Ranking the league's best overall tight ends entering the 2009 season.
1. Tony Gonzalez (ATL)
Gonzalez is already believed by many to be the greatest tight end to ever play the game.
He is easily one of the top receivers in the league with his ability to run routes, catch balls, block for the run, and separate himself from defenders.
One thing that makes Gonzalez unique is his consistency. Gonzo has consistently produced Pro Bowl numbers each year in his career. He has consistently been the No. 1 target his entire career and has shown no signs of regressing from his game.
This is a guy hungry for a ring, however, and he realizes it is possible with the offensive talent in Atlanta. This move will not only make Gonzalez a better player, but the entire offense as well.
2. Jason Witten (DAL)
Any team would want a player like Jason Witten.
He is a strong, physical player with a determination to score every time he touches the ball. He is not afraid to take a big hit over the middle, and will produce consistent numbers on a weekly basis. Being Romo's No. 1 target doesn't hurt your stats either.
The departure of Terrell Owens will open more looks for Witten, and the Dallas running game should take pressure off of him during games.
As long as Witten is on the field, expect Pro Bowl numbers all the time.
3. Antonio Gates (SD)
Injuries have set Gates back in recent years, but he has already proven himself as one of the most athletic tight ends in the game today.
He can box out any defender and burn most linebackers trying to cover him, his leaping ability is through the roof, and his hands are as good as they come.
There isn't much to hate about Gates, other than he hasn't seen the field as much as I'd like, especially because he is still young.
Gates is always a threat to make big plays and a reliable target for an explosive offense.
4. Dallas Clark (IND)
Other than Gonzalez, Dallas Clark runs routes better than any other tight end.
He has the perfect connection with his quarterback Peyton Manning and can easily create throwing lanes for him as well. Clark will catch almost any pass and is not distracted by extra defenders guarding him.
He is a tough and solid player who has proven his reliability and consistency in his short time as a professional.
5. Kellen Winslow (TB)
No one should question Winslow's athletic ability or toughness on the field.
His attitude towards the game is perfect, and the talent he displays (when healthy) is one of the best in the league. He can win most one-on-one battles with any linebacker or defensive back, and even if Winslow is covered, if the ball is thrown his way, he still has the better chance of snagging it over the defender.
The talent and toughness this guy has physically and mentally makes him one of the best pure athletes in the game of football today.
6. Chris Cooley (WAS)
Cooley is one of the undersized tight ends in the league, but that doesn't stop him from competing at a high level of intensity every week.
Cooley is a tough, smart, and confident player that is reliable in certain situations in a game. He knows where to go at certain times and surprises many defenders with his agility and elusiveness.
His range for catching is another surprising element to his arsenal, and he can change the pace of a game with one play.
He is a hard worker with as much skill in him as desire.
7. Heath Miller (PIT)
Miller is the toughest tight end in the game today.
He has the perfect size to block, catch, and run with a motor that keeps on running. He has surprisingly nice hands that make him a threat on third down and red zone situations. He can run the seam route on most linebackers and has developed into the perfect utility player for the Pittsburgh offense.
Miller is an all-around tight end with basically no flaws to his game.
8. Jeremy Shockey (NO)
Shockey has been set back with injuries the past two to three years, but his talent and ability have not gone anywhere.
He can still run over pretty much any defensive back he wants to, and his "head-kill" attitude has not vanished either.
Shockey's ability to get open and catch a football has never been questioned, and if anything, the injury time he used to workout might turn him into a better blocker. Playing with the Saints' offense might be too up-beat for Shockey to roll with, so he might be substituting a lot with Miller.
Overall, though, Shockey is still a tough reliable player who just needs to stay on the field in order to produce for himself and his team.
9. Owen Daniels (HOU)
I had Daniels as high as No. 5, but then I came back down to Earth.
This guy's talent is unbelievable, and he looks to be the next up-and-coming tight end.
As of right now, it is hard to rank him above players who have already shown the talent he displays, and then some. If Daniels wants to prove to the league that he is a top tight end, he will need to produce nicely this year.
He can run a route as good as any other tight end and displays great focus each play he is in. His blocking comes and goes, but now that Slaton is the starter, the running game might be more consistent this year.
He is a young talent with tons of potential that gives the Houston offense a nice piece, but now it's time to use him to the fullest of that potential. This could be the year that it happens.
10. Zach Miller (OAK)
Miller is the true No. 1 target in Oakland.
Miller is a perfect fit for the Raider offense and has great size that many team look for. He has the capability to produce big numbers each week, but I would like to see it come more often from this guy.
He has great hands and a solid vision of the field around him. He can cradle in any ball thrown his way by simply using his body to move defenders (kind of like Crumpler in his prime).
He's another young talent with tons of potential, but now is the time to expose that potential.
11. Anthony Fasano (MIA)
You could make the case that Fasano belongs in the top ten, and I wouldn't argue.
He is a tough player with only one thing on his mind: Get the job done. He goes where he needs to play and executes whatever is asked of him. His receiving ability is not as good as his blocking, but it is still overall impressive.
He might be the long-term solution to that position Miami has been missing ever since Randy McMichael made a one-handed catch that impressed the entire universe.
12. Kevin Boss (NYG)
This is the man who sent Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans, so he has got to be worth something.
Boss can run after the catch better than any other tight end in the league, except for maybe Vernon Davis. He is a block-first tight end with the skills to catch and run.
His route running skills are still in question, because he usually runs drags, outs and slants. His deep game could also improve, but he's not that type of player.
Boss could actually be Eli Manning's No. 1 target this year.
13. Todd Heap (BAL)
Why is it that before every NFL season I am never sure if Todd Heap will be playing?
This guy has the talent and ability to be the best tight end in the league, but he is never on the field.
Heap can run almost any route on anyone trying to cover him, and he can climb over most defenders to snag a ball and can block better than anyone.
Plain and simple, when Heap is on the field it is just another problem for opposing defenses.
The past four years though, Heap hasn't done much but produce once or twice a season then disappear into the roster.
14. Vernon Davis (SF)
This might be a breakout year for Davis.
His athletic talent is just too scary to think about. He can gallop like a race horse and can probably bench press a couple of his fellow lineman.
Davis has always been a solid blocker for Gore and the rushing game, but Singletary might be the guy to break Vernon out of his shell. Davis' reliability has not been proven, but he showed signs of being on the verge of exploding onto the scene at the end of last year.
The San Francisco offense will surprise people, I believe, which I think Vernon Davis will be a big piece of.
15. Bo Scaife (TEN)
Although Crumpler is listed as the No. 1 tight end, Scaife got double the looks from Collins last year.
Scaife can run a vertical route very nicely and has good elusiveness for the size he brings. He can climb the ladder to compete in jump balls, but if he positions himself correctly, Sacife will win the battle every time.
He is a very precise route runner when it comes to his shorter routes, and uses his body to create an easy window for his quarterback to get the ball through. Having Crumpler line up with him definitely helps him get more looks.
He is a very reliable target for Collins in many situations and can quietly be an effective player for any offense.
16. Greg Olsen (CHI)
Olsen didn't explode like I thought he would last season, but he didn't disappoint either.
His speed and route running ability was just what I thought it would be, and his receiving didn't surprise either. Olsen needs to become a more aware player on the field, but that will come with experience.
Desmond Clark's presence can help Olsen learn the game and develop success quickly (along with Cutler), but if Chicago wants Olsen to blossom into a superstar player, Clark's time will need to expire real soon.
Clark's presence is helping Olsen, but if he stays there much longer, then it will hold Olsen back rather than push him forward.
17. John Carlson (SEA)
Carlson's speed surprises many NFL defenses.
He is a 6'5" monster with a hard working mindset and surprisingly soft hands. He reminds me of a young Heath Miller the way he attacks secondaries and takes hits over the middle.
Carlson has the ability to change directions quickly and fool defenders on where he is going on the field. He can also block, but that offensive line needs a lot more work to become successful.
Overall, Carlson still has a lot to learn about the game, but he is developing faster than any other young talent I've seen so far.
18. Ben Watson (NE)
Watson has done a good job of securing his job as Brady's tight end in New England.
He has become a mature and reliable receiver for New England and has really filled his role well. Watson has the best acrobatic ability I've seen in a tight end since McMichael in his prime.
Watson's route running is good, but not great, but his ability to find the open windows is a rare talent to find and his awareness improves each season.
If you add that with his athletic talent, you have a very solid and reliable player on your offense.
19. Martellus Bennett (DAL)
Bennett can start for numerous teams in the NFL today.
His height and athletic ability separate himself from many starters in the league. Bennett can use his body to get open, and he makes big plays every now and then.
However, he still has a lot of maturing to do if he wants to be a successful No. 1 tight end someday.
His talent has the potential to become great, but his football intelligence and maturity are two key pieces that are missing greatly from his game.
20. Tony Scheffler (DEN)
He reminds me of an underachieving Owen Daniels.
Scheffler's numbers may be held back due to the playing time Daniel Graham holds, but Scheffler's potential is still very high.
He can run simple routes and make tough catches that help keep offensive drives alive. His blocking is still questionable, and now that Cutler is gone, I am uncertain on how he will develop this year.
Scheffler's game was inconsistent, to say the least, but the determination and ability he has can elevate his game to the next level in the future.
21. Brandon Pettigrew (DET)
I know people in Detroit didn't like this pick, but I didn't mind it.
Pettigrew is a big, athletic talent with a lot of potential to be great. He can jump, catch, run, and block, so what's not to like about him?
Well, he is a rookie, so it will take some time for him to develop into a serious threat for opposing defenses. I still don't know how intelligent Pettigrew is in the NFL, but then again, who honestly knows how rookies will play entering the league?
The talent is there, but the Lions organization might need to be patient with him before he becomes an immediate playmaker for this offense.
22. Visanthe Shiancoe (MIN)
Shiancoe can make big plays time from time, but he is no threat to opposing defenses as the key piece to the Minnesota offense.
Shiancoe will have his days where he just decides to catch everything thrown his way, then he has his days where he can't separate himself from anyone on the field. Shiancoe's success is mainly produced through Berrian, Taylor and Peterson's play.
He is a solid tight end to have on any team, but don't expect him to make the one play that will matter in the very end. He is one of those players who just has his days.
23. Dustin Keller (NYJ)
He has shown signs of becoming a reliable play maker for the Jets offense.
Keller's speed is deceiving, and he has underrated receiving skills. Keller's development on knowing what to do in certain situations has impressed me, but he won't be playing with super-veteran Bret Favre. The young Keller will now be playing with the young Clemens (or Sanchez).
Keller's talent can bring him into the spotlight one day, but he still has a lot to learn if he wants to produce nicely in his career.
24. Chase Coffman (CIN)
This is a rookie who has the talent and opportunity to secure a No. 1 role for Cincinnati.
Coffman has the size, hands, and toughness every team wants in their tight end. He has good speed to get down field for his size and is not afraid to put his shoulder down for two lousy yards.
I am very excited for the opportunity Coffman has to become successful in this league, and I can't wait to see what he can bring to the Bengal offense.
25. Donald Lee (GB)
Lee is reliable leader that does whatever it takes to get the job done.
His receiving game is often overlooked, and his blocking is one of the best in the league. When I first saw Lee play, I thought this guy stood no shot at becoming the Packers' No. 1 tight end long-term. As time went on, though, Lee started to impress me more and more.
He might not make the most flashy plays for Green Bay, but he does what he is asked to do in crucial situations.
That is a coach's and quarterback's best friend in close games—especially near December.
26. Alge Crumpler (TEN)
A proven tight end that blocks extremely well for one of the league's best rushing attacks. He can receive as well as he blocks, too.
27. Desmond Clark (CHI)
A reliable player who can catch balls despite any defenders hanging on him. He is coming near the end of his career (sadly), but he can still produce for many offenses.
28. Daniel Graham (DEN)
I've always loved Graham, even in New England. Graham is good blocker with great hands and will go 100 percent every play he is in.
29. Marcedes Lewis (JAC)
Lewis is on the verge of being considered a bust. He must produce solidly this year (blocking or receiving) if he wants to secure a spot as the No. 1 tight end for Jacksonville in the future.
30. Brent Celek (PHI)
I think Celek could be a dark horse in the league this season. He is an overlooked player with great hands. You know how McNabb likes his tight ends, too.
31. Billy Miller (NO)
Miller is a decent receiver with terrible blocking skills. He is a solid tight end to have for the offense New Orleans has, but he can only be successful if put in the right system.
32. Alex Smith (NE)
Smith is a great blocker with an underrated receiving skill. He can find windows for quarterbacks in short-down situations.
33. Shawn Nelson (BUF)
A rookie who will get the opportunity to produce. Buffalo seems to like this kid, so if every piece on that offense falls into place, then Nelson should start to find some success.
34. Anthony Becht (ARI)
I'm still unsure if Pope will start over Becht. Pope has had plenty of time by now to develop as a reliable target. Signing Becht, I don't think, is the answer, but it shows Arizona is ready to move on.
35. Chris Baker (NE)
Another veteran player that New England loves to attract. Baker is still a very productive player, and if used correctly, he can help do the little things that make the offense successful.