. Neither was heavily targeted in their rookie season, which is usually the case for young tight ends. They need a year or two to break into the system and then post substantial numbers. 2020 should be that breakout year for both of them, even with plenty of weapons on both offenses. Fant had an impressive 14 yards per reception but only averaged 35 yards a game in his first season.
Jack Doyle is not the most athletic name in football, but he has been a vital part of the Colts offense when called upon. Doyle has been very consistent in his career, and he is a big target. He also has been above average in run blocking too. In Doyle’s career, he has over a 70% catch rate and has had the versatility of being lined up in a few different places. There is a lot of excitement for Mike Gesicki this year as he is a 6’6 monster who ran a 4.5 and was drafted in the second round. Gesicki has mainly been used in the slot and almost exclusively as a receiving tight end. Geiscki saw a bump in targets, and he is going into his third year in the league. This is when we either see tight ends sink or swim in this league.
Getting towards the end of the list here, we still have some names who can make a jump this year. Hayden Hurst is one of them, as he moves from Baltimore to Atlanta. Hurst will get his first starting gig, which should finally get his production up. Hurst is a former first-round pick out of South Carolina and was productive on just 39 targets in 2019. He brought in 30 of the 39 targets for 349 yards and two touchdowns. Hurst should see a tick up in targets with his new team. Irv Smith Jr. is going to have to wait for some snaps, but he is going to be a fine tight end in this league for a long time. Smith caught 76% of balls thrown his way in 2019, averaging 8.6 yards per reception. He saw more targets than Rudolph but was still lacked target upside due to the Vikings being a run-first team with plenty of weapons.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers situation is not a fun one for O.J. Howard. He has seen Cameron Brate steal snaps and targets while competing with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Now over the offseason, Gronkowski has come into the team, and they have three tight ends on the depth chart. Overall this isn’t an appealing situation for future success unless Howard was to get moved. Howard was drafted in the first round, going 19th overall in 2017. Posting 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons were promising, but year three was not in the right direction. The talent is there, but the landing spot appears to be a miss. As for Brate, he was looked at often as Winston’s target at times. He has had a lot of success in the red zone with 24 touchdowns over the last four seasons.
The 25th spot came down to some aging tight ends who have very little life left in them. Greg Olsen edges out the rest of the names here as he landed in Seattle over the offseason. Olsen has failed to play ten games or more in two of the last three seasons. However, his production, when healthy, has remained fairly consistent. With an improvement at quarterback in 2020, there is a chance Olsen can bounce back and produce. At 35 years old, I wouldn’t bank on that completely happening.
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Frequently Asked Questions
George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers produced a big year again in 2019, as he excelled in both blocking and receiving. Kittle had over 1,000 yards receiving, five touchdowns, and 85 catches in 14 games during the 2019 football season.
Tony Gonzalez of the Kansas City Chiefs goes down as the best tight end of all-time. He played in 270 games for the Chiefs and the Falcons, going to the Pro Bowl 14 times. He also had over 15,000 receiving yards and 111 touchdowns.
Jason Witten played over 240 games for the Dallas Cowboys and racked up plenty of numbers. He had over 1,100 catches, 12,000 yards, and 60 touchdowns in his career with Dallas. Witten was a reliable option for quite a few Dallas quarterbacks over the years.
Kellen Winslow was one of the earlier tight ends to be a threat in the passing game. He had over 500 catches in his career and racked up 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns. This may not seem much, but during this era, these numbers are relatively large.
Shannon Sharpe played 12 years with the Denver Broncos and two with the Baltimore Ravens. He had over 10,000 receiving yards in his career and over 60 touchdowns. Sharpe was a dominant threat in the 1990s and was also a three-time Super Bowl champion.
Tony Gonzalez played most of his games during the 2000s, going from 1997 to 2013. Gonzalez had over 15,000 yards in his career and over 100 career receiving touchdowns. He was a true weapon and also caught 66% of passes thrown his way.
There are a few tight ends who have won four Super Bowls, with Randy Grossman and Marv Flemming. Grossman won his in 1975, 1976, 1979, and 1980. Flemming won his in 1967, 1968, 1972, and 1974. Both were a part of two historic teams.
Antonio Gates leads all tight ends in receiving touchdowns. He ranked 7th all-time with 116 touchdowns and played from 2003-2018. Gates played his entire career with the Chargers and is one of the more notable non-drafted free agents.
Tony Gonzalez is the only tight end inside the top ten in receiving yards, and there are just two inside the top 25. He ranks 6th all-time, with 15,127 yards. Gonzalez did his damage with the Atlanta Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs from 1997-2013.
Once again, Tony Gonzalez has another record for tight ends. He finished his career with 1,325 receptions, which is the most by a tight end. It is also the third-most in NFL history. Jason Witten sits fourth, who is still climbing the rankings.