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Ranking All 32 Starting Tight Ends

After ranking each defensive unit and offensive lines, TRO now moves on to rank every starting tight end (TE1) from worst to best (32-1). Check out how each starting tight end stacks up compared to the rest of them:

via Las Vegas Raiders

A position that has evolved over time, the tight end is one of the more dynamic weapons in the game. These guys have to block like offensive linemen and run routes and catch passes like wide receivers. TRO is taking each team's starting tight end (TE1) and ranking them from 32 - 1. It is worth noting that we are NOT ranking the 32 best tight ends in the League as a whole (as some teams have two or three good ones), but rather, we are taking each team's first option at the position and stacking them up against each other.


via Sports Illustrated

Coming in as the 32nd ranked starting tight end is Geoff Swaim. The Titans made no efforts to recoup the loss of Jonnu Smith this offseason. Early reports were that they were so impressed with Anthony Firkser that they didn't feel the need to. Well, their week 1 depth chart has Swaim listed as TE1 and Firkser as TE2. This is not a great sign as Swaim has been around the League for six years, and primarily has been a third tight end/blocker. He only has 484 yards and two touchdowns across 53 career games played. It's not likely that his seventh year will be some dramatic leap forward.


via JetsWire / USA Today

In 72 career games, Tyler Krof has not amassed the receiving statistics of anything beyond a bottom-end starter. For reference, he's had a few seasons where the percentages of targets he has caught is in the 60s or below. He is rather pedestrian as a blocker as well. He's good enough to have a long career in this League, most of which will be as a starter, but he's not going the focal point of opposing defenses.


via Bob Self / Florida Times Union

Chris Manhertz has spent his entire career as the second or third option. In his first year in Jacksonville, he'll get the green light as a starter. He's an above-average run blocker, and if he can develop his receiving abilities, he would shoot up on this list. Until then, he will remain near the bottom. For all he can do run blocking, he lacks in speed and is a bit unrefined as a route runner. He does have a steady pair of hands, but the ball has to typically be put right on the numbers.


via Norm Hall / Getty Images

In his six year career, Maxx Williams has only accumulated 800 yards and five touchdowns. He'll get his first season as TE1, so we expect those numbers to take a leap. He's a relatively balanced tight end, but doesn't do anything overly well.


via Raj Mehta / USA TODAY Sports

Vikings fans were sad to see Irv Smith, Jr. miss this season with a torn meniscus, but the noise coming out of Minnesota is that Tyler Conklin is poised to not only fill the TE1 role, but also to take a major leap. He's been a quiet understudy of Kyle Rudolph for a couple of years, but is just an unknown commodity. He was TE3, promoted to TE2, now thrown into action at TE1. TRO believes in some of the upside hype, placing him above the guys ranked below him on this list, but there needs to be more shown before he climbs any higher.


via Dylan Buell / Getty Images

C. J. Uzomah is a relatively reliable veteran with fairly steady hands, and is not a liability as a blocker either. He's another guy who is serviceable, but doesn't do anything great. You'd love to have him as your TE2, but as far as TE1s go, he's no trailblazer.


via Stephen Lew / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2020 third round pick of the New Orleans Saints, Adam Trautman, has been awarded the starting job after the departure of Jared Cook. He saw some action last year as a rookie, catching nearly 94% of his targets for 171 yards and one touchdown. He showed promise and looks like he might be worth the third round pick. Expect him to continue to improve with more reps in 2021, but only time will tell how much he truly will improve.


via Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune

Cole Kmet had a decent rookie year in 2020, and allowed the Bears to prioritize veteran Jimmy Graham (their TE2) as a redzone/goal line threat. He fits the blocking schemes in Chicago nicely, but in 16 games, you'd like to see Kmet accumulate more than 243 yards and two touchdowns as a receiving option. We do have to keep in mind that the 2020 Bears offense didn't do him any favors on that front either though. If Justin Fields ends up getting the starting nod early, look for Kmet's production to increase, as a scrambling quarterback's best friend is often targets around the middle of the field.


via BillsWire / USA Today

Dawson Knox is a bit of a bruiser. He's physical and is good at delivering a blow to defensive players at the line of scrimmage. He's a nice change of pace option for Josh Allen, giving him someone to find underneath when the team's speedy receivers are busy stretching the field. In two years, Knox has accumulated 676 yards and five touchdowns on 52 receptions. Buffalo fans should be intrigued by his upside, but are likely hopeful that he makes a big third year leap.


via James D. Smith / Dallas Cowboys

Dalton Schultz filled in for Blake Jarwin as TE1 when he was injured in 2020, and made the most of his opportunity. He rightfully has earned the spot as the Cowboys' true TE1 going forward, pushing a healthy Jarwin down to TE2. In 2020, he accumulated 615 yards and four touchdowns. Look for him to improve with Dak Prescott back at the helm. It is worth noting he's in a low-pressure situation given the attention opposing defenses have to pay to this receiving corp. He fits the mold and typically won't lose any games for Dallas, but don't expect him to be the difference maker that pushes them over the top either.


via Brett Coomer / Houston Cronicle

Jordan Akins is one of the more underrated/unknown tight ends in the League. He's relatively productive. For instance he has 1,046 receiving yards in three career seasons. Given the state of the Texans lately, he's in position to be sort of a bell cow in the passing game. This could be a bigger year for him, and it'll be worth keeping an eye on to see if he can continue to grow.


via Mykal McEldowney / IndyStar

Jack Doyle has put together a respectable career, producing relatively steady numbers over eight seasons. He's more of an old school tight end who gets it done in the run game and keeps defenses honest without really stretching them thin. Given his age and the emergence of Mo Alie-Cox, we've likely seen the best of Doyle. His experience will have him in the right place at the right time, but he's on his way to a TE2 role in the near future.


via Chanelle Smith Walker / Carolina Panthers

Dan Arnold will be an intriguing tight end to watch in 2021. He saw true action as a TE1 in Arizona last season, and he had a career year. He's tall, physical, and thrives in short yardage situation. He's reportedly built a good rapport with Sam Darnold this offseason, so TRO is of the opinion that his numbers will continue to grow. The only thing keeping him from climbing on this list is his speed (or lack thereof) and ability to get involved in the deep passing game. Thankfully for Arnold, he is on a team where he won't be expected to do those things given the other skill players around him.


via Ted S. Warren / AP

After four years in Los Angeles, Gerald Everett has found himself in Seattle. This is going to be a great career move for him. He stands to gain from an increased role in the offense. He's put together steady numbers in his young career, and often gets overlooked as a blocker. He's a solid tight end, but every now and then finds himself battling a case of the dropsies.


via Tod Pennington / Getty Images

Evan Engram had an outstanding rookie year in 2017 as a pass catcher. He's accumulated over 2,000 receiving yards in four years, and can be a true mismatch for defenses when he's locked in. The problem is he is not always locked in, and can drop an alarming number of passes. If he can find consistency and continue to trend upward as a blocker, then he will climb on this list.


via Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports

Tyler Higbee is someone who has seemingly gained more confidence each year, and it has reflected in his game. His touchdown numbers have increased each year, and in 2019 he's shown he's capable of racking up some very solid yardage as well. He has a solid track record of blocking in both the run and pass games. With Matt Stafford coming to town, and Gerald Everett leaving, Higbee might see an uptick in production.


via Paul Bersebach / Orange County Register / SCNG

The savvy veteran was a touchdown machine during his tenure in New Orleans. While he did not conclude his time there on the highest note with a rough performance in their playoff loss to Tampa Bay, he landed on his feet in Los Angeles where he will have Justin Herbert launching missiles into his capable hands. He's a strong tight end and a very refined route runner. For those reasons, look for him to continue to excel in the red zone.


via Dylan Buell / Getty Images

Last year, in his third career year, Robert Tonyan exploded on the scene with 11 receiving touchdowns. Across 2018 and 2019, he only had 14 career receptions! He typically was utilized as a blocker throughout those first two years of his career. While it helps to have Aaron Rodgers look your way as essentially his second read, you still have to run the routes, get open, and put your hands on the ball to stack up the numbers he did. The confidence boost he received last year along with the reliability he showed Rodgers should lead to another productive year in 2021.


via Joe Sargent / Getty Images

We'll go on the record and say that we doubt Eric Ebron will ever have another 13 touchdown year like he did in Indianapolis in 2018. However, he has found a good home in Pittsburgh. He fits the mold, falling right in line in this offensive scheme. We're genuinely happy for Ebron, someone who was hyped up as a rookie, overcame a horrendous couple years of drops, revitalized his career in Indy, and has seemed to find some consistency in Pittsburgh. He's a big tight end that likes to sneak loose down the field, and as the older that he has gotten, the less he has seemed to mind throwing around his 250lb frame as a blocker, as he's improved on that front.


via Jason Miller / Getty Images

Austin Hooper had quite a thing going in Atlanta with Matt Ryan. Prior to the 2020 season, free agency lured him to Cleveland where his numbers took a hit. The Browns run a much different, run-heavy scheme, and he had to compete with TE2 David Njoku for limited targets. He did hit a bit of a stride later in the year, which TRO believes will be more of the track he will be on in 2021. He's still a very talented weapon, and is an underrated blocker, making him one of the better tight ends in the League.


via Nancy Lane / Media News Group / Boston Herald

Jonnu Smith has been in the League since 2017, but last year he demanded everyone's attention when he piled on eight receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. He's an explosive weapon, and one of the most unique players on this list. He's got a burst of speed unlike most other tight ends, he's capable of taking handoffs on misdirection plays, and he's got a strong and steady set of hands. He could stand to improve as a run blocker, and he will have to share targets with Hunter Henry (who would be ranked around this portion of our list had he beat out Jonnu Smith for the TE1 spot). Pairing him with Bill Belichick and another Tier 1-2 tight end will take his career to the next level, assuming Mac Jones can deliver the ball.


via NBC Sports

The story behind Logan Thomas is a good one. He played a bit of everything in high school (including tight end), until he ultimately decided to play quarterback in college. While he had a decent college career (it landed him in the NFL), he likely would have gained a lot more notoriety early on had he stayed a tight end all throughout college. He came into the League in 2014, but it was not until 2019 that he rediscovered his tight end roots. Last year he broke free, catching 72 balls for 670 yards and six touchdowns. He's large, 6'6'' and 260lbs, making him a capable blocker, and he'll look to build on last season's performance after he just signed quite the contract.


via Andy Cross / The Denver Post

The Broncos took Noah Fant 20th overall in the first round of the 2019 draft. He's looked every bit like a first rounder when healthy. 102 catches, 1,235 yards and six touchdowns in just two years, Fant has proven to be a very reliable option. There's been a bit of a learning curve for him as a blocker as it's been the only real downside to his game. Since he'll just be entering his third year, there's a good chance he will continue to improve on that front.


via Kara Durrette / Atlanta Falcons

Placing a rookie inside the top ten at any position seems like a bold move, but Kyle Pitts is going to be that good. He's arguably the best football player in the 2021 Draft class. He's fast, strong, has great hands, and possesses elite athleticism. He can run the whole route tree with confidence, making him a matchup nightmare. He's in the perfect situation as he'll be a member of the Falcons air raid offense, but let's not forget that Pitts is a very solid run/pass blocker as well. He's the next big thing at tight end, and we will all see it come to fruition sooner than later.


via Monica Herndon / The Philadelphia Inquirer

It's hard to really say where it went wrong with Zach Ertz and the Philadelphia Eagles. Ertz was reigning supreme as one of the best tight ends in football for four or five seasons, and then he battled with health issues and became disgruntled with the organization. A trade seemed all but certain as there was no report of mended fences between the two parties, and Dallas Goedert has emerged as a good TE1 in Ertz's absence (Goedert would easily make the top half of this list if it was a general tight end rankings list). That being said, the real Zach Ertz is in there somewhere, he's healthy, rested, and as long as he's on the Eagles roster and available, he'll be their true TE1. TRO believes that Ertz will return more to form this season.


via Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports

What can we say about Rob Gronkowski? Last year, he comes out of retirement at 31 years old, and gets thrown into the fire without an offseason. He whooped tail as a blocker for most of the season taking the dirty work with pride, and then he exploded (in Gronk fashion) in the playoffs and Super Bowl, looking exactly like the Gronk we've all come to know and love, helping them secure another title. As we enter 2021, look for him to be in even better football shape, where he will look more like postseason Gronk early and often. He's so good that he's kept Cameron Brate and O. J. Howard (who both are better than a number of tight ends on this list) at bay as TE2 and TE3.


via NittanySportsNow

Mike Gesicki is a very unique, modern day NFL tight end. He's almost more of a big-bodied wide receiver. He has incredible hands and spectacular catch ability. He lines up in the slot more than any other tight end in the League and he honestly thrives there. He's a rare talent who has improved each year of his three year career. Look for him to be an even bigger receiving threat in 2021. The only area of his game that needs improvement is the fact that he can be a bit of a liability blocking, but he's such a good receiving threat that he still finds himself inside the top ten.


via Mike Mulholland / MLive

T.J. Hockenson has only been in the League two years, but the fact that he has been so good so early has made it feel like he's been around for five or six years. As a rookie he had 367 yards and two touchdowns, and last year he doubled his production accumulating 723 yards and six touchdowns. You can't ask for a better start from a rising third year player. He'll be the most talented receiving option for Jared Goff this year, so look for his numbers to continue to grow. Don't let his receiving production trick you into overlooking his stellar run blocking abilities either. Hockensen is here to stay as a top 5-10 tight end in this League.


via Shawn Hubbard / Baltimore Ravens

Despite missing a couple of games due to injury last year, Mark Andrews amassed 58 receptions, 701 yards, and seven touchdowns in only fourteen games. Even if he played all 16 games and put up these numbers, he'd still find himself inside the top five. Andrews is the best receiving option on the Ravens, he's a big body, and one of the better run blockers on this list. Andrews will be entering his fourth year where he will likely have an even bigger workload than the year before.


via RaidersWire / USA Today

We've made it to the top three of our list. These three men are in a league of their own when it comes to the tight end position. They are head and shoulders above the competition. Coming in as TRO's third best TE1 is Darren Waller. This guy caught 107 balls last year on 145 targets. He racked up 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns. That makes back to back seasons over 1,100 yards. Last year he was 10th in receiving yards (not just amongst tight ends, but all positions, which includes wide receivers). He is in the peak of his prime, and is poised for another monster year. He's a lean, fast, and explosive weapon with basketball player-like versatility. These strengths make him an elite pass catcher, but hinder his ability as a run-blocker. Despite his ineffective blocking, he's too good to put below the three spot.


via Ninerswire / USA Today

It was tough to not put George Kittle at the top of this list. It's like splitting hairs between him and the tight end who out ranked him. The People's tight end is one of the most complete football players this game has to offer. He's an elite receiver and a maniac when it comes to blocking. He'll follow blocks all the way down field and giggle like a mad man while doing it. He's equally as gifted as a receiver. He missed half of the season last year and still managed to rack up over 600 yards in eight games despite the offensive problems and quarterback concerns San Francisco was having. We're sure if he played with Patrick Mahomes and the Chief's all out attack offense, he would put up video game numbers with regularity. We hope to see Kittle play all 17 games this year as he's one of the best the League has to offer.


via David Eulitt / Getty Images

The best tight end in the NFL is Travis Kelce. No surprise to find him at the top of this list. Kelce is the only tight end in NFL history to have five straight 1,000+ yard receiving seasons, breaking the record previously set by Greg Olsen of three consecutive seasons. He caught 105 passes last year for 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns. Those are absolutely absurd numbers, good for fifth in total passes caught (all positions) and second in total receiving yards (all positions). He's outclassing some of the best wide receivers in the game. He's a Super Bowl champion and a flat out all star of this league. Kelce is not as good as a blocker as Kittle, but he is still very solid in helping set the tone in both the pass and the run game. It is worth noting that he is closing the gap on this front, and is starting to produce very productive blocking grades as of late. Kelce seems to be on top of the world and is redefining this position in way that has never been seen before.


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