The tight end position has changed considerably over the last ten years. The tight end up was primarily used as an extra lineman and rarely used to run patterns and catch the football. To be a great tight end today, you must be good at both.
This evaluation is not simply placed to fantasy numbers. These rankings also take into account whether the player is a good blocker.
That being said, here are the top 10 tight ends in the NFL heading into the 2012 regular season.
Tony Gonzalez has had a Hall of Fame career. He is probably the best tight end of all time but his career is winding down. He generates production more so on craftiness than he does on skill set.
He has good timing with his quarterback Matt Ryan. He should still be effective to put up consistent numbers in 2012.
This is likely Gonzalez's final season in the NFL. He desperately wants to win a playoff game before he calls it a career. He is still a big body, has great hands and can run a perfect route. He has lost a step or two, but will likely still be Ryan's safety net this season.
Jermaine Gresham is a very talented tight end. He can run block, pass block and can make big plays with the ball in his hand.
2011 was Gresham's best season and it's likely he will build upon that. He is young and still building a connection with quarterback Andy Dalton.
It's likely that the Bengals will continue to grow as a young team and Gresham is going to be a huge part of that. He could be in for a breakout season.
Fred Davis was one of the few bright spots for the Redskins in 2011. He only played in 12 games, but he was on pace to have more than 1,000 receiving yards before he got injured.
Davis is an amazing athlete and should be expected to to put up even bigger numbers this season. He was a Pro Bowl caliber player with absolutely no quarterback play.
Robert Griffin III is a rookie, but it won't take much effort to play better than Rex Grossman and John Beck.
Davis is an underrated played that is definitely on the rise in 2012.
Antonio Gates is another first ballot Hall of Famer. He revolutionized the tight end position, but he isn't the player he once was.
Gates has battled multiple debilitating injuries during the past few years. He still has Philip Rivers throwing him the ball, which can't hurt.
Gates might have another great season left in him, or it might be the end of the line. Either way, he still makes the list due to his great career.
Jermichael Finley is a freak talent, but is often frustrating to watch. He might be the most skilled player at the position in the NFL.
He is often undisciplined and wildly inconsistent. The inconsistency can partly be attributed to Green Bay's multiple offensive weapons.
Aaron Rodgers should be able to increase his feel for playing with Finley following the season ending injury he sustained in 2010.
It should be expected that Finley's numbers increase somewhat in 2012. His skill set is absolutely off the charts. He is a special talent.
Aaron Hernandez isn't the best tight end on his own team, but he's still one of the top five in the NFL. He isn't nearly complete as a blocker, but he is such a threat down the field that he makes the cut.
His production is likely inflated due to the Patriots offense and Tom Brady. That being said, the guy is still really good. He can play.
Hernandez has a really high ceiling and can improve in a lot of areas of his game. That should scare the rest of the NFL.
Jason Witten is the model of consistency. He is 30 years old and still an absolute beast. The guy can really do it all.
He and Tony Romo have a special bond; a bond that could end up in the Hall of Fame. The only problem with these guys is that they have never had any real success in the postseason.
Witten and Romo still have a few more years left, but their team may never be good enough to succeed. Romo and Witten are both expected to have great statistical years and torch the Eagles like always.
Vernon Davis is a great player. He is in the prime of his career and has pretty much reached his full potential in everything he does. He is a great athlete who can makes plays and has become a very adequate blocker as well.
The only thing that holds him down is his quarterback. Alex Smith is still a very big question mark. A great system can only mask a weak quarterback so much.
Davis should still be able to put up numbers due to his ability to separate. He will be looked at as one of the keys for the 49ers in 2012.
Jimmy Graham has quickly become Drew Brees' favorite target. He is a huge body and a great athlete. He's the perfect fit for the Saints' offense.
The biggest question mark for Graham is his quarterback. Brees deserves a lucrative contract, but he and the Saints can't seem to grind out the details.
Without Brees, it will be very difficult for Graham to replicate the success he had in 2011, even with his immense talent.
This is really a no-brainer. Rob Gronkowski is a freak of nature. There has never been anybody like this guy in the history of the NFL.
The Patriots were smart to lock this guy up long term. He will now be a Patriot for the next six years and possibly beyond.
Tom Brady has to love throwing the ball to this guy. Gronkowski is 6'6" and 265 pounds but he runs like a reciever.
Gronkowski is going to be making guys look silly for a long time in the NFL.