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B/R NFL 1000: Top 50 Tight Ends

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 11, 2014

B/R NFL 1000: Top 50 Tight Ends

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    Editor's note: This is the seventh installment in Bleacher Report's NFL 1000 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through April 24, with NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the NFL 1000 page for more rankings.

    The 2013 season saw one of the best tight ends struggle to stay healthy and another head to prison. Other mainstays were challenged by up-and-comers.

    With the season in the books, we asked ourselves, “Who was the best tight end this year?”

    That’s what the NFL 1000 aims to identify. Throw out the narratives and the fantasy football stats and dig into the film. Then we’ll see who comes out on top.

    The B/R 1000 metric is based on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance, on a 100-point scale.

    Potential is not taken into consideration. Nor are career accomplishments.

    Tight ends are judged on hands (40 points), blocking (10), route running (30), speed (20) and all of the technique, athletic ability and football intelligence needed to play the position.

    In the case of ties, our team asked, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly.

    Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.

    Each player was scouted by me and a team of experienced evaluators, with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.  

    All statistics from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Players' heights, weights and seasons from NFL.com.

50. Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills

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    Hands

    25/40

    For a big guy, Scott Chandler (6’7”, 260 lbs, seven seasons) doesn’t possess exceptional ball skills and isn’t able to high-point the ball and bring it down in traffic. He has adequate hands and will catch the ball if it is thrown within his frame.

    Blocking

    3/10

    Chandler plays too high, which allows the defenders to get under his pads and push him into the backfield. He has pretty good lateral quickness and is able to slide out and seal off the edge. He is much more effective as a receiver, and the Bills rarely ask him to block on passing plays.

    Route Running

    21/30

    A big-bodied target with below-average speed, Chandler has to get open by running sharp routes and using that body to shield off defenders. He is a little stiff in the hips, but he uses head and shoulder fakes to his advantage before breaking off into a cut. Chandler is also good at sitting down in the openings of zone defenses.

    Speed

    13/20

    Due to his size, Chandler doesn’t have great acceleration or quickness, but once he gets up to full speed, he is hard to bring down. He has enough speed to get up the seam and pull away from most linebackers.

    Overall

    62/100

    Chandler has most of the physical tools to be a great tight end in the NFL, but he lacks the top-end speed to get consistent separation from the defense. He is an effective player over the middle, but he doesn’t always use his height to his advantage in the red zone and should have more of a presence when the Bills get inside the 20.

49. Garrett Graham, Houston Texans

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    Hands

    26/40

    Garrett Graham (6’3”, 243 lbs, four seasons) saw a lot more opportunities this past season while Owen Daniels was out with an injury. He was consistent in hauling the ball in when it was thrown his way, but that is partly due to erratic play from the quarterback position. He is a little undersized for the position and will struggle high-pointing the ball.

    Blocking

    1/10

    More at home when he can be on the move and get outside, Graham shows a nice ability to get to the second level and lock up with safeties. He is too small to anchor down and match up alone with a defensive end in passing situations, as he often gets overpowered and tossed around.

    Route Running

    22/30

    An improving route-runner, Graham has the quickness to shake his defender underneath, but he lacks the straight-line speed to cause havoc downfield. He is at his best when coming out of the backfield, or when set in motion to avoid being jammed at the line.

    Speed

    14/20

    Not as fast as you would like for a tight end his size, but he shows great agility and the ability to make guys miss. He has above-average short-area quickness and uses his versatility to line up anywhere on the field to get open.

    Overall

    63/100

    Graham is a nice piece, but he doesn’t have the skill set you are looking for in a No. 1 tight end. He has the versatility to line up outside, inside or in the backfield and can make big plays on occasion.

48. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

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    Hands

    24/40

    Brandon Pettigrew (6’5”, 265 lbs, five seasons) has the ability to make big plays, but he lacks the focus to be one of the premier tight ends in the league. While he improved this past season, Pettigrew was still near the top of the league in drops.

    Blocking

    2/10

    Although he has good size, Pettigrew isn’t able to make a difference in the run game. He comes out of his stance too high and isn’t able create clear running lanes for the Lions running backs. He shows some strength at the point of attack but lacks the mean streak needed to be an effective blocker.

    Route Running

    23/30

    A very athletic tight end, Pettigrew has the agility to run clean, crisp routes. He shows quickness in and out of his breaks and does a nice job of shielding the defender from the ball. Pettigrew does most of his damage underneath and isn’t a major threat downfield.

    Speed

    14/20

    As he relies more on quickness than speed, Pettigrew isn’t going to pull away from defenders and make very many big plays. Due to that lacking speed, he has to create separation by running great routes and using his body.

    Overall

    63/100

    Pettigrew has followed up a couple of promising years at the beginning of his career with two mediocre years the past two seasons. Considering he has struggled to be a consistent target for Matthew Stafford and a playmaker alongside Calvin Johnson, the Lions have a big decision to make regarding re-signing Pettigrew.

47. Lee Smith, Buffalo Bills

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    Hands

    27/40

    Strictly a blocking tight end, Lee Smith (6’6”, 265 lbs, three seasons) hasn’t had much of an opportunity to make plays in the passing game. When given the chance, he hasn’t made the most of it, only catching a little over 50 percent of the balls thrown his way.

    Blocking

    8/10

    Smith should be considered more of an extra offensive lineman than a tight end. He is a powerful blocker who fires out of his stance and initiates the contact. He has the strength to overpower linebackers in space and enough agility to keep up with defensive ends on the edge.

    Route Running

    18/30

    With more of a box-out style, Smith is a limited route-runner who lacks the speed to outrun defenders or agility to be a factor on routes that require more than one cut.

    Speed

    10/20

    He's a slow mover who has functional speed to block and get into space, but he isn’t going to be a threat when running out for a pass. He lacks a burst off the line and rarely runs past 10 yards downfield.

    Overall

    63/100

    A classic blocking tight end, Smith is an old-school, smash-mouth-style blocker who is an extreme liability in the passing game. He sees most of his playing time in short-yardage situations.

46. Gary Barnidge, Cleveland Browns

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    Hands

    27/40

    Gary Barnidge (6'5", 250 lbs, six seasons) doesn't make a ton of plays in the passing game, but he's proven to be a reliable threat over the middle. He's consistent when targeted between the hashes, and he uses his big frame to pull in the ball. While limited in terms of targets in 2013, Barnidge flashed soft hands. We'd like to see better range and extension on passes that just miss the mark, though.

    Blocking

    2/10

    With his frame, you might think Barnidge would be a good blocker, but this isn't part of his game. Or wasn't in 2013, anyway. He lacks the strength to attack defenders head-up and can struggle to maintain footing and drive power throughout a block.

    Route Running

    20/30

    An agile mover once he gets into his route, Barnidge shows good spacial awareness over the middle and knows how to find soft spots in the defense. His awareness is good, but he's not used on routes outside the 10 yards extending away from the line of scrimmage.

    Speed

    15/20

    Barnidge definitely isn't a burner, but he has good route speed and enough quickness to separate from a defender. With the ball in his hands, he's not going to pick up many yards after the catch.

    Overall

    64/100

    A solid No. 2 tight end with the hands and route running to be an option over the middle, Barnidge provides good depth and a role player to complement to Jordan Cameron at tight end.

45. Brandon Myers, New York Giants

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    Hands

    26/40

    Brandon Myers (6’3”, 256 lbs, five seasons) was brought to New York to be an upgrade over Martellus Bennett as a receiver. He answered with 47 catches, well short of the 79 he posted in Oakland the year before. Myers has good hands, but the ball has to be delivered right to him. He’s not the type of receiver to extend away from his frame to make the play.

    Blocking

    2/10

    A non-factor as an in-line blocker, Myers did show flashes of improvement when asked to take an angle and move a defender. He’s best when cracking back on a defensive end or outside linebacker.

    Route Running

    22/30

    Good quickness in space and great vision make Myers into a solid route-runner. He doesn’t beat defenses with speed, but he breaks off routes at the right time and makes himself a big target for the quarterback.

    Speed

    15/20

    Myers has good route speed but doesn’t show the burst or top-end speed to run away from a defense to make a big play.

    Overall

    65/100

    Fantasy football players know Myers’ name, but his on-field play hasn’t lived up to his box-score numbers to date. He has potential as a pass-catcher but is limited when the ball isn’t coming his way.

44. Sean McGrath, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Hands

    28/40

    In his first season, Sean McGrath (6’5”, 247 lbs) dropped just one pass. The lower grade on his catching comes from a small number of targets and also a struggle to get in range for passes. McGrath has to better extend and attack the ball instead of being the body-catcher we saw him become late in the year.

    Blocking

    3/10

    McGrath has loads of toughness, but he has to improve his technique to become a better blocker. Learning leverage and how to harness his strength will make him a better one-on-one blocker off the edge.

    Route Running

    21/30

    A good target over the middle thanks to his size and ability to box out defenders, McGrath was at his best working routes over the tackle box. He has the bulk to slide inside a defender and shield the ball. An area to improve would be his breaking routes and timing on deeper patterns.

    Speed

    13/20

    Not much of a speedster, McGrath was able to produce yards after the catch thanks to his strength and vision. He’s agile enough to lower his shoulder and keep churning his legs, but he isn’t necessarily fast.

    Overall

    65/100

    McGrath became a fan favorite in Kansas City as much for his wild beard as for his play, but he was a solid role player in the Chiefs offense. That’s his long-term projection, too.

43. Andrew Quarless, Green Bay Packers

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    Hands

    27/40

    When asked to step into the starting lineup this year, Andrew Quarless (6’4”, 252 lbs, four seasons) did an admirable job. As a receiver, he shows good length and athleticism to adjust for the ball. He’ll snatch the ball out of the air and is agile enough to high-point passes. As an intermediate target, we loved his body control and hands, but he struggles outside the hashes. Quarless has to become a better receiver in space and show more consistency as he's given more targets.

    Blocking

    2/10

    Quarless can help the run game when he’s given a running start at a defender, but he’s not the guy you want sealing the edge from an in-line position. He’s at his best working across the formation to angle block or crack down from in motion.

    Route Running

    21/30

    A player utilized almost exclusively on short to intermediate routes, Quarless needs to develop his route game. He’ll win on positioning routes but doesn’t show a developed skill to beat defenders on an extended route.

    Speed

    16/20

    Quarless has good-enough speed to win in coverage if used on one quick break. Longer routes allow the defense time to catch up to him. The same goes for running after the catch. He’s good in short bursts but doesn't have long speed.

    Overall

    66/100

    The injury to Jermichael Finley opened doors for Quarless, and he answered with his most productive season to date. His future, though, is likely as a No. 2 tight end.

42. Ben Hartsock, Carolina Panthers

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    Hands

    26/40

    With only 31 receptions in 10 NFL seasons, Ben Hartsock (6’4”, 265 lbs, 10 seasons) isn’t known for his hands. He only has two receptions in the past three seasons combined and wasn’t targeted at all this past season. Hartsock’s hands are way more valuable to the Carolina Panthers when blocking. That said, when thrown to in the preseason and regular season he's a body-catcher with the presence to shield and attack.

    Blocking

    10/10

    He's hands down the best blocking tight end in the NFL, which is why he's on this list. Hartsock has the ability to drive off the line and create running lanes for the Panthers backfield. He can also anchor down and hold his own against a fierce bull rush.

    Route Running

    19/30

    Rarely asked to get downfield, Hartsock is a limited route-runner. He doesn’t have the speed to run away from defenders and has tight hips, which makes it hard for him to get in and out of his breaks.

    Speed

    11/20

    Not a threat to run away from anyone, Hartsock doesn’t have the speed or quickness to be effective away from the line of scrimmage. He does show good lateral quickness when trying to seal the edge in the running game.

    Overall

    66/100

    Hartsock knows his strength is in the running game and isn’t afraid to put his head down and do the dirty work. He isn’t going to be a factor on pass plays, other than keeping his quarterback off of the ground.

41. Ed Dickson, Baltimore Ravens

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    Hands

    27/40

    Ed Dickson (6’4”, 255 lbs, four seasons) might be known as a pass-catching tight end, but he only has above-average hands at best. He averaged one drop for every five catches, which isn’t what you are looking for when he's used almost exclusively as a receiver and not a blocker.

    Blocking

    1/10

    This is one of the reasons the Baltimore Ravens couldn’t run the ball in 2013. Dickson struggles staying low and anchoring down. He doesn’t get the drive off the ball and is rarely able to set the edge.

    Route Running

    22/30

    An adequate route-runner, Dickson shows good timing in and out of his breaks. He recognizes where the holes are in the defense and does a nice job of shielding the defender from the ball. He's very good athlete but struggles at times to get separation.

    Speed

    17/20

    Great straight-line speed for his position, but he doesn’t always play as fast as his numbers say. Dickson isn’t extremely fluid and lacks high-level quickness.

    Overall

    67/100

    Dickson had the chance to be a go-to target for Joe Flacco this past season after Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers and Dennis Pitta was sidelined most of the season with an injury, but he didn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

40. Matthew Mulligan, New England Patriots

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    Hands

    27/40

    Used almost primarily as a blocker, Matthew Mulligan (6’4”, 267 lbs, five seasons) doesn’t get very many opportunities to show what he can do as a pass-catcher. He is only used as a way to catch the defense off guard, but he caught three of the four targets he saw this past season. Since we're evaluating what he did when thrown to, Mulligan's score is based on a small sample size.

    Blocking

    3/10

    A mauler, Mulligan gets great push off the line and is able to open creases for the Patriots running backs to get through. He has the ability to seal the edge and will give a good chip block before releasing to the second level. Pass-rushers with multiple moves will give Mulligan some issues.

    Route Running

    23/30

    Not a strong suit of his game, he has a limited passing tree and will mainly stay underneath hoping for a dump-down pass. Mulligan is stiff and isn’t able to create separation when trying to get downfield.

    Speed

    14/20

    He doesn’t show the speed required to pull away from defenders or the quickness in and out of his breaks to create space. He is much more suited as an in-line player protecting his quarterback.

    Overall

    67/100

    A solid blocker with limited skills in the passing game, Mulligan is a subpar athlete who is only going to make plays by catching the defense off guard, but he has the ability to make a difference in the running game.

39. Anthony Fasano, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Hands

    25/40

    Anthony Fasano (6’4”, 255 lbs, eight seasons) isn’t going to consistently make spectacular grabs, but if you get the ball inside his frame, then he will pull it in. He will at times use his body to catch the ball instead of extending his hands.

    Blocking

    6/10

    An above-average blocker who stays low coming off the snap, he positions his body nicely to create holes for his backs to run through. Fasano can set the edge most of the time but will struggle at times with a speed rusher coming from the outside.

    Route Running

    22/30

    Fasano doesn’t possess the speed to create a lot of separation, but he is a solid route-runner who will use his body to block out defenders. He doesn’t have the agility of some of the new-age tight ends and looks stiff coming out of his breaks.

    Speed

    14/20

    He isn’t going to scare anyone with his speed and has to rely on running a clean and crisp route to get open. He makes most of his catches underneath, where speed isn’t as much of a liability.

    Overall

    67/100

    Fasano is an all-around solid tight end, but he doesn’t do anything spectacular. He is a great complementary tight end but not a guy you want as your starter day in and day out. It appears as if he has found a home in Kansas City, where he isn’t asked to do too much and can play to the strengths of his game.

38. Timothy Wright, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Hands

    29/40

    A first-year NFL player in 2013, Timothy Wright (6’3”, 200 lbs, one season) was a find as a pass-catcher for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A good vertical threat, Wright can track the ball over either shoulder and extends his arms well to make tough catches. He showed soft hands for a player on very few radars heading into the season and has room to improve once his concentration and knowledge mature.

    Blocking

    1/10

    Wright is built like a wide receiver and blocks like one, too. He’s not the type of player you want to ask to fuel the run game or seal an edge. He’ll get in the way, but that’s about it.

    Route Running

    21/30

    Wright shows the hip flexibility and quickness you want in a route-runner. He needs to develop more in terms of breaking routes and timing, but he was able to separate from defenders using a good combination of burst and body positioning.

    Speed

    17/20

    On film, you see good speed and quickness, allowing Wright to beat linebackers or safeties in coverage. He doesn’t possess breakaway speed, but he knows how to find a running lane and can pick up plus yards after the catch.

    Overall

    68/100

    Wright came out of nowhere to start eight games for Tampa and added five touchdowns along the way. He may not project as a starting tight end, but he’s proven his worth as an offensive chess piece.

37. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Hands

    26/40

    A trustworthy pass-catcher, Heath Miller (6’5”, 256 lbs, nine seasons) has been a consistent target for Ben Roethlisberger since he has been in the league. Miller will catch just about everything he can get his hands on, and if he can’t haul it in, he isn’t going to let the defense go the other way with it, either. With his ability to shield defenders, he's productive, but you'd like to see him reaching to make more plays on the ball. His burst and catch radius have suffered with age.

    Blocking

    2/10

    Miller is the hard-nosed, physical type of player the Pittsburgh Steelers love, but he really isn’t as good of a blocker as you would expect. He is slow out of his stance and isn’t able to get that initial push you would like to see. When asked to pass-block, Miller doesn’t have the lateral agility to stay in front of elite pass-rushers, but he can hold his own against most of the league.

    Route Running

    27/30

    One of the best route-runners in the NFL, Miller looks smooth cutting in and out of breaks. He has the ability to run away from linebackers and is able to use his big body when matched up against safeties. He is about as versatile of a route-runner as you will find from the tight end position.

    Speed

    13/20

    Miller doesn’t have great speed, but he is still skilled enough to get open and make plays downfield. Even though he lacks top-end speed, he is still in the upper half of the league in yards per reception and yards after the catch.

    Overall

    68/100

    Miller is one of the guys who does all of the little things, and they add up to big things. He isn’t the biggest, fastest or strongest guy, but he always finds a way to consistently make plays when the Steelers need it most.

36. Mychal Rivera, Oakland Raiders

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Hands

    30/40

    In his first pro season, Mychal Rivera (6’3”, 245 lbs) showed the athleticism and soft hands to be an asset for the Oakland Raiders offense. Rivera doesn’t have great extension or catching radius, but he looks the ball in and is athletic enough to adjust for the pass. Improving his catches through traffic will be a point of emphasis moving ahead.

    Blocking

    2/10

    Rivera is on the small side to be a great blocker, especially in-line, but he showed a willingness to attack on seal blocks. Improving his technique (hand placement, leverage) will be key.

    Route Running

    21/30

    A solid route-runner at Tennessee, Rivera came into the league with a good concept of routes. He was at his best hitting the flats and working simple breaking routes (curl, post, flag), and he improved throughout the year. His timing and body positioning need improvement.

    Speed

    15/20

    Rivera has good agility in space, but he is not the type of tight end to run away from a safety and make a huge play down the field.

    Overall

    68/100

    Rivera perfectly fits the mold of a moving tight end, and as a player, he can line up in the backfield, in motion or in a classic in-line position. He has good upside as a pass-catcher and utility knife for the offense.

35. Craig Stevens, Tennessee Titans

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    Hands

    24/40

    Craig Stevens (6’3”, 263 lbs, six seasons) is strictly a blocking tight end who will go out for a pass. He only caught two of his five targets this past season with one drop. If the ball doesn’t hit him in the numbers, then he isn’t going to bring it in.

    Blocking

    9/10

    An extremely adept blocker, Stevens is physical and is able to seal the edge to create running lanes for the Titans running backs. He stays low and shows nice technique when engaged on passing downs, rarely requiring a double-team to keep his opponent out of the backfield.

    Route Running

    19/30

    On the rarity that Stevens goes out for a pass, his routes are less than spectacular. He doesn’t have the athletic ability to create space and is only able to get open by using his big frame to block out defenders.

    Speed

    17/20

    Stevens has decent speed but is extremely stiff. He doesn’t have the agility required to get in and out of his breaks and doesn’t have the elite speed to get deep downfield.

    Overall

    69/100

    Stevens isn’t going to wow or surprise any defense, but he will put his head down and do the dirty work that most of the new-age tight ends don’t do. He is a physical and punishing blocker, but he lacks the athleticism to be a consistent pass-catching tight end.

34. Dallas Clark, Baltimore Ravens

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    Hands

    27/40

    Dallas Clark (6’3”, 252 lbs, 11 seasons) has always had one of the best pairs of hands in the NFL, but as he gets older and sees his skills diminishing, his hands are not an exception. He isn’t able to go outside of his frame and make the difficult catches as consistently as he could in the past.

    Blocking

    2/10

    Clark was an underrated blocker early in his career, but once again, as he gets older, it gets harder for him to be a factor in the run game. He lacks the strength and agility to make a push at the point of attack or find a body at the second level. He really has to rely on technique and experience and basically try to get in the way of defenders.

    Route Running

    26/30

    While he might not get the separation he used to, running routes is Clark's bread and butter. He is a precise tactician when executing his passing tree and knows exactly where to find the holes in the defense. Defenses have to counteract this by getting a solid jam on him at the line of scrimmage.

    Speed

    15/20

    When Clark first came into the league, he was one of the fastest players at his position; now, he has to rely on his intelligence and experience to get open. He still has a solid burst off the line, but his short-area quickness isn’t what it used to be.

    Overall

    70/100

    Clark may be getting older, but he keeps finding a home and playing time. He isn’t the big-play threat he used to be, but he is a solid player who can be counted on when the game is on the line.

33. Lance Kendricks, St. Louis Rams

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    Hands

    30/40

    When the ball is thrown his way, chances are Lance Kendricks (6’3”, 250 lbs, three seasons) is going to come down with it. He finished second in the league in catches per attempt out of tight ends who caught at least 30 passes, hauling in an impressive 76.2 percent of the balls thrown his way. He utilizes his soft hands when catching the ball and doesn't allow it to get into his body.

    Blocking

    1/10

    He's best when on the move, where he can match up with smaller defenders and is able to use his speed and athletic ability to his advantage. He will struggle when asked to block bigger defensive linemen one-on-one because he doesn’t have the strength or technique to hold them off.

    Route Running

    24/30

    Kendricks has improved each year when it comes to running routes. While his cuts still aren’t as sharp as they could be, he has become more consistent moving in and out of his breaks. He does almost all of his work underneath and didn’t have a single grab over 20 yards this past season.

    Speed

    16/20

    He might not have elite speed, but Kendricks has more than enough to keep defenses honest. A very good first step and above-average quickness also help him get off the line and create space.

    Overall

    71/100

    Kendricks’ ability hasn’t really matched his production for the first few years of his career. He has a solid skill set and seems to take advantage of his opportunities, but he hasn’t been able to have a breakout game yet.

32. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Hands

    29/40

    First-year tight end Tyler Eifert (6’6”, 250 lbs) struggled some to adjust to NFL-level passes. While a natural receiver at Notre Dame, his intro to the league saw him drop easy catches. We call this “paralysis by analysis," as he was caught thinking and not playing. There were times when Eifert looked dominant, but too often he also looked like a rookie.

    Blocking

    2/10

    Blocking was an area of focus for Eifert to improve at Notre Dame, and he did well there, but once in the NFL, he looked lost. While he has the length and strength to play well as an angle blocker or in-line edge-sealer, his timing has to improve.

    Route Running

    25/30

    The one area where Eifert didn’t take a step back was in his route running. He’s smooth in and out of breaks and uses his frame well to shield the ball from defenders. He won’t give away his routes early in the process, either, and he flashed a good understanding of the passing game.

    Speed

    15/20

    Eifert doesn’t have great long speed, but he’s quick in and out of cuts and shows some burst in the open field. His rookie season was tough to evaluate due to injuries, so an increased speed score next season shouldn’t be a surprise.

    Overall

    71/100

    One of the most promising young tight ends in the game, Eifert’s potential is huge. When graded purely on his 2013 performance, we wanted to see more explosive plays and a better impact as a blocker.

31. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Hands

    27/40

    Jermaine Gresham (6’5”, 260 lbs, four seasons) was a much more consistent receiver this past season for the Cincinnati Bengals. After being near the top in drops two seasons ago, he only had three during the 2013 season. He has always had the ability to make the spectacular catch but sometimes lacks the focus to be a go-to guy day in and day out.

    Blocking

    3/10

    Not know for his blocking ability, Gresham struggles getting an initial push and setting the edge. He comes out of his stance too high and will get pushed back when facing a powerful bull rush. For the second year in a row, Gresham was the most penalized player at his position.

    Route Running

    25/30

    An excellent route-runner. Gresham runs crisp routes and uses his body to block off defenders. He has a good combination of power and speed, which allows him to get off the line with ease.

    Speed

    16/20

    Great speed and agility allow Gresham to be one of the most effective tight ends after the catch. He is able to pull away from linebackers in the open field and runs with enough power to make cornerbacks think twice about standing in his way.

    Overall

    71/100

    Gresham has all of the physical tools to be one of the better tight ends in the league, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together. His struggles forced the Bengals to draft Tyler Eifert in 2013, leading to fewer opportunities and lower production.

30. Luke Willson, Seattle Seahawks

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    Hands

    30/40

    Luke Willson (6’5”, 252 lbs, one season) was more of a contributor than anyone expected in his first NFL season. He showed good hands and the reach and body positioning scouts want at the position. While limited in terms of targets, Willson made the most of his opportunities.

    Blocking

    3/10

    Willson has the body type to be a solid blocker but hasn’t yet mastered the technique needed to excel here. He must work on leverage and hand placement to match his already strong angle-blocking game.

    Route Running

    21/30

    More of an option or choice route player early on, Willson has to develop as a route-runner with more fakes and counter moves. Right now, his route is all he’s focused on. In his second year, he must learn to sell routes and start to outmaneuver the defense.

    Speed

    18/20

    An elite speed player, Willson fits the mold of a flex or move player like Julius Thomas. He’s quick enough to get away from most coverage and is a threat to run away from a tackler. With his size and speed, Willson can be a dangerous matchup.

    Overall

    72/100

    Willson was a great find by the Seahawks front office and offers nice value as a No. 2 tight end. He’s a big player with a long reach and obvious goal-line matchup potential.

29. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Hands

    28/40

    Marcedes Lewis (6’6”, 272 lbs, eight seasons) is a tall, physical tight end who has had issues with dropped passes his entire career. His inconsistencies may be due, in part, to the lack of an accurate quarterback, but his size makes him an excellent red-zone option. He is able to high-point the ball and will fight for any pass thrown his way.

    Blocking

    3/10

    The Jaguars like what Lewis brings to the table as a run-blocker. He is physical and strong enough to match up with most of the players who line up across from him. As with most taller players, he has some issues staying low and getting under the defenders' pad level.

    Route Running

    26/30

    Lewis doesn’t always run the cleanest routes, but he can get away with it because of his size and athletic ability. He has superb body control, and he uses that big frame to keep the defense from making a play on the ball.

    Speed

    15/20

    Lewis lacks the acceleration to get up to full speed immediately, but he uses all of his other physical tools to create space on the field. He's surprisingly agile and big enough to run defensive backs over if they get in his way help make him a challenge to bring down in the open field.

    Overall

    72/100

    Lewis has more talent than his statistics show, and if the Jaguars could get some consistent play out of the quarterback position, then it would probably show in his production. Defenses always have an eye on him in the red zone, as he is always a threat to score inside the 20.

28. John Carlson, Minnesota Vikings

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    Hands

    30/40

    John Carlson (6’5”, 248 lbs, six seasons) has the hands to be a solid threat over the middle. He can be a body-catcher at times, but he does have the length to extend away from his frame and grab the ball. He shows good vision to track the ball but can drop easy passes.

    Blocking

    4/10

    Carlson has the frame to be a good move-blocker but lacks the strength to drive defenders off the ball. He’ll do a good job making initial contact but must learn to use his core and legs to fuel blocks.

    Route Running

    25/30

    A smart route-runner with the footwork to leave defenders, Carlson does a good job breaking off his route stem and then whipping his head around to the quarterback. He’ll work the seams but doesn’t have the speed to run away from defenders.

    Speed

    14/20

    Carlson is a limited athlete and doesn’t show the speed to run away from the defense off the ball or in space.

    Overall

    73/100

    Carlson has the talent to be a dynamic tight end with balanced ability to impact the game on first, second and third down. How often he’s used, or not used, usually falls on his health, the schemes and quarterback play of the Vikings. Expect bigger production in a Norv Turner offense if he can stay healthy.

27. Jeff Cumberland, New York Jets

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    Hands

    31/40

    The New York Jets were expecting a breakout season from Jeff Cumberland (6’4”, 260 lbs, four seasons), but it didn’t turn out that way. He has good hands but will struggle extending his arms and high-pointing the ball. At times, he will lose concentration and turn to run before securing the pass, which leads to drops.

    Blocking

    1/10

    Cumberland is a speedy receiving tight end who doesn’t have the strength or technique to be a consistent in-line blocker. He is able to use his athletic ability to chip and get to the second level to take on linebackers but isn’t able to stay engaged for very long.

    Route Running

    22/30

    At this stage in his career, Cumberland relies more on his superb athletic ability to get open than on his precision as a route-runner. He is at his best when in the slot or set it motion so he can get a clean release. Unlike most tight ends, Cumberland makes most of his plays downfield more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.

    Speed

    19/20

    One of the fastest players at his position, Cumberland has as much speed as most wide receivers in the league. He has the ability to make defenders miss and can score from anywhere on the field. He finished this past season near the top in yards per reception.

    Overall

    73/100

    Cumberland can be a difference-maker when the ball is in his hands, but the Jets haven’t been able to accomplish enough over the past two years. He would benefit by playing in a more wide-open system that allows him to be more versatile.

26. Zach Miller, Seattle Seahawks

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    Hands

    30/40

    Zach Miller (6’5”, 255 lbs, seven seasons) catches just about everything he can get his hands on. He does a nice job of looking the ball in and doesn’t get ahead of himself by trying to run before he secures the ball. He doesn’t always show great extension when the ball is thrown outside of his frame.

    Blocking

    5/10

    Miller can hold his own in the running game but will struggle when dealing with a pass rush. He keeps his hips low and is able to drive off the ball. Miller isn’t afraid of contact and will sacrifice his body for the team.

    Route Running

    25/30

    A precise route-runner, Miller relies on crisp routes and experience to get open. He doesn’t have great speed, so he has to make sure every route is perfect if he wants to get open.

    Speed

    13/20

    An old-school tight end, Miller doesn’t have the speed of most of the players at his position. He has good quickness but doesn’t scare anybody when it comes to straight-line speed.

    Overall

    73/100

    After posting good numbers in Oakland, Miller has underachieved all three years he has played with the Seahawks. It will be interesting to see if the Seahawks bring him back next season or decide to part ways.

25. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

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    Hands

    28/40

    Kyle Rudolph (6’6”, 258 lbs, three seasons) has all of the physical attributes you look for in a tight end. He showed an improved ability to extend for balls and pull them in and only dropped one pass in eight games this past season.

    Blocking

    3/10

    Rudolph is big and strong but is still learning the intricacies of an NFL blocking scheme. His technique is poor, and he tries to outmuscle defenders, which doesn’t always work. If he can straighten out his technique, it will add one more dimension to his game and make him a more complete player.

    Route Running

    27/30

    Every year, Rudolph has improved his route running. He is still a little stiff at times, but his breaks were much more crisp than in previous years. His big body allows him to block out defenders and give his quarterback a window.

    Speed

    15/20

    He has good speed for his size, but Rudolph relies mostly on his sharp routes to shake defenders. He isn’t going to outrun his defender, but he is a big target and doesn’t need as much separation to be able to make a play.

    Overall

    73/100

    Rudolph will be coming back from a broken foot, but he should be able to have a breakout year with Norv Turner becoming the offensive coordinator in Minnesota. Turner is notorious for making tight ends shine in his offense (Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron).

24. Owen Daniels, Houston Texans

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    Hands

    31/40

    Owen Daniels (6’3”, 249 lbs, seven seasons) missed the majority of the season with a fractured fibula and was only able to play in five games. In those five games, he recorded 24 catches and three touchdowns. He has the ability to make extremely difficult catches, but at times, he will drop some easy opportunities. 

    Blocking

    3/10

    Daniels is a subpar blocker who doesn’t posses the strength or ferocity needed to be a consistent in-line blocker. He is rarely asked to take on a defender one-on-one and is never asked to do anything more than chip on passing plays. 

    Route Running

    25/30

    A shifty and sly route-runner, Daniels uses a lot of head and shoulder fakes to create space before making his cuts. He doesn’t have elite speed and has to rely on clean and crisp routes to get open.

    Speed

    15/20

    With average speed, Daniels relies on good routes and timely throws to get open. He does most of his dirty work underneath, where he can use his quickness and agility to make plays. There are very few occasions where Daniels creates a ton of separation. 

    Overall

    74/100

    Daniels is a quality tight end, but you would like to see him be more effective in the red zone. He is one of the leaders of the Texans and a security blanket for whoever was playing quarterback. Daniels being hurt was one of the big reasons why the Texans were down this past season. 

23. Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Hands

    29/40

    Jared Cook (6’5”, 254 lbs, five seasons) has solid, but not great hands. He has a tendency to drop some easy passes, but on occasion, he will make a spectacular grab. If Cook could get some consistent quarterback play in the future, then he might be able to fix some of the issues he has had in the past with drops.

    Blocking

    2/10

    Not a physical, smash-mouth-style blocker, Cook relies on quickness and technique to open up holes in the running game. He isn’t going to overpower opposing players, but he shows good body and hand placement. Cook is more effective out in space or when he can get to the second level.

    Route Running

    25/30

    Cook’s raw speed and quickness are his main attributes when running routes. He has the ability to hit the seam and fly past most defenders, but he still needs to work on not rounding off his cuts. There are times when he won’t work back to the ball and will give the defense an opportunity to make a play.

    Speed

    19/20

    One of the fastest tight ends in the NFL, Cook can run with most wide receivers in the game. He is quick off the snap and can get upfield in a hurry. He is agile enough to make defenders miss and turn short routes into big gains.

    Overall

    75/100

    Cook is a speedy tight end with a ton of big-play ability. If he can learn to run cleaner routes and become more physical as a blocker, then he could become one of the most complete players at his position.

22. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers

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    Hands

    31/40

    Jermichael Finley (6’5”, 247 lbs, six seasons) has always been one of the most skilled tight ends in the league, but injuries and a lack of supreme concentration have kept him from being able to show off his skill set on a consistent basis. Finley has great hands and is always a threat to make an outstanding grab, but at times, he will lose focus and not look the ball all the way in, causing too many drops.

    Blocking

    2/10

    Better suited as a weakside blocker, Finley has decent hand placement and is able to create cutback lanes for his running backs to slice through. He's a little undersized to be a strong-side lead blocker, but he has the agility to get to the second level and lock onto a defender. He is hardly ever asked to block in passing situations.

    Route Running

    26/30

    An exceptional route-runner. Finley has the shiftiness to get open underneath and the speed to beat linebackers downfield. He has a quick first step and is able to get off the line with ease when being jammed. 

    Speed

    16/20

    More quick than fast, Finley isn’t going to outrun most secondaries in the league, but he is a matchup problem for linebackers. His straight-line speed is questionable, but he has the ability to accelerate out of his cuts. 

    Overall

    75/100

    Finley is an exceptional athlete and was off to a good start this past season until a neck injury ended his year. When healthy, he is a difference-maker, but he hasn’t been able to stay that way in recent years. Finley is a free agent, and teams will have to really look at his health when considering whether or not to sign him. 

21. Kellen Winslow, New York Jets

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    Hands

    31/40

    Kellen Winslow (6’4”, 240 lbs, nine seasons) made more headlines off the field than on it in 2013. He has a history of dropping passes, but he was able to make it through this past season without a single drop. Winslow isn’t the playmaker he was early in his career and doesn’t extend his arms to make catches outside of his frame like he did when he was younger, either.

    Blocking

    3/10

    Winslow is fiery and plays with an edge. The plays he creates in the run game are from his willingness to battle on every down. He will struggle with his technique and isn’t going to overpower most defenders. Bad knees and a lack of leg strength hinder his ability to hold his ground or get great push off the snap.

    Route Running

    26/30

    Growing up as the son of an NFL great, Winslow understands the passing tree and the intricacies of route running. What he lacks, due to a career of injuries, is the physical ability to run them with precision. He is able to use his body to create space and seal off defenders from the ball.

    Speed

    15/20

    Once again, due to injuries and age, Winslow doesn’t have the speed or quickness he showed early in his career. He lacks burst off the line and the straight-line speed to get downfield. Each and every year, he gets slower coming out of his breaks and isn’t able to accelerate to create space.

    Overall

    75/100

    At this stage of his career, Winslow isn't the guy you want as your starting tight end. His ability is diminishing every year, and he always seems to be having issues off the field. Winslow's days in the NFL may be numbered, as his skill set isn’t matching up with the headache that he brings to the team.

20. Joseph Fauria, Detroit Lions

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    Hands

    33/40

    A big, long target, Joseph Fauria (6’7”, 255 lbs, one season) didn’t make a ton of catches this year (just 18 total), but he converted seven of them into touchdowns. The Lions relied on him heavily in the red zone, where his long arms and leaping ability make him a very good post-up problem for linebackers or safeties. Fauria needs to work on making catches away from his frame that aren’t jump balls, but he tracks the ball well up high and goes up with good extension to high-point.

    Blocking

    5/10

    Fauria has the size and strength to be a factor as a blocker and dominated at times when attacking a head-up defender. Where he has to improve is when asked to reach an outside linebacker or come off the ball to hit an inside ‘backer on rushing downs.

    Route Running

    22/30

    A raw overall route-runner, Fauria received high praise from our evaluators on his spacial awareness and ability to separate with his body. Breaking routes are almost nonexistent for him currently, though, and he’ll have to improve his flexibility and footwork there.

    Speed

    15/20

    Speed isn’t part of Fauria’s game, but he does a good job finding separation without being a sprinter. He’s able to create space with his frame and a long stride, but don’t expect him to run away from anyone after the catch.

    Overall

    75/100

     A pleasant surprise for the Lions at tight end this season, Fauria is a red-zone nightmare thanks to his reach, leaping ability and concentration to track the ball. He and Matthew Stafford should become a fun one-two punch inside the 20.

19. Jordan Reed, Washington

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    Hands

    33/40

    Jordan Reed (6’2", 243 lbs, first season) hit the ground running in Washington this season, emerging as a true threat as a move tight end. His catch radius isn’t excellent, but he does put himself in position to make a play on the ball. He’ll leap, accelerate or lay out for passes. Reed’s concentration can stand to get better, but most rookies struggle with that adjustment coming into the NFL.

    Blocking

    6/10

    Reed is more of an H-back as a blocker, and that’s a good thing. His quickness and burst surprises defenders, and he does a great job winning the leverage game to lock onto and drive would-be tacklers from their spot.

    Route Running

    21/30

    Seam routes, option routes and work into the flats all came naturally to Reed this year, but he’ll need to get better at breaking routes in the future. He’s flexible enough to show good change-of-direction skills, but timing and his ability to sell his route are still raw.

    Speed

    16/20

    Reed has the body of an athlete, but he’s not the fastest guy on the field when we’re talking about long speed. In short areas, he’s quick and elusive, but if asked to run away from defenders, he’ll likely get caught from behind.

    Overall

    76/100

    The Washington offense needed a player like Reed, and he fell into its lap perfectly this season. With Fred Davis done, Reed will become Robert Griffin III’s go-to target over the middle.

18. Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Hands

    29/40

    Brent Celek (6’4”, 255 lbs, seven seasons) was primed to have a great season in Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense, but in the end he had one of the least productive years of his career. He has never had excellent hands, but they have been adequate over his seven years as a pro. While he isn’t going to make spectacular catches on a consistent basis, he rarely drops anything inside his frame.

    Blocking

    8/10

    One area of Chip Kelly’s offense that was perfect for Celek was the blocking scheme. Celek was able to use his quickness and athleticism to open huge holes for the Eagles backfield. He wasn’t asked to hold his blocks for long, which is where he has struggled in the past.

    Route Running

    25/30

    Lacking top-end speed, Celek has to rely on clean, crisp route running to get open. He struggles to create separation when matched up with a safety or an athletic linebacker. Although he isn’t going to take the top off of the defense, he is still a threat inside the 30, where he can use his short-area quickness.

    Speed

    14/20

    Celek isn’t considered one of the fastest tight ends in the league, but he runs sharp routes to create separation. He understands where to sit down in zone coverage and always works back to the ball, shielding defenders from making plays.

    Overall

    76/100

    While Celek took a step back in production this past season, he is a great fit as a blocker in the Eagles offense. The problem is he gets paid too much money to not make plays with the ball in his hands, and it will be interesting to see which way the Eagles will go with Celek next year.

17. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans

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    Hands

    26/40

    Delanie Walker’s (6’0”, 248 lbs, eight seasons) first season with the Tennessee Titans was by far his best year as a pro, as he racked up a career-high 60 catches. Walker still has some issues with drops, but he was much better this past season, only dropping five passes in 79 attempts compared to nine passes in only 37 attempts during the 2012 season.

    Blocking

    6/10

    He's an exceptional blocker out in space, but Walker’s lack of size hinders him when he matches up against more powerful defensive linemen. He shows agility and good body positioning on runs designed to go outside, but he isn’t able to drive off the ball or hold his ground on power plays.

    Route Running

    25/30

    Walker is an outstanding route-runner, showing quickness in and out of his breaks while also having the speed to beat his man deep. At times he has issues getting past a jam from a more physical player, but once he gets into his route, he is tough to keep up with.

    Speed

    19/20

    With elite speed for his position, Walker is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He is also very elusive and changes direction with ease. His speed and athleticism are major factors in his game.

    Overall

    76/100

    Walker showed he has the ability to be a No. 1 tight end after playing behind Vernon Davis for most of his career. He is a little short for the position, but he makes up for it with excellent speed and agility. He should expect to have an even bigger year next season.

16. Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Hands

    33/40

    Coby Fleener’s (6’6”, 247 lbs, two seasons) production was up in his second year as a pro due to Dwayne Allen going down in Week 1 with a hip injury. With his size, you would expect Fleener to be able to make more catches outside of his frame, but he has trouble extending his arms and high-pointing the ball. If a throw is on the money, then he will pull it in, but if it is off target, then don’t expect him to haul in the grab.

    Blocking

    2/10

    Slender for his size, Fleener lacks the physicality to be a consistent blocker in the run game. He shows poor hand placement and is easily knocked backwards when engaged. Fleener showed improvement when getting outside and blocking on the move, using his athletic ability to his advantage.

    Route Running

    25/30

    Fleener was a much more precise route-runner this past season compared to his rookie year. He shows great burst off of the line and was able to showcase his speed. His cuts, while not perfect, were sharper and more crisp than in 2012.

    Speed

    18/20

    An excellent athlete with great speed, Fleener is starting to figure out how to use his athletic ability to his advantage. Getting open takes a lot more than just being fast. He has a great first step, and defenses have to counteract it by getting a solid jam on him at the line.

    Overall

    78/100

    Fleener is an improving young tight end, but he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. He has shown flashes of being an elite player but needs to be a more consistent all-around player. If Dwayne Allen comes back at full strength next season, look for Fleener’s production to take a step back, but the Colts should have a great one-two punch at tight end.

15. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

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    Hands

    33/40

    After having his worst season since he was a rookie, Antonio Gates (6’4”, 255 lbs, 11 seasons) showed that he’s not quite over the hill. He still has solid hands and will make spectacular catches time and time again, but he did record eight drops this past season, which is tied for the most in a single season of his career.

    Blocking

    1/10

    Gates isn’t the type of guy who is going to maul the defense or be a factor in the run game. He will get in the way of defenders the best he can, but he isn’t going to drive a pile. His diminished athletic ability has also made him less effective when blocking out in space.

    Route Running

    30/30

    He's a versatile route-runner who has made a living on the intermediate-level routes. He is able to get open by running precise routes and is a master of head and shoulder fakes. Gates can plant his foot in the ground and change direction with ease.

    Speed

    14/20

    Gates may have lost a step, but he still has the ability to get downfield and make big plays on occasion. Now that he is older, he has to work harder to get open, and most of his catches are made with defenders draped on his back.

    Overall

    78/100

    He may be past his prime, but Gates is still a top-tier tight end. Things don’t come as easy to him as they used to, but he is still effective and can be a matchup nightmare for most teams. 

14. Ben Watson, New Orleans Saints

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    Hands

    32/40

    Ben Watson’s (6’3”, 255 lbs, 10 seasons) production slipped a little this past season with Jimmy Graham having such a huge year, but when he did see the ball come his way, he made the most of it. Watson made it through the entire season without a single dropped pass. He has soft hands and will pull in anything inside his catch radius.

    Blocking

    5/10

    A solid blocker on running and passing plays. Watson has enough strength to hold off a pass-rusher long enough for Drew Brees to find an open target, as well as enough mobility to slide outside and seal the edge. He will struggle at times finding someone on the second level to lay a helmet on. 

    Route Running

    25/30

    A superb route-runner, Watson is able to get open by using his quick feet and body positioning. It doesn’t hurt to have defenses focused on Jimmy Graham and rest of the playmakers on the Saints' high-powered offense. Watson makes a lot of his plays on dump-downs or as the second or third option on a play. Rarely are plays designed for him to get the ball.

    Speed

    16/20

    Early in his career, Watson was one of the fastest tight ends in the league, but due to age, he has slowed down quite a bit. He still has nice quickness and a good burst off the line, but he isn’t going to run away from anyone anymore.

    Overall

    78/100

    Watson is in the perfect position at this stage of his career. He's not expected to be “the guy," but when called upon, he does his job extremely well. He will do all of the dirty work and let the other guys be the stars. Watson gives the Saints one of the best one-two combinations in the league.

13. Jacob Tamme, Denver Broncos

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    Hands

    31/40

    Due to the emergence of Julius Thomas this past season, Jacob Tamme (6’3”, 230 lbs, six seasons) took a step back in production. He is a very reliable receiver when the ball is thrown his way, hauling in 85.7 percent of the passes on which he was targeted. Tamme does a good job of looking the ball all the way in and doesn’t try to force big plays by turning and running before he has it secured.

    Blocking

    5/10

    A decent blocker for only weighing 230 pounds, Tamme has great reaction time and is quick off the snap, getting into the defenders' pads. He doesn’t have the strength to hold up in a one-on-one situation and will get pushed into the backfield, causing the pocket to break down. His strength is getting to the outside, where his size isn’t such a liability.

    Route Running

    26/30

    A skilled intermediate route-runner, Tamme uses his quickness and agility to lose defenders. He lacks elite speed and size to be a major threat downfield, but he can wreck havoc underneath. There are times when he isn’t able to get a ton of separation, but when Peyton Manning is your quarterback, he doesn’t need a huge window to get you the ball.

    Speed

    16/20

    Tamme lives on great quickness and getting a free release off of the line. He doesn’t have exceptional speed, but it is adequate enough to apply pressure to the defense. Most of his damage is done under 10 yards. 

    Overall

    78/100

    It will be interesting to see what the Broncos do with Tamme in the future. They have an elite tight end in Julius Thomas, and Tamme makes a lot of money to be in a backup role. He is a consistent, reliable target, but he's undersized and can be a liability at times in the running game. 

12. Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers

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    Hands

    33/40

    In his second season, Ladarius Green (6’6”, 240 lbs) became the heir apparent to Antonio Gates. Actually, he became a greater threat in the San Diego offense. Green will still put the easy catch on the ground here and there, but his catch radius is huge, and he shows soft hands when extending above his head to make catches. Pulling in traffic balls is an area where he can grow in the future.

    Blocking

    5/10

    An angle blocker with the athleticism to really hurt a defender on the edge, Green does a great job getting his rear end low and driving through a block. With long arms, he’s able to reach a defender, but what stands out most is his footwork in space. He’s not the strongest guy in one-on-one situations, but he’s a very productive run-blocker.

    Route Running

    23/30

    Still raw as a route-runner, we saw Green develop in this area over the course of the year. He can dominate on seam routes and simple dump-offs, but when asked to really beat a defender with breaking routes, he can be off on his timing and his steps. 

    Speed

    19/20

    Green is fast enough to run away from coverage or make big plays after the catch. But it’s not just long speed—he can accelerate well off the ball and makes sudden changes in space to create separation or evade tacklers.

    Overall

    80/100

    As Antonio Gates gets older and less effective, the role of No. 1 tight end will shift to Green. And he’s ready. The Chargers have a talented young player here with the tools to be a threat.

11. Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins

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    Hands

    34/40

    Charles Clay (6’3”, 255 lbs, three seasons) is a versatile tight end who can line up anywhere on the field. He saw some time at fullback, but he proved he can be a legit tight end in this league. Clay has had some issues with drops, but he showed marked improvement from a year ago. He is a little short for the position, so his catch radius is a little smaller than some other tight ends.

    Blocking

    3/10

    Clay came into the league as a fullback, so he is obviously more comfortable blocking on the move and in space. He excels at getting to the second level and locking up with a linebacker. He will struggle at times when matched up one-on-one with a defensive lineman and isn’t able to get a head of steam going toward the line of scrimmage.

    Route Running

    26/30

    Clay doesn’t run the sharpest routes, but when you have the opportunity to line up in multiple areas of the field, it makes it easier to get open. When he lines up in the backfield or in the slot, he doesn’t have to worry as much about getting jammed and thrown off his route. He has the ability to get downfield and make plays behind the defense.

    Speed

    17/20

    Clay has good, not great, speed. Where he is going to hurt a defense is with his quickness. He is remarkably evasive for someone his size and was second in the league among tight ends at causing defenders to miss tackles this past season.

    Overall

    80/100

    One of the most improved players at his position, Clay has found a role in the Dolphins offense. He’s not the biggest, fastest or strongest guy on the field, but he has a knack for making good things happen. Clay is going into a contract year, which means we should see another big season out of him in 2014.

10. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Hands

    34/40

    Rookie Zach Ertz (6’5”, 250 lbs) stepped right into the Eagles offense and produced. He has exceptionally long arms and big hands, which makes his catch radius impressive and impactful. Ertz does need to work on securing the ball before taking off upfield, but we saw improvement here throughout the season as he became more comfortable.

    Blocking

    4/10

    Ertz stepped right into the Eagles’ system and proved himself as a blocker. He can seal the edge but will also drive defensive ends or outside linebackers off the ball. His reach is good, and upper-level agility definitely benefits him.

    Route Running

    25/30

    Given his size and reach, Ertz is a nightmare for defenses up the seam. He gets behind defenders well and then can adjust his body to track the ball. With good leaping ability, he’s a high-pointer who can excel in the red zone.

    Speed

    17/20

    For a big, long player, Ertz moves very well in space. He’s agile but also has the speed to pull away from an outside linebacker or strong safety in coverage. He’s a threat to pick up yards post-catch, too.

    Overall

    80/100

    The top-ranked rookie at the position, Ertz was a valuable asset for the Eagles in Chip Kelly’s first season. With his soft hands and ability as a blocker, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see No. 86 ranked inside the top 10 for a long time.

9. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

     

    Hands

    37/40

    One of the all-time greats, Tony Gonzalez (6’5”, 247 lbs, 17 seasons) has the concentration and athleticism to attack the ball. What makes him so great is his ability to extend his reach and snatch the ball out of the air. He has big, strong hands and is able to make tough grabs in traffic.

    Blocking

    1/10

    Not much of a factor on rushing downs, Gonzalez would be at his best if only asked to down block to seal the edge.

    Route Running

    29/30

    One of the smartest route-runners in the NFL, Gonzalez does a great job using his body to separate from defenders. He’ll find soft spots in coverage and is good about getting his eyes back to the quarterback. His breaking routes are no longer exceptional, but body positioning gets him far in beating coverage.

    Speed

    14/20

    As Gonzalez ages, his speed isn’t quite what it used to be, but he shows good quickness off the line of scrimmage and is able to still sneak away from defenders in his route tree.

    Overall

    81/100

    In his final NFL season, Tony Gonzalez was once again the picture of consistency. His speed and athleticism may have declined, but few players understood how to get open or could match his soft hands.

8. Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

     

    Hands

    35/40

    One of the first basketball players to turn to the tight end position, Martellus Bennett (6’6”, 265 lbs, six seasons) has the physical gifts to be dominant. As a receiver, he improved his concentration and found a rhythm with both Jay Cutler and Josh McCown. That resulted in better production and a bigger impact in the passing game. Bennett has the reach and big, soft hands you want at the position. He’s also not afraid of contact and relishes the opportunity to challenge a defender for the ball.

    Blocking

    3/10

    Bennett has been a very good blocker in previous seasons, but as his role in the passing game expands, he’s kept in to protect much less often. On rushing downs, he works well to chip or down block, but he didn’t handle one-on-one blocks as well this fall.

    Route Running

    28/30

    Bennett is more of a box-out tight end than a precise route-runner, but we loved his ability on option routes and in space. He uses that big frame to keep defenders from the ball and is at his best when told to find space and sit in it. That’s not to take away from his seam-route ability or athleticism on breaking routes, but he’s best in an option situation.

    Speed

    16/20

    More quick than fast, Bennett can run away from defenders but doesn’t have the breakaway speed to turn a short catch into a big play down the field.

    Overall

    82/100

    Bennett has rare talents and the skill set to be one of the best tight ends in the game. At some point, those talents have to start producing. With a career-high 65 catches in 2013, it looks like he’s turned the corner.

7. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

     

    Hands

    36/40

    Greg Olsen (6’5”, 250 lbs, seven seasons) has the catch radius and athleticism to be a threat as a receiver up the seam and in traffic over the middle. When asked to attack the ball, he does a good job concentrating and not letting defenders get in his head. He’ll extend his reach and shows a good vertical to go get the ball high. Olsen can be a body-catcher at times and should work on coming back to the ball to make plays.

    Blocking

    3/10

    Olsen has the body to be a good blocker but struggles to control defenders at the point of attack. He’s solid if the angle is there and he gets his hands on the defender early; otherwise, he can get overpowered.

    Route Running

    28/30

    A technician with precise cuts and good change-of-direction skills, Olsen is at his best when working either up the seam or breaking off his routes over the middle. His lower-body flexibility and agility allows him to quickly cut and accelerate into space.

    Speed

    18/20

    Not a sprinter, Olsen does a good job separating from defenders with nice burst off the line of scrimmage. And when you consider that he’s 250 pounds, his ability to run away from defenders is impressive. Olsen wouldn’t outrun Vernon Davis, but his speed and field quickness are impressive.

    Overall

    85/100

    Olsen was the Panthers’ second-best receiving threat in 2013, posting a career-high 73 catches and becoming the go-to option for Cam Newton when the pocket broke down. His size, speed and reach make him the ideal threat over the middle and in the red zone.

6. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

     

    Hands

    37/40

    In his fourth season, Jordan Cameron (6’5”, 245 lbs) became an elite tight end. He’ll drop a few passes, but as a young player, his catch radius is exceptional. He attacks the ball and high-points to beat defenders with his size and athleticism. Cameron catches well no matter the placement—you can lead him, drop it over the top or rifle the ball in traffic and he’ll come down with it.

    Blocking

    2/10

    More athlete than blocker, Cameron is best used in the slot and when on the move. Asking him to take on a defender head-up is a poor strategy.

    Route Running

    28/30

    Cameron made major improvements as a route-runner in 2013. He was able to use his agility to break off routes and then doubled down with speed to pull away in coverage. Teams quickly learned that you had to put two defenders on Cameron, and even then he was finding separation or boxing out players for positioning.

    Speed

    18/20

    Cameron may not time exceptionally well if you asked him to run a 40-yard dash, but on the field, he’s very fast and very fluid. He can run away from a defender and explode out of his breaks to separate in his route. And with the ball in his hands, good luck catching Cameron from behind.

    Overall

    85/100

    An athletic freak, Cameron is able to beat defenders with speed and with moves. And he’s just starting to scratch the surface. Within a few seasons, at this current rate, Cameron may be the best in the league.

5. Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Hands

    37/40

    One of the most improved players in the league, Julius Thomas (6’5”, 250 lbs, three seasons) didn’t record a catch in 2012 before notching 12 touchdowns in 2013. He was able to explode onto the scene thanks to a catch radius that most players would die for. His long arms and soft hands allowed for big plays over the middle, in the red zone and when working over the top of defenders. Thomas could get better at making the tough grab in traffic, but his impact and production were incredible.

    Blocking

    3/10

    More of an athlete than a blocker, Thomas shouldn’t be asked to handle defensive ends on more than a crack-back. He does well in the slot and when in motion, but he is not an in-line blocker.

    Route Running

    28/30

    Not much was expected when evaluating Thomas as a route-runner, but he impressed with great agility and an understanding of space and positioning. His basketball background is easy to see when he’s using his length and bulk to shade defenders from the football. He’ll need to work more on timing his breaking routes, but the athleticism shown is unreal.

    Speed

    20/20

    Thomas has the speed to run away from 95 percent of the safeties in the NFL. He’s a problem in matchups for most teams because you can’t leave a linebacker on him, and if you dedicate a safety in coverage, Peyton Manning will tear you apart. That’s what Thomas’ speed brings to the Denver offense.

    Overall

    88/100

    A nice surprise for the Denver offense during its Super Bowl run, Thomas has the athleticism and upside to consistently rank among the best players in the game at tight end. The key to his development is to focus on improving as a blocker and route-runner.

4. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

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    David Banks/Getty Images

     

    Hands

    36/40

    Jason Witten (6’6”, 261 lbs, 11 seasons) is among the most consistent players in the league. He’s a durable, productive, reliable safety valve in the Dallas passing game. The 2013 season did see a surprising six drops, but Witten was also playing with defenders draped all over his body, as the Cowboys’ run game and play-action sets fooled few safeties this season.

    Blocking

    7/10

    Strong and smart, Witten is able to handle defensive ends and can reach outside linebackers in the run game. He’s rarely used as a pass protector, but in the run game, we see his balance, patience and vision.

    Route Running

    30/30

    A technician as a route-runner, Witten is great at using his body to shield defenders from the ball. He’s the best in the game at using a head fake to throw defenders off balance and then cut underneath them on a breaking route to get open. He’s a terror in the middle of the field and dominates with box-out positioning and subtle moves in his routes.

    Speed

    15/20

    Not a burner, Witten has a good second gear to pull away in coverage. He’s much better running with the ball in his hands, but he can outrun linebackers and some safeties in coverage.

    Overall

    88/100

    One of the most consistent players of this era, Witten is once again ranked as one of the best in the game. He’s not as athletic or flashy as his peers or competitors, but he gets the job done as well as anyone.

3. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

     

    Hands

    38/40

    Drops have long been a problem for Rob Gronkowski (6'6", 265 lbs, four seasons), but his 2013 season saw an improvement in this area. Of course, we’re looking at a smaller sample size, but his drop rate went down. With just two drops in 64 targets, Gronkowski made big improvements on the field. We attribute this to better concentration. Too often he tried to make plays before securing the ball, but in 2013, he wasn’t as focused on running after the catch. That meant a big improvement in his drop rate.

    Blocking

    5/10

    A solid blocker when he can get the angle, Gronkowski is what we call a “move blocker.” He’s able to move defenders off their spot, but won’t pancake-block or drive defenders to the sideline. Instead, he’ll turn their shoulders and seal off rush lanes as needed. He’ll struggle against defensive ends in one-on-one situations unless he’s able to cut them.

    Route Running

    30/30

    A balanced route-runner with a good mix of speed, agility and size to separate from the defense. Gronkowski is smart in using all of his available tools to get open. He may be the best in the NFL at creating separation with his frame.

    Speed

    16/20

    Injuries took away much of his burst in 2013, but Gronkowski still has good speed for his size. He’ll create in space and is faster with the ball in his hands than when running through a route.

    Overall

    89/100

    An injury-plagued season robbed Gronkowski of his normal production, but when he was on the field, there was no denying his value. As a blocker and receiver, Gronk is one of the most valuable assets in the game if healthy.

2. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

     

    Hands

    36/40

    Vernon Davis (6’3”, 250 lbs, eight seasons) is one of the game’s most explosive athletes. In 2013, he saw his production skyrocket as his chemistry with Colin Kaepernick grew and as the offense relied on him more. Davis scored 13 touchdowns, showcasing the soft hands we’ve come to expect. He’s the best at the position when tracking the ball over his head and is deadly on crossing routes with his no-fear mentality. His catch-radius limitations led to a few fingertip drops, but Davis is otherwise rock solid.

    Blocking

    6/10

    Davis is at his best when moving to close the door on a block. Ask him to crack a defensive end and he’ll earhole them; ask him to drive-block down the field and he’ll attack the safety or cornerback with ease. When playing in-line (next to the offensive tackle), he can be overpowered, but his angles and leverage are textbook.

    Route Running

    28/30

    Davis runs a variety of routes and runs them all well. He has the cleanest wheel route you’ll see at tight end and moves with excellent body control up the field. He’s great on breaking routes too, thanks to his ability to quietly push off and then accelerate into space.

    Speed

    20/20

    Davis is one of the fastest players in the game, regardless of position. He explodes off the line and can quickly accelerate into his route. What’s best about him is that second gear he hits with the ball in his hands. 

    Overall

    90/100

    Davis has the production, the traits and the impact to once again rank near the top at the position. His value as a blocker and receiver makes him among the most important players on one of the NFL’s best teams.

1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Hands

    40/40

    After leading all NFL tight ends in drops during the 2012 season, Jimmy Graham (6’7”, 265 lbs, four seasons) rebounded with just six drops on 136 targets in 2013. That’s good. Graham has long arms, soft hands and an excellent catch radius. And like the former basketball player that he is, plucking the ball out of the air is easy for him. Talents like Graham rarely improve the way he did in 2013.

    Blocking

    4/10

    A flex tight end—and arguably more of a wide receiver—Graham doesn’t contribute much in the blocking game. He does have the length and power to crack an outside linebacker or stalk-block a safety, but asking him to handle a player head-up isn’t what he does.

    Route Running

    30/30

    Graham excels at breaking off routes and leaving defenders in his dust. He’s quick enough in space to run away from coverage and shows great change-of-direction skills when sticking his foot in the dirt on an option route. When asked to break off his route stem and explode, Graham separates better than any tight end in the NFL. Thanks to his ability to box out defenders, he’s almost always open.

    Speed

    19/20

    Graham has speed and agility, a deadly combination when you look at his size and catch radius. He’s able to hit the jets and run away from defenders after a catch and will also use that speed to get open in his route tree.

    Overall

    93/100

    While Graham was a source of much internal debate during the 2012 season, there was no choice but to put him at No. 1 this year. He was among the NFL’s most dominant players during the regular season and continues to be a nightmare for most defenses.

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