2012 NFL Free Agents: The Best Tight Ends in This Year's Class

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 6:  Tight end Jermichael Finley #88 of the Green Bay Packers catches the ball for a touchdown as Steve Gregory #28 and Eric Weddle #32 of the San Diego Chargers look on, on November 6, 2011 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Chris TrapassoAnalyst IFebruary 7, 2012

The wide receiver position is loaded in the NFL's 2012 free-agent class and the tight end position has a handful of solid guys with expired contracts that can be impact players next season. 

We've seen how tight ends have become integral facets of many offenses over the last two seasons. 

Let's take a closer look at the top tight ends. 

 

Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers 

Finley didn't explode as many thought he would in 2011 after a fantastic 2010 that was cut short due to injury. 

He finished the year with 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. 

His numbers weren't as tremendously high as some of the other emerging young tight ends in the league because of the ridiculous amount of pass-catching talent on the Packers. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson were easily Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets. 

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 15:   Jermichael Finley #88 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after a play against the New York Giants during their NFC Divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 15, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Get
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

While Rodgers did a great job distributing the football, it was hard for Finley to really accumulate big-time stats. 

There's no questioning his size, athletic ability and red-zone prowess. 

He's 6'5'', nearly 250 pounds and runs like a wide receiver. He had a few more drops than expected this season, but overall, he's a reliable seam route-runner who can make huge plays with incredible yards-after-the-catch ability. 

According to his agent, the Packers are looking to re-sign Finley to a long-term deal, but there is no timetable set for a deal to get done at this point. 

He'd be a vital aspect to any offense and should see more targets in 2012 if he stays in Wisconsin. He's simply too much of a matchup problem to not get the ball more. 

 

Fred Davis, Washington Redskins 

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 04:  Fred Davis #83 of the Washington Redskins celebrates the Redskins first touchdown against the New York Jets during the first half at FedExField on December 4, 2011 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Davis did an admirable job filling in the for the eccentric fan favorite but injured Chris Cooley in 2011. The former John Mackey Award winner caught 59 passes for 796 yards with three touchdowns. 

He's 6'4'' and nearly 260 pounds and is rather fleet of foot for his bulky size. 

The only substantial knock on this young tight end is his off-field issues. He was suspended four games in 2011 and four games next season for repeatedly failing league drug tests. 

Because of that, one would have to think that the Redskins will settle on a less lucrative deal to keep him in D.C. 

There won't be much of a market for a player like Davis, but he's unquestionably a gifted player with potential to be great. 

 

John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks 

Carlson set career lows in 2011, catching only 31 passes for 316 yards with one lone touchdown. A lot of that had to do with the offensive system in which he was playing. 

Tarvaris Jackson isn't the most competent quarterback in the league and the coaching staff understood that frequently handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch gave them the best chance to win. 

He's on a lower level than Finley and Davis, but in the right system—one with more emphasis on the tight end—Carlson could be a viable possession tight end that works well in the red zone. 

Head coach Pete Carroll suggested that Carlson's time in Seattle isn't finished and that he wants the Notre Dame product to battle it out with newcomer Zach Miller next season, or maybe even become a formidable tight end tandem.

 

Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota Vikings and Jeremy Shockey, Carolina Panthers 

Both are 31-year-old experienced tight ends who can be productive, but are no longer game-changers. They should be re-signed by their respective clubs. There's an outside chance they move on to a different organization, but it's unlikely that they garner a ton of attention this spring. 

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