Thursday, August 16, 2012

Top 10 NFL Tight Ends Heading In to 2012

As the NFL season draws nearer and nearer, I've decided to help kick off this new blog of mine by doing top player lists for different positions in the NFL. We continue at tight end, a rapidly evolving and important position in today's NFL, with a top 10.

10. Owen Daniels, Houston - Daniels doesn't get a ton of love because he doesn't put up huge receiving numbers, but he is competent enough with his hands to make plays, as evidenced by his career yards per catch average being well in to double digits.  But where Daniels makes his real money is blocking - helping to set the tone for a very good Texans running game in their zone block scheme.
9. Fred Davis, Washington - Breaking out in the final games of the 2010 season, Davis continued to play well in 2011 despite the fact that he had a truly dreadful quarterback throwing to him literally all season.  With Robert Griffin III's scrambling and throwing ability and Davis' raw talent, the tight end could be a great safety blanket for the Skins' rookie signal caller and improve on his 800 yard campaign from last year.
8. Aaron Hernandez, New England - One half of perhaps the best pair of tight ends the NFL has ever seen, Hernandez is the lightning to Rob Gronkowski's thunder.  Freakishly young, Hernandez caught 79 balls for 910 yards and seven touchdowns last year while lining up both on the line and split out.  He's shown that he can run the ball as well and is a very versatile player with quick feet and explosive speed.  If Gronk wasn't on the other side of the field, the guy would be a superstar.

7. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta - Arguably the best tight end of all time, Gonzalez is without question nearing the end of the road.  He had a very good year last year with 80 receptions, almost 900 yards, and a good number of touchdowns, and has always been great at doing the basic things, like blocking, very well.  Still, at age 36, it's hard to put him much higher than this.  He will slow down eventually.
6. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay - Finley is a 25 year old physical specimen, standing at 6'5" and weighing 250 pounds.  He posts receiving totals that are lower than both Gonzalez and Hernandez, but gets the nod over those players because he is younger and more complete, respectively.  Entering his prime now, Finley is an integral part of Aaron Rodger's vertical attack and a star in the making.
5. Vernon Davis, San Francisco - Long labeled as a bust, Davis silenced his critics with a mammoth 2009 season and has never looked back.  Averaging 67 grabs and 890 yards over the last three seasons, Davis has established himself as an elite NFL tight end with his deep routes, blocking ability, and good hands. Alex Smith seems to limit his upside, but he is a special and complete player.
4. Antonio Gates, San Diego - When healthy, Gates is probably the most productive tight end in the NFL.  His last full season, 2009, saw him post 79 catches and over 1,100 yards, but since then he has struggled to stay on the field because of bouts with foot and ankle injuries.  A physical freak, Gates is too big for corners and too fast for linebackers; this allows him to basically do whatever he wants with the ball once he has it in his hands.  If it wasn't for his health, he would probably take the top spot on the list.
3. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans - Graham exploded on to the scene last year in his sophomore season, catching 99 balls for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns on the NFL's most prolific passing attack.  Graham is fast, precise, and has good hands.  While he certainly benefits from having Drew Brees as his quarterback, he also has physical tools and is the second best receiving tight end in football; of this there is little doubt.
2. Jason Witten, Dallas - The most complete tight end in the NFL, the now 30 year-old Witten has missed exactly one game in his NFL career and has been a model of consistency over his nine seasons in Big D.  Over the last five campaigns, he has averaged 89 catches, 1,014 receiving yards, and a shade over 5 touchdowns per and is effective in every aspect of the game.  He can block, he can run, he can play special teams, and he can receive.  What more do you want?
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England - Gronk had the best season of any tight end ever last fall, posting a single-season record 1,327 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns while catching balls from Tom Brady.  Gronk is huge, fast, strong, and he has hands the size of dinner plates which make him the most tantalizing red zone receiver in the game today.  He is so good that teams knew what was coming all year last season past week six and they still couldn't stop it. Not only is he offensively gifted, but he's also a great blocker and hits people while on offense - which you love to see from any player with his size and strength.  He may not do what he did last year again, but he's still incredible.

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