I am back at it with more NFL previews ahead of the 2020 season. I have already shared my top 10 quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. The bus stopped there in 2019 for pre-season ranks. Unfortunately, there will be no alluding to last year’s rankings moving forward. Now, we continue to peel away the previews with tight ends. Let’s get right to it…
10. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
2019 Stats: 55 rec, 652 yards, 5 TDs
Henry could easily slide up this list if it wasn’t for the pile of injuries that have plagued his career. When he plays, he is a great offensive weapon who can extend the playbook vertically. Last season, he ranked 3rd in average target distance. He is also one of the more versatile guys in the league who can help in pass and run.
9. Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
2019 Stats: 69 rec, 734 yards, 3 TDs
Higbee had his coming out party last season. He finished in the top 10 in receiving yards and receptions among tight ends. He was also the number one targeted tight end in the redzone last season. He will need to convert more of those into pay-dirt, but the opportunity is there and he was one of the few bright spots on that dumpster fire.
8. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
2019 Stats: 64 rec, 852 yards, 10 TDs
He was the most utilized tight end when he was on the field last season. His hog rate of 23.4 ranked 1st among tight ends. Without many receiving threats in Baltimore, he saw plenty of opportunity and capitalized on that.
7. Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
2019 Stats: 90 rec, 1,145 yards, 3 TDs
Another player with a breakout season last year. Waller finished his fourth season 2nd in receptions and yards among tight ends. We will see what happens in 2020 now that teams know what a threat he can be. He certainly took advantage of softer coverage. How will he respond should teams tighten him up?
6. Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
2019 Stats: 43 rec, 705 yards, 9 TDs
While Michael Thomas shoulders most of the load in the passing game, Cook took the lack of quantity and turned it into quality. His 16.4 yards per reception is first among tight ends by a mile. That placed him 11th among all pass catchers in the NFL. The next tight end listed was Noah Fant at 28th.
5. Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns
2019 Stats: 75 rec, 787 yards, 6 TDs
Hooper has become one of the most consistent tight ends in the league the last two years. Now, he heads to a new home in Cleveland. Much like Atlanta, he will have plenty of receivers to take spotlight away from him. He knows how to create separation from defenders and fill the gaps.
4. Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2018 Stats: 47 rec, 682 yards, 3 TDs
After a year away, he is back. As it stands, he is the best tight end to ever play the game…for now. He was always a chess piece for the Patriots. As great as he is as a receiver, he is just as great in blocking. How will the year away affect him? One thing I like is he looks to be in phenomenal shape with slimmer build.
3. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
2019 Stats: 88 rec, 916 yards, 6 TDs
Ertz put together another great year in 2019 following his career best in 2018. Since 2015, he has yet to have less than 70 receptions and 800 yards. He’s basically the light beer version of Travis Kelce. That is good company.
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
2019 Stats: 97 rec, 1,229 yards, 5 TDs
It feels wrong to say he is second because of how great he is. Take what Zach Ertz has been since 2014 and magnify it as I alluded to. That is what Kelce is. He has four straight 1,000 yard seasons with 27 TDs in that time span. He finished 2019 number one in receptions and yards among tight ends. He would have been my number one heading into last season if I did the ranking.
1. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
2019 Stats: 85 rec, 1,053 yards, 5 TDs
I referred to how dominant Gronk was in the run and pass. Enter George Kittle. The last two seasons he has caught for over 1,000 yards on at least 85 receptions. Part of what makes Kittle so damn special as a receiver is his yards after the catch. He is second over the last two years (1,400+ yards) behind only Christian McCaffrey in YAC. Kittle ranked 1st in 2018 and 3rd in 2019. Kelce ranked 9th and 23rd, respectively. The common argument for Kelce is he is a better receiver. That is jaded at best and I blame that on fantasy football.
- Comparing Kittle to Kelce (2018 and 2019)
Targets: 243 / 286
Receptions: 173 / 200
Yards: 2,430 / 2,565
Touchdowns: 10 / 15
Yards Per Rec: 14.0 / 12.9
Catch Rate: 71.2 / 69.9
YAC: 1,472 / 979
Drops: 7 / 15
Both are fantastic pass catchers and receiving tight ends. Kelce is already going to Hall of Fame for his career thus far. I am not taking away from him, but this is a ranking of what is.
They play two different styles of ball. Kelce is more of a downfield threat versus Kittle who plays closer to the line. That could also be attributed in large part to the system and QB situations. Kelce’s style of play is certainly “sexier,” however Kittle is grittier. Both are absolutely phenomenal given their styles.
Let’s also keep in mind it was CJ Beathard and Nick Mullins throwing Kittle the ball last season. This season, it was Jimmy Garoppolo (who I like). He is no Patrick Mahomes nor Alex Smith (probably comparable eventually). Both have great offensive head coaches of course.
Where Kittle gets the nod is he is a far better blocker. When San Francisco runs, he basically gives them a 6th offensive lineman. No matter the situation on the field, Kittle is an asset. Because of his overall game and what tight ends are designed to be, he gets the nod.
I compare this similarly to Gronk v Graham 2011. Graham was a much sexier version of the position. However, Gronk did it all. Of course Kelce is a better blocker than Graham ever was, but you see where I am going here.