NFL1000: Ranking the Top Tight Ends of 2017 Season

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2018

NFL1000: Ranking the Top Tight Ends of 2017 Season

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    We know the traditional tight end is not who he used to be. In generations past, tight ends were mostly blockers who caught a few passes per game—adjuncts to the offensive line more than skill position players. Then, Cleveland freed Ozzie Newsome to be a primary receiver, Don Coryell turned Kellen Winslow into a roving Y receiver in San Diego, and the position was transformed. Players standing 6'5" and weighing 240 pounds or more became matchup nightmares—too big for any safety and too quick for most linebackers.

    Then, the wave of basketball players—from Antonio Gates to Jimmy Graham—came in, and the position evolved. Now, it doesn't matter if your tight end blocks as well as your starting halfback. You want him on the field because he understands angles and leverage well enough that he's nearly impossible to defend in the red zone and end zone. 

    Yes, there are still those who block and block well. In fact, the best tight end of the modern era, and the top guy in our position rankings, blocks as well as any we've ever seen. But most tight ends are specialists as opposed to generalists these days.

    When NFL teams deploy two- and three-tight end sets, they may do so with a blocking tight end, one who can get open in short and intermediate route concepts and another who can get deep and create explosive plays. You can create "levels" concepts with nothing but tight ends these days—the 2016 Tennessee Titans were particularly good at this before their offense regressed in 2017.

    So, when evaluating tight ends, we must consider their specific value as opposed to their general value. What is this player being asked to do, is it the right thing he should be asked to do, and how well does he do it?

    The Seattle Seahawks have had Graham for the last three seasons following an expensive trade, but they never had the best version of him because they insisted he follow the paradigm of tight end as blocker. The New Orleans Saints had no such concerns about him. They knew the kinds of matchup advantages he could be schemed to create.

    NFL1000 receivers and tight ends scouts Joe Goodberry and Marcus Mosher watched every NFL tight end all season, and they ranked them based on the following criteria:

    Route Running: 20 points. How much of the full route tree is the player asked to run, and how well does he run it? Is he able to create separation on slants, drags and other crossing routes to present an easy read to the quarterback? How well does he run option routes up the seam or up the numbers? Can he combine with other receivers well on crossing and pick concepts?

    Hands: 25 points. Tight ends have to make contested catches a lot of the time. How well does this player hold up when he's got defenders all over him? How well does he bring the ball in when he's asked to go over the middle into a nest of defenders? How well does he hold on to the ball when he's jumping to beat a defender in the end zone?

    YAC: 20 points. How well does this player use his size to break tackles and gain yards after the catch? Does he have a second gear that allows him to break away for explosive plays? Is he agile enough in space to elude defenders?

    Blocking: 25 points. This is less important for every tight end than it used to be, but how well does this player block both in the formation and split wide? Can he act as an effective sixth lineman in the running game? How is his technique and effort?

    Position Value: 7 points. This score takes into account the importance of the position when comparing scores across other spots in the offense. Tight ends are given 7/10 points across the board, making their top possible grade 97.

    Make sure to check out all of the NFL1000 rankings from the 2017 season.



Notable Omissions

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    When ranking tight ends, we wanted to see enough snaps to get a picture of a player's development in, and effect on, his offense. Tight ends with fewer than 15 percent of their team's total offensive snaps were exempted from the rankings, including the following:

    • Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
    • Ricky Seals-Jones, Arizona Cardinals
    • Orson Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
    • Logan Paulsen, San Francisco 49ers
    • Logan Thomas, Buffalo Bills

Nos. 87-81

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    87. Daniel Brown, Chicago Bears

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    11/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    7/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    47/100

    It's hard to call Daniel Brown a tight end, as he rarely was asked to block this year. When he did block (or attempted to), it almost always happened when he was in the slot, detached from the line of scrimmage. The only reason Brown got on the field was because of his receiving ability, which was mediocre at best. He showed some athleticism after the catch, but he didn't play with any kind of toughness. On top of that, he also had a few drops. Brown probably shouldn't be on an NFL roster.

        

    86. Chris Manhertz, Carolina Panthers

    Route Running: 8/20
    Hands: 
    10/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    48/100

    Chris Manhertz played all 16 games for the Panthers before he landed on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. He was used sparingly as a receiver, as his primary role was as a run-blocker who occasionally helped protect Cam Newton as a pass-blocker. He has prototypical size (6'6", 255 lbs), but he didn't offer much of anything as a receiver, finishing with just two receptions for 17 yards. Manhertz has played 23 NFL games and has just three career catches. He's nothing more than a No. 3 or No. 4 tight end.

                   

    85. Lance Kendricks, Green Bay Packers

    Route Running: 9/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    49/100

    Lance Kendricks was signed by the Packers to play behind veteran Martellus Bennett. But once Bennett was released, Kendricks was pushed into a more prominent role. Because they lacked talent at tight end, the Packers didn't use them often, so Kendricks was rarely on the field. He doesn't do anything particularly well, but he really struggled as a receiver—he just couldn't create separation. At this stage of his career, Kendricks shouldn't be anything more than a No. 3 tight end.

        

    84. Darrell Daniels, Indianapolis Colts

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    12/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    9/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    50/100

    Rookie Darrell Daniels was used as a move tight end when he played. He was targeted just 13 times and only caught three passes. He couldn't adjust to off-target passes and had some drops.

        

    83. Troy Niklas, Arizona Cardinals

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    11/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    50/100

    Drafted to be a dual-threat tight end in 2014, Troy Niklas is running out of time to make an impact. During his four years in the NFL, Niklas has accumulated just 19 catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns. He displayed some athleticism in the receiving game this season, but he primarily was used as a blocking tight end behind starter Jermaine Gresham. At times, Niklas used his size (6'6", 270 lbs) to out-muscle defenders, but his poor technique and spotty leverage often allowed him to get moved off the line of scrimmage by defensive linemen and linebackers. Niklas has a ton of talent, but he hasn't been able to stay on the field enough over the past four seasons to develop into a starting tight end.

        

    82. Dion Sims, Chicago Bears

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    11/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    50/100

    Before Zach Miller was injured, Dion Sims split starter snaps with him. In his five-year career, Sims has never been known for his receiving ability, and that didn't change this year. At times, he showed his power as a runner after the catch, but very rarely was he targeted. Sims was at his best this year when he was in two-tight end sets with Miller and the Bears used their wide-zone rushing attack. When he was engaged with a defender, Sims rarely lost. But teams have figured out that Sims struggles with speed, and smaller defenders beat his blocks fairly easily. Sims was out-matched as the Bears' No. 1 tight end option in the second half of the season and should only play on running downs.

        

    81. Michael Hoomanawanui, New Orleans Saints

    Route Running: 9/20
    Hands: 
    12/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    50/100

    After the injury to Coby Fleener, Michael Hoomanawanui served as the Saints' No. 2 tight end. Throughout his career, he has stayed on rosters because of his blocking ability, but he did not perform as well in this area as he has in previous seasons. He didn't offer much as a receiver, either, as he lacks the athleticism to make plays in the passing game. His best work this season came as a pass-protector on play-action passes. At this stage in his career, Hoomanawanui shouldn't be anything more than a No. 3 tight end. 

Nos. 80-76

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    80. Eric Tomlinson, New York Jets

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    12/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    51/100

    Used mostly as the move tight end in the Jets offense, Eric Tomlinson is just a guy out there. He doesn't have a physical trait to lean on in order to win consistently. He caught a touchdown this past season when he was the seam option on a four-verts play.

        

    79. Nick Vannett, Seattle Seahawks

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    10/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    51/100

    Second-year tight end Nick Vannett served as the Seahawks' No. 3 tight end this season. Because of his limited role, Vannett's snaps were few and far between. He mostly played in jumbo packages and in blowout situations. But with both Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson's contracts set to expire, Vannett could be thrust into a starting role in 2018. Vannett is a big (6'6", 261 lbs), athletic tight end who needs to improve as a blocker and cut down on drops if he wants to secure a feature role.

        

    78. Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    12/25
    YAC: 
    9/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    51/100

    Like Lance Kendricks, Richard Rodgers was pushed into more snaps after the release of Martellus Bennett. Rodgers was a capable blocker at times this year, but it's certainly not an area in which he thrived. Rodgers didn't show enough speed or athleticism as a receiver to scare defenses, and it's a stretch to play him as a second tight end. Rodgers did a little bit of everything for the Packers in 2017, but he didn't do any of it particularly well.

        

    77. Michael Roberts, Detroit Lions

    Route Running: 8/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    51/100

    In his first season, Michael Roberts carved out a nice role on the Lions. He was mostly used in the running game and rarely saw action as a receiver. While underdeveloped as a blocker, Roberts used his size (6'5", 265 lbs) to beat linebackers in space. But unless Roberts improves as a receiver, he will likely always be a backup.

        

    76. Derek Carrier, Los Angeles Rams

    Route Running: 8/20
    Hands: 
    12/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    16/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    51/100

    Derek Carrier was the Rams' No. 3 tight end and mainly served as a blocker in their jumbo packages. Carrier is undersized (6'4", 244 lbs) but was an average blocker in the running and passing games. He has displayed some ability as a receiver, but he had a hamstring injury that zapped some of his athleticism. Carrier will be a free agent this offseason and might struggle to find a new team early in the process. 

Nos. 75-71

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    75. Vernon Davis, Washington Redskins

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    11/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    9/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    52/100

    Vernon Davis played all 16 games for the Redskins this season and filled in at times for oft-injured Jordan Reed, who missed 10 games. Davis was dynamic as a receiver, averaging 15.1 yards per reception. He wasn't the most technically sound receiver, as he often ran sloppy routes and dropped way too many passes. However, his athleticism still allowed him to make big plays down the field and after the catch. But the added responsibility in the passing game seemed to hurt his effort in the running game, as he was a liability as a blocker for most of the season. Davis will turn 34 on Jan. 31, but he still has value as a No. 2 tight end.

        

    74. Luke Willson, Seattle Seahawks

    Route Running: 9/20
    Hands: 
    10/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    52/100

    Luke Willson is an ultra-athletic tight end who was sparingly used as a receiver. With Jimmy Graham entrenched as the starter, most of Willson's work came as a run-blocker. Willson was improved as a blocker this year, and his best work came in space rather than at the line of scrimmage. As a receiver, he has shown the ability to make plays after the catch and down the field, but a limited route tree and inexperience as a route-runner have held him back from producing more. Drops also plagued him again this season. Willson will be a free agent this offseason and should find a job as a No. 2 or No. 3 tight end.

        

    73. Xavier Grimble, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    12/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    53/100

    Xavier Grimble is third in the tight end pecking order for the Steelers, but they do have a role for him. In his 169 snaps in 2017, per Pro Football Reference, Grimble only had one big play, but it was a touchdown on a shovel pass against the Packers. He's a solid athlete who made some nice catches last season.

        

    72. Phillip Supernaw, Tennessee Titans

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    9/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    53/100

    Despite his name, Phillip Supernaw isn't all bad. He played 206 snaps in 2017, per Pro Football Reference, and was targeted just six times. Still, he caught four passes and one touchdown. The scoring grab featured a nice display of ball-tracking, as he looked a rainbow into his outstretched arms. The play, however, came after two straight false start penalties on Supernaw.

        

    71. Maxx Williams, Baltimore Ravens

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    9/20
    Blocking: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    53/100

    Maxx Williams was supposed to be a receiving tight end who could change the Ravens offense, but he's never shown that ability. Williams is more of a fullback than a tight end, as he lines up in the backfield and runs his routes or blocks from there. His hands seem fine, but he doesn't adjust and hasn't made an impact catch in a long time. His lone touchdown this season came against the Colts in Week 16, when he lined up at fullback and ran to the flat, which was pretty much how he was used all season.

Nos. 70-66

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    70. Antony Auclair, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    12/25
    YAC: 
    9/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    53/100

    Antony Auclair was a versatile player for the Buccaneers as he took snaps at tight end, fullback, H-back, slot receiver and even a few as an outside receiver. But with Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard ahead of him, Auclair was locked into the third tight end spot. He didn't excel in any one area, but the undrafted free agent earned time on the field his rookie season with his ability to play multiple positions adequately. Auclair is the ideal third tight end on an offense because of all the different hats he can wear on game day.

                        

    69. Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    11/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    53/100

    Before being placed on injured reserve with a concussion, Coby Fleener's role was reduced role this year. Fleener mainly played on obvious passing downs, but as the year went on, the Saints phased him out of the offense in favor of Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui. Fleener has prototypical size (6'6", 251 lbs) and athleticism for the position, but he lacks the physically and toughness to win over the middle or as a blocker. His time in the NFL may be running out.

        

    68. Randall Telfer, Cleveland Browns

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    53/100

    Randall Telfar played 299 snaps in his third year, per Pro Football Reference, but only caught three passes. He did have a touchdown catch of 51 yards in the preseason and a 20-yarder against the Ravens on a corner route in Week 2. Other than that, the highlights were limited, as he was mostly used as the Y tight end who blocked inline.

        

    67. Niles Paul, Washington Redskins

    Route Running: 9/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    9/20
    Blocking: 
    16/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    54/100

    Niles Paul finished the season with 94 yards and zero touchdowns. He spent most of the season as the team's third tight end, splitting snaps with rookie Jeremy Sprinkle. Paul played mostly as an H-back, as his size (6'1", 242 lbs) has prevented him from becoming more of a traditional tight end. He didn't do any one particular thing well and struggled as a run-blocker and as a receiver. His best work came when he was a blocker in the passing game, but he didn't excel in that area either. Paul is a versatile player, but his lack of an elite skill limits his effectiveness and playing time.

                           

    66. Jerell Adams, New York Giants

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 9/25
    YAC: 11/20
    Blocking: 16/25
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 54/100

    Jerell Adams is a big (6'5", 254 lbs), athletic tight end who hasn't found a way to use that skill set as a receiver. He caught just eight passes in 2017, almost all of which came in garbage-time situations. Adams was an above-average blocker, but with his lack of receiving ability, he can't be considered anything more than a third tight end at best. At 25 years old, he is still a young player with a lot of upside, but he is a long way from becoming even an average receiver. 

Nos. 65-61

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    65. Ryan Griffin, Houston Texans

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    Before he got hurt, Ryan Griffin had a solid start to the season, catching 13 passes in seven games. His touchdown against the Patriots showed his receiving ability. He was aligned tight to the line and ran a vertical route against man coverage. With a jab step to the outside, Griffin forced the safety to take a step away, and Griffin made a nice catch as he turned back inside to catch a ball over his head.

        

    64. Jeff Heuerman, Denver Broncos

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    Jeff Heuerman's expectations were low this year after he posted a pedestrian line last year. He ended up being a solid contributor in a strong tight end rotation. Catching nine of 21 targets looks disappointing, but Heuerman showed flashes, averaging 15.8 yards per catch. He can get upfield, and he's also a decent blocker who has upside.

                         

    63. Geoff Swaim, Dallas Cowboys

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    Despite playing 15 games this season, third-year tight end Geoff Swaim wasn't used as much as he was in 2016. Swaim is an average receiver with decent athleticism, but he is a versatile blocker who can win at the point of attack or on the move. He needs to develop as a route-runner if he wants to become anything more than a No. 3 tight end.

        

    62. Brandon Williams, Indianapolis Colts

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    8/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    The Colts used Brandon Williams sparingly even though he appeared in 14 games. He was targeted just 17 time but caught 13 passes. He looked like a bottom-of-the-roster special teams guy, as he didn't fill that athletic tight end role typical of the Colts.

        

    61. Julius Thomas, Miami Dolphins

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Julius Thomas has rapidly declined over the past four years, and he looks like a shell of his former self. He's slow, stiff and isn't making anybody miss after the catch. There was a time when you could line up Thomas anywhere and create mismatches. Those days are over. 

Nos. 60-56

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    60. C.J. Uzomah, Cincinnati Bengals

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    C.J. Uzomah replaced Tyler Eifert in 2016 but had injuries this season, which allowed Tyler Kroft to fill that role instead. Uzomah is still a bit raw as a receiver and blocker. He's an athlete, but he's stiff and clunky and often fights the ball while catching it. As a blocker, his length and natural strength allow him to win even if he's not the most technical tight end.

        

    59. Adam Shaheen, Chicago Bears

    Route Running: 8/20
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Second-round rookie Adam Shaheen didn't play many snaps for the Bears for a variety of reasons. While he clearly has the potential to be a dominating force in the running and passing games, the transition from Ashland University was a tough one. However, Shaheen showcased his talent at times. He was a force to take down after the catch and even had his moments as an inline blocker, but he was so raw as a receiver that it was hard to justify putting him on the field in passing situations. For Shaheen to succeed, the Bears need to pair him with a reliable No. 1 tight end for the next several years until he grasps how to play the position in the NFL. As of now, he is a big chunk of marble that needs to be sculpted.

                 

    58. Ben Koyack, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Ben Koyack wasn't used often, getting just seven targets in 16 games. He recorded his lone score of the season in the AFC Wild Card Round. It was an inside slant off play action, and Koyack had to make a strong hands catch and keep his feet inbounds.

        

    57. Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    9/20
    Blocking: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Anthony Fasano will turn 34 in April and is in the last years of his career. He's still a solid contributor and valued backup. He's not a threat as a receiver anymore—if he ever was—but he's always been a solid blocker.

        

    56. Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    9/20
    Blocking: 
    16/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    While second-round rookie Gerald Everett got the hype, Tyler Higbee was the Rams' No. 1 tight end this season. Higbee wasn't much of a receiving threat, catching just 25 passes in 16 games, but he made his money as a better-than-average run-blocker who has the size (6'6", 257 lbs) and athleticism to be moved all over the field. Higbee, however, didn't do enough as a receiver to warrant extended snaps in the future and will likely serve as the team's No. 2 or No. 3 tight end next season as Everett grows into the starting role. 

Nos. 55-51

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    Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    55. A.J. Derby, Miami Dolphins

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 16/25
    YAC: 13/20
    Blocking: 8/25
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 57/100

    A.J. Derby played for two teams in 2017. After leaving the Denver Broncos, he joined the Miami Dolphins. With Denver, he caught 19 balls for 224 yards and two touchdowns. With Miami, he only caught two of his nine targets in two games. Derby is an athletic tight end with the speed to get upfield and natural hands. His touchdown in Week 4—he ran a wheel route out of the backfield, caught the ball one-handed and then kept his feet in bounds—showed his upside.

                                    

    54. Austin Traylor, Denver Broncos

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 14/25
    YAC: 12/20
    Blocking: 12/25
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade:
     57/100

    Austin Traylor was originally on the Denver practice squad, but the Broncos brought up the 6'3", 255-pounder when they needed to add some beef and blocking to their tight end room. He's a physical player as a blocker and after the catch. He's well-rounded without having a dominant trait to lean on. Traylor caught eight of his 13 targets for 100 yards in 2017.

                             

    53. Sean McGrath, Los Angeles Chargers

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands:
     15/25
    YAC: 9/20
    Blocking: 16/25
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade:
     57/100

    Sean McGrath isn't normally on the field to catch passes. He's usually the guy the Chargers call on to do the dirty work among their tight end group. McGrath did make a nice contested 23-yard grab over a New York Jets defender downfield in Week 16, though. 

                            

    52. Lee Smith, Oakland Raiders

    Route Running: 9/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    57/100

    Lee Smith is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, and his team knows it. Oakland doesn't throw him the ball (11 targets), but he was on the field for 338 snaps, per Pro Football Reference. Being a big body (6'6", 265 lbs) with strong hands puts Lee in advantageous situations when it comes to blocking. He shows good balance and control once locked into defenders.

        

    51. Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    9/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    57/100

    Jonnu Smith is an athlete and natural receiver. The third-round rookie caught 18 passes on 30 targets and looked like a future red-zone weapon with two touchdowns. His 24-yard touchdown in Week 3 showed his versatility, as Smith lined up at fullback and ran a wheel route. His first career touchdown was a 32-yarder on a tight end screen pass. He definitely has upside.

Nos. 50-46

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    50. Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    57/100

    Drafted in the second round to be the Rams' mismatch receiving option at tight end, Gerald Everett struggled with the transition to the NFL in his first season. Coming from South Alabama, Everett was further behind the learning curve as a receiver than many anticipated. He flashed potential, especially after the catch, but he dropped far too many passes for how many times he was targeted (32). He wasn't used much as a blocker, as he was severely undersize (6'3", 245 lbs) in the trenches. Everett has a long ways to go before he becomes the next Zach Ertz or Jordan Reed, but he has all the tools and talent to eventually get there.

        

    49. Darren Fells, Detroit Lions

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    7/20
    Blocking: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    57/100

    The Lions decided to utilize more two-tight end sets this season, and that allowed veteran Darren Fells to play more snaps alongside Eric Ebron. While Ebron was the team's best receiving tight end, Fells did his damage as a blocker. Using his massive 6'7", 270-pound frame, he did the dirty work as a blocker while Ebron was often lined up in the slot or detached from the formation. As a receiver, Fells didn't offer much, but every now and then, he can make defenses pay with his size. His best game of the season came in Week 5 against the Panthers, as he caught two touchdowns in the red zone, using his size to box out defenders. Fells will turn 32 in April but still should be able to contribute as a blocker for another few seasons.

        

    48. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    9/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    It was a lost season for Jordan Reed, who had multiple injuries. He played just six games, catching 27 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Because of the nagging injuries, he didn't look like the same athlete we have seen in previous seasons. His best game was against Philadelphia, as he looked like his former self. In the limited time he was healthy, Reed created separation with ease and beat defenders after the catch. He struggled as a blocker, but that has never been his strength. Reed is one of the most talented receiving tight ends in the league, but injuries have derailed him.

        

    47. Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    When Zach Ertz was healthy, veteran Brent Celek served as the team's No. 2 tight end. Celek didn't stand out in any one area, but he was reliable in multiple facets of the game. Celek finished with just 13 receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown, and it was clear he's no longer the receiver he was earlier in his career. Celek struggled to create separation and lacked the speed to make plays down the field or after the catch. He was just an average blocker, and his time in the NFL may be coming to an end.

        

    46. Virgil Green, Denver Broncos

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    The Broncos use their tight ends as blockers and supplemental receivers, and that fits Virgil Green's strengths. He's a solid blocker and trustworthy option. He caught 14 of his 22 targets this season and averaged 13.6 yards per reception. In a more dynamic offense, perhaps Green would have better production.

Nos. 45-41

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    45. Jermaine Gresham, Arizona Cardinals

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    7/20
    Blocking: 
    21/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    Jermaine Gresham has never been an elite receiver (he has recorded 600 receiving yards just once in his NFL career), but he has carved out a nice career as a blocker. Gresham was at his best this season when he was an inline blocker, but he was more than fine in space when detached from the formation. Gresham was more of a checkdown receiver than a seam-buster. He probably is underqualified to be a No. 1 tight end any longer, but he can still contribute as a blocker in the running and passing games.

        

    44. Ed Dickson, Carolina Panthers

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Ed Dickson is a player with straight-line speed who has been miscast as a blocking tight end with the Panthers. Dickson's best game of the season came in Week 5 against the Lions, as he exploded for 175 yards on five receptions while filling in for the injured Greg Olsen. But after that incredible performance, Dickson had just two more games in which he cleared 30 receiving yards. Dickson will always get chances to be on the field because of his speed, but he doesn't offer much as a blocker or as a consistent receiver to be considered anything more than a No. 2 tight end.

        

    43. Stephen Anderson, Houston Texans

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Stephen Anderson moves like a big receiver, which creates matchup problems for defenses. His route running has developed, and he looks like a top tight end in terms of separation. He had issues with drops and making adjustments on the fly, but he was mostly working with backup quarterbacks. If you want to see Anderson's upside, check out his Hail Mary catch against the Chiefs in Week 5.

        

    42. James O'Shaughnessy, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    On his lone touchdown of the season against the 49ers, James O'Shaughnessy ran an excellent post route, selling it to the outside and breaking back inside wide open. He caught 14 passes on 24 targets and was used to stretch the seam.

        

    41. Dwayne Allen, New England Patriots

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Dwayne Allen was once thought of as a good starting tight end. He's no longer that, and the Patriots, instead of turning into a two-tight end offense, relegated Allen to spot duty as mostly a blocker. In 16 games, he was targeted only 22 times and caught just 10 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. This was easily the worst statistical season of his career.

Nos. 40-36

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    40. James Hanna, Dallas Cowboys

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    James Hanna was the Cowboys' No. 2 tight end, and he continued to be one of the more versatile tight ends in the league. Hanna lined up all over the field, but he was at his best when he was playing as an H-back with Jason Witten lined up as the traditional inline tight end. Hanna is a phenomenal athlete who didn't get to show it often in the passing game. He still needs work as a route-runner and when it comes to making catches outside the framework of his body, but he was a reliable receiver when targeted. His best work comes when he's a blocker who can be moved around the field. In today's NFL, Hanna is the ideal No. 2 tight end who can wear many hats and contribute on special teams.

        

    39. Seth DeValve, Cleveland Browns

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    Seth DeValve turned into the most experienced in the Browns tight end group in just his second season. He's a solid No. 2 tight end, but he flashed the ability to be more. He's a better athlete than expected and showed solid hands. He's also a move blocker, and Cleveland needed somebody to block inline. He held up admirably, but he could be used in better ways to help his production. He still caught 33 balls.

        

    38. Levine Toilolo, Atlanta Falcons

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    22/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    Levine Toilolo took a back seat to second-year tight end Austin Hooper. The move backward actually served him well, as he could focus on being more of a blocker than a receiver. Like Hooper, Toilolo is a Stanford product, and the latter thrived as a blocker with his enormous size (6'8", 265 lbs). As a receiver, Toilolo didn't show much quickness or the separation skills to scare defenders. But because of his size, he will always be an intriguing player in the red zone. Toilolo didn't have a flashy or big statistical season, but he was an important part of the Falcons offense—especially the running game.

        

    37. Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Route Running: 14/20
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Jesse James is an integral part of the Steelers offense even though the team's star weapons overshadowed him. If defenses didn't keep an eye on James, they needed to be prepared for trouble. Pittsburgh often used him as a blocker who sealed the edge for Le'Veon Bell to bounce outside. James is a solid role player. He saw 63 targets and caught 43 of them for 372 yards and three touchdowns.

        

    36. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    19/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Rookie O.J. Howard started the season slowly, catching just five passes in the team's first five games. But by the end of the year, Howard looked like the explosive, well-rounded player he was in college. He had his ups and downs as a blocker, but effort was never a problem. His pad level often got too high, which meant he lost leverage. But with more experience and better coaching, Howard should correct this problem with ease. As a receiver, he displayed strong hands and the ability to make plays down the field. He used his athleticism to make plays after the catch and showed all the necessary tools he'll need to become an elite option in the passing game. While his rookie season was bumpy, there is a lot to be excited about in terms of Howard's potential.

Nos. 35-31

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    35. Tyler Kroft, Cincinnati Bengals

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Tyler Kroft had a solid season replacing Tyler Eifert as one of the Bengals' main red-zone options. Kroft finished with seven touchdowns on 42 receptions. He's not a special athlete despite having decent vertical speed, and because of that, Kroft doesn't beat defenders in man coverage. His hands flashed as he made some tough grabs, but he also had some bad drops. As a blocker, Kroft's upside was on display, but he doesn't move people with his strength, lowered his head too often and would lose control and balance. He's a solid blocker overall who can play the inline position.

        

    34. Nick Boyle, Baltimore Ravens

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Nick Boyle is a decent No. 2 tight end. Often used as a short outlet and move blocker, he can be relied on in the Ravens offense. As a blocker, he does a good job sealing the edge and getting to linebackers in the second level. He derives power from a thick lower half, and his balance as a blocker also shows thanks to this physical aspect.

        

    33. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    When healthy, C.J. Fiedorowicz is a well-rounded tight end. He's a solid receiver and blocker but only played five games in 2017. He was targeted 22 times and caught 14 passes. Concussions may cut his career short and leave the Texans with a need.

                     

    32. Martellus Bennett, New England Patriots

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    21/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Martellus Bennett had a rough season in many ways. He battled through numerous injuries. He struggled to get adjusted to the Packers offense. And once Aaron Rodgers went down, it seemed like he didn't want to be in Green Bay any longer. Bennett was able to flash his brilliance as both a receiver and a blocker, however. He still had problems with drops and has never fully embraced being a disciplined route-runner, but he still won with his sheer size (6'6", 275 lbs) and athleticism. He was a force as a blocker, and that part of his game probably won't go away anytime soon. He has the talent to be a No. 1 tight end in the NFL, but his best fit might be as a blocking tight end who can do damage in the red zone.

                 

    31. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks

    Route Running: 17/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    For potentially being one of the best receiving tight ends of all time, Jimmy Graham has had an odd second career in Seattle. Last year, he was used as a big-play threat who averaged the most yards per catch (14.2) of his career. But this season, that figure dropped to the lowest of his career (9.1). To his credit, he was more of a factor in the red zone than he was in his previous two seasons with the Seahawks, catching 10 touchdowns. Graham showed he still has a ton of talent as a receiver, but parts of his game are starting to deteriorate, such as his ability to win after the catch and his sure hands. Like he has before, Graham struggled as a blocker this year, but he was rarely used in that area as the Seahawks refused to run the ball. Graham's usage over the past three seasons has been shaky, and it might be time for him to find a new home in free agency this offseason.

Nos. 30-26

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    Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    30. Garrett Celek, San Francisco 49ers

    Route Running: 11/20
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    While rookie tight end George Kittle got all the attention this season, Garrett Celek was the forgotten man in San Francisco. Celek wasn't the heavily targeted receiver Kittle was, but when he was thrown to, he often made big plays down the field and in the red zone. Celek was a reliable blocker in the running and passing games. He played a decent amount of snaps as a pass-blocker, especially in the second half of the season as the 49ers offensive line started to break down. Celek and Kittle worked well together as a tandem, and the 49ers would be wise to continue to use them together in future seasons.

                    

    29. David Morgan, Minnesota Vikings

    Route Running: 9/20
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    David Morgan hasn't done much as a receiver in his two years in the NFL (99 yards on 11 catches), but he was a valuable asset to the Vikings offense this season, as he was one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. He showed the ability to play on the line of scrimmage and create holes in the running game by either chipping defensive linemen or getting to linebackers. As good as he was as a run-blocker, however, he struggled at times as a pass protector, giving up pressures and committing silly penalties. As a receiver, Morgan displayed elite athleticism, but he was just too raw of a route-runner to steal snaps from starting tight end Kyle Rudolph. He didn't drop a pass this season, but he still needs to improve on all the details of being a receiver. Morgan is the ideal No. 2 tight end, but he needs to cut back on penalties if he wants to earn more playing time.

        

    28. Josh Hill, New Orleans Saints

    Route Running: 10/20
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    23/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Josh Hill replaced Coby Fleener as the Saints' No. 1 tight end this season, but he didn't translate the extra snaps into statistical production. Hill was an incredible blocker in the running and passing games, which is why he earned more snaps, but he struggled as a receiver. Hill caught just 16 passes in 16 games, tallying 125 yards and one touchdown. He is an above-average athlete with soft hands but doesn't win enough after the catch or down the field to be a consistent threat as a receiver. Hill is probably best suited as a high-end No. 2 tight end who thrives as a blocker.

        

    27. Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Route Running: 14/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Vance McDonald came to the Steelers in an August trade, as Pittsburgh needed to add athleticism to its tight end group. He is quick, balanced and can get upfield in a hurry. He's a natural receiver and should eventually produce more than he did this season (14 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown). McDonald could surpass Jesse James as Pittsburgh's leading receiving tight end.

                                   

    26. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York Jets

    Route Running: 15/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Austin Seferian-Jenkins is big, strong, fast and a natural receiver. But he's inconsistent. His upside and downside were apparent this season: He finished with only three touchdown receptions, but he caught two other touchdowns that were reversed upon reviewand both were fantastic plays. The little things, however, hurt his overall grade. Whether it be a missed block, a dropped pass, a fumble or some other mental lapse, Seferian-Jenkins' inconsistency pushed him this far down the rankings.

Nos. 25-21

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    25. Demetrius Harris, Kansas City Chiefs

    Route Running: 15/20
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Demetrius Harris is a good No. 2 tight end. He has size (6'7", 230 lbs), athletic ability and soft hands. He boxes out defenders, using his length to shield them from the ball, and can make contested grabs. His 51-yard catch in Week 17 showed his ability to get up the seam, make a catch at the limit of his reach and hang on as he hits the ground.

                     

    24. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

    Route Running: 14/20
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    For a fifth-round pick, George Kittle had one impressive rookie season. Coming out of Iowa, Kittle was an athletic marvel who played with an edge in the running and passing games. His athleticism translated to the NFL, as he made plays weekly in the passing game. He was further along as a receiver than many expected, and he quickly became the 49ers' best tight end in the passing game. As a blocker, however, Kittle couldn't always get away with just being more physical than his opponent. He was much better as a move blocker rather than one on the line of scrimmage. He figures to be a big part of the team's passing game going forward.

        

    23. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    During the first six weeks of the season, Eric Ebron was a major disappointment, as he caught just 13 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. But after the Lions' open week, Ebron started to get into a rhythm with quarterback Matthew Stafford. He wasn't the big-play or deep threat Detroit envisioned it was getting when it picked him 10th overall in 2014, but he did find a role as an underneath receiver who made plays after the catch. Ebron still struggled with drops, and part of that was poor hand technique. But as a blocker, he improved at the point of attack and in space. He needed to play with more effort at times in this area, but he was much better than he was in previous years. Ebron, 24, is still a young player who has a bunch of potential, but he needs to be more consistent in all areas of his game.

        

    22. Zach Miller, Chicago Bears

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Before a brutal knee injury that nearly cost him his leg, Bears tight end Zach Miller was enjoying a nice season despite playing with subpar quarterbacks. Miller lost some of his athleticism this year, but he was still able to make plays up the seam in traffic. He was by far the Bears' best blocking tight end, and he was a big reason the team ran the ball so well early in the season. Miller thrived when blocking—Chicago ran wide zone, as he could block the backside defender or hold the edge, creating a lane for the running back. But despite his solid play, his knee injury and age (33) might force Miller to hang up his cleats.

        

    21. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons

    Route Running: 14/20
    Hands: 
    11/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    In his second season in the NFL, Austin Hooper nearly doubled his yards tally from 2016. He wasn't, however, as dominant in the passing game as you would expect from someone as talented as he is. After a massive Week 1 performance against the Bears, in which he totaled 128 yards and a touchdown, Hooper was quiet as a receiver for the rest of the season. He displayed his above-average athleticism, but he had too many drops and wasn't as dynamic in the passing attack as he should have been. Hooper did drastically improve as a blocker, specifically in the running game, but he has the talent and the potential to be a much better receiver as well. Hooper was better this season than he was as a rookie, but he is nowhere near his ceiling.

Nos. 20-16

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    20. David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    David Njoku had a fine rookie season in a poor offense. He was targeted 60 times, catching 32 of them, and scored four touchdowns. He's a good athlete and natural receiver. Njoku should be a weapon for the Browns in the coming years as a guy who'll be hard for linebackers to cover. He's more of a move blocker, and that should fit Hue Jackson's offense once he decides to use his best weapons to score points and win games.

        

    19. Rhett Ellison, New York Giants

    Route Running: 12/20
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    22/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    The Giants signed Rhett Ellison in free agency because of their poor tight end play in 2016. But after the team picked Evan Engram in the first round, many assumed Ellison would take a back seat. That wasn't the case, however. Engram was responsible for most of the pass-catching duties for the Giants, while Ellison was the team's primary blocker at tight end on running downs. And as injured wideouts started to pile up, the team used Engram more as a receiver and Ellison played more snaps as the No. 1 tight end. Ellison was a fantastic blocker, lining up as an H-back, traditional tight end and even a fullback at times. As a receiver, he had the best year of his career, setting new highs. Together, Engram and Ellison formed one of the better tight end duos in the NFL.

        

    18. Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles

    Route Running: 16/20
    Hands: 
    19/25
    YAC: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    8/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    For the second time in as many seasons, backup tight end Trey Burton thrived when he was given a chance to play with the starters. His best game of the season came against the Rams in Week 14, when he filled in for the injured Zach Ertz. Burton caught five passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns, and he looked like the best pass-catcher on the field. He showed elite athleticism and soft hands, but he is at his best after the catch, when he can make linebackers and safeties miss with ease. Burton struggled as a blocker this season, but his receiving ability allowed him to get on the field anyway. Burton will be a free agent this offseason and should command a lot of interest as a slot tight end who can win in the passing game.

        

    17. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

    Route Running: 16/20
    Hands: 
    23/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    9/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    It was a rough year for Greg Olsen, who struggled to stay healthy. Olsen started only seven games for the Panthers and was severely banged up in a handful of them. At times, he showed flashes of his dominance as a receiver. His best game of the season came in Week 15 against the Packers, as he finally possessed the explosiveness and athleticism we have seen for years. But too often this season he looked like a shell of himself. When he was at his peak this year, there were few tight ends in the league who could match his play as a pass-catcher. His ability to win anywhere on the field makes him a dangerous weapon, but he was an atrocious blocker no matter where he lined up on the field. Olsen still has the skills to be an elite tight end, but it was a rough season.

        

    16. Antonio Gates, Los Angeles Chargers

    Route Running: 16/20
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    He's 37 years old, but Antonio Gates is still a solid contributor. There's nothing wrong with his hands, and he can run most of the routes with the same effectiveness he had in prior seasons. He had more limited snaps in 2017 (started only four games) and is likely at the end of his Hall of Fame career, but Gates still has his moments. He ended the season catching 30 balls for 316 yards and three scores.

Nos. 15-11

16 of 26

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    15. Nick O'Leary, Buffalo Bills

    Route Running: 14/20
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Nick O'Leary is an ideal No. 2 tight end. He can play anywhere in the formation, block on the move and inline and is a dependable receiver. He came on toward the end of the season and had some big games despite misfires by the Bills quarterbacks. There were multiple passes that sailed outside O'Leary's reach or caused him to stop and lose yards-after-the-catch opportunities, which limited his production.

        

    14. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

    Route Running: 17/20
    Hands: 
    20/25
    YAC: 
    6/20
    Blocking: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    For more than a decade, Jason Witten has been one of the premier tight ends in the NFL. But at the age of 35, his game as fallen off, as you would expect. He was still one of the better run-blockers in the NFL, but he wasn't a threat as a receiver. He didn't make plays down the field, and he was one of the worst tight ends in the league after the catch. Witten was still a reliable and valuable player on third down, but he was no longer an elite playmaker. He can continue to win as an underneath option and as a blocker, but don't expect him to be much more than that at this stage of his career.

        

    13. Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders

    Route Running: 16/20
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Jared Cook had been a relative disappointment coming into this season. He's a great athlete—he measured 6'5", 246 pounds and notched a 4.50-second 40-yard dash and 41-inch vertical at the 2009 combine—who should've dominated the league. Instead, Cook has dealt with situational mistakes and drops and has often changed teams because of that. However, at age 30, this might have been his career year, as he posted a high in receptions (54) and his second-best mark in yards (688). Cook was used as a vertical weapon, and when the attention was rightfully on Raiders receivers, Cook made some big plays.

        

    12. Evan Engram, New York Giants

    Route Running: 17/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    17/20
    Blocking: 
    9/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Evan Engram's rookie season included plenty of ups and downs. He led the Giants in targets, receptions and touchdowns, but he also dropped far too many passes. Engram was electric as a receiver, getting open whenever he wanted. His athleticism and advanced route running allowed him to thrive as an undersize (6'3", 236 lbs) move tight end. It won't be long before he is one of the best receiving tight ends in the league, assuming he figures out how to limit his drops, which were usually of the concentration variety rather than because of poor technique. As a blocker, he was raw and didn't play with much power but displayed solid effort both on the line of scrimmage and in space. Engram has a ton of talent, but he didn't always put it together this season. With a full offseason and a new coaching staff in place, he should be much improved in his second season.

        

    11. Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills

    Route Running: 15/20
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Charles Clay once again was the Bills' leading man. He ran a wide variety of routes and was successful on posts and corners. He's still a good athlete with straight-line speed, but you can tell he's stiffening up as he gets older. Clay, 28, had some drops but also dealt with inconsistent quarterback play.

10. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Route Running: 14/20
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    16/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    In the Jaguars offense, the tight end isn't used much as a receiving threat. Lewis had a solid season in a power run-blocking scheme but was targeted only 48 times and caught 24 passes. He showed a large catch radius and strength after the catch. His big body (6'6", 264 lbs) and ability to win jump balls allowed him to continue to be a red-zone threat, and he scored four of his five touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line this season.

    —NFL1000 AFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Joe Goodberry

                  

    The 12-year veteran doesn't have much top-end speed left, but Lewis is effective in sliding off blocks to get open in run-action and play-action looks, and when he runs deep routes to the seam or over the middle, he has the route awareness to get open. His three-touchdown performance against the Ravens in Week 3 was an indicator of how effective he might be in a more expansive offense with a more consistent quarterback.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

9. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Route Running: 16/20
    Hands: 
    21/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Statistically, it wasn't the best year for Kyle Rudolph even though he played 16 games. He caught 57 passes for 532 yards and averaged 9.3 yards per catch. But with the development of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Rudolph wasn't needed to carry the offense like has in previous seasons. Sixteen of his catches came in the red zone, where he also scored seven of his eight touchdowns this season. Rudolph was mainly used as an underneath option to move the chains rather than a big-play target. In the running game, he struggles despite prototypical size (6'6", 265 lbs) and length. Too often, he was moved off the point of attack and wasn't always technically sound in his assignments. To make matters worse, the effort wasn't always there. Rudolph was still one of the better tight ends in the league, as he can do so much in the passing game, but it wasn't his best season.

    —NFL1000 NFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Marcus Mosher

               

    Rudolph is a big receiver who can get open and make things happen after the catch when he gets the ball underneath in zone coverage. Where he tends to struggle—and this is what keeps him from joining the elite at his position—is he doesn't always create separation in tight man coverage, even when defenders are much smaller than he is. At 6'6" and 265 pounds, Rudolph should be more effective on contested catches. He can be a dynamic target in the red zone, but he'd be even better if he learned to box out defenders more.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

8. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Route Running: 16/20
    Hands: 
    21/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Even though the Buccaneers selected O.J. Howard in the first round, Cameron Brate was their No. 1 tight end this season. Brate was just an average blocker whose best work came in space, where he could use his size (6'5", 235 lbs) to overwhelm smaller defenders. His value, however, came when he lined up as a receiver. Brate played mostly on passing downs, rarely ever staying in as a pass-blocker. He wasn't used as a down-the-field target since Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson occupied that role, but he was efficient as a checkdown type of tight end. Brate wasn't the most dynamic receiver, but he displayed toughness and flexibility in the middle of the field, snatched multiple passes while absorbing contact. Brate will likely continue to share snaps with Howard next season, but expect him to be on the field on passing downs.

    —NFL1000 NFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Marcus Mosher

                   

    Over the last two seasons, only Jimmy Graham and Kyle Rudolph have more touchdown receptions among tight ends than Brate does. The fourth-year man from Harvard is a red-zone specialist because he understands defender placement and can get open quickly on designed routes. He presents easy openings in tight spaces for his quarterbacks, and that's why he'll continue to get targets when it counts most.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

7. Benjamin Watson, Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Route Running: 13/20
    Hands: 
    19/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    16/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Benjamin Watson keeps compiling a decent career as each season passes. He's a trusted receiver and a good blocker. Baltimore used Watson often as a checkdown option or a short safe target. Watson has developed from a move tight end to a guy who can also block inline. The Ravens' running game did a great job of putting him in advantageous positions to win as a blocker.

    —NFL1000 AFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Joe Goodberry

                 

    Like every other receiver in Baltimore's 2017 offense, Watson was limited by constricting play-calling and Joe Flacco's inconsistency at quarterback. He was good for a bunch of four-yard out routes and the occasional slant or drag route. When he was dispatched to run a deeper post or an over route, he showed the capacity to get open with blocking strength and quick cuts.       

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

6. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Route Running: 16/20
    Hands: 
    20/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    12/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    When he's on, Hunter Henry looks like the next receiving tight end to dominate for the next few years. He's big (6'5", 250 lbs), athletic, a natural receiver and a red-zone threat. Then he'll disappear at times as the Chargers go away from him and focus elsewhere. Once he's not sharing the starting position with Antonio Gates, Henry should take the next step.

    —NFL1000 AFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Joe Goodberry

                                                                                                                

    Henry has good (not great) speed to get open downfield, but what sets him apart is his ability to lean into openings through his short and intermediate routes and use angles and awareness to get open deep. His technique as a pure receiver has improved exponentially in just two NFL seasons, and it will be interesting to see how he develops further in 2018.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

5. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Route Running: 14/20
    Hands: 
    22/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Jack Doyle was the Colts' leading receiver on the year with 80 receptions. His 8.6 yards per catch should tell you what you need to know. He's a trustworthy option with good hands, but Doyle isn't scaring defenses with his speed or athleticism. He's often running short routes after chipping/blocking and catching a third-down target.

    —NFL1000 AFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Joe Goodberry

                  

    Limited as he was by the Colts' tenuous quarterback situation in 2017, Doyle showed a consistent ability to use his 6'6", 262-pound size to get open with legal pushoffs and subtle movements in coverage. He's not an explosive receiver, but his tape shows more promise than his statistics. He's a plus-potential player in a minimal offense.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

4. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

23 of 26

    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Route Running: 18/20
    Hands: 
    23/25
    YAC: 
    18/20
    Blocking: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles was by far the best tight end in the NFC this season. He was a pitiful blocker in the both the running and passing games, but he more than made up for it. Ertz played as a slot receiver and as a traditional inline tight end, making plays anywhere he lined up. At 6'5", 250 pounds, he was far too big for cornerbacks to handle and too athletic for linebackers and safeties in the passing game. He was a nightmare to cover after the catch, and his speed allowed him to run down the seam with ease, as few linebackers could keep up with him. Ertz had a few too many concentration drops, but he has a huge catch radius and had no problem hauling in passes outside of the framework of his body. He must become a better blocker if he ever wants to top Rob Gronkowski as the best tight end in the league.

    —NFL1000 NFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Marcus Mosher

              

    Ertz has thrived under head coach Doug Pederson because Pederson is the kind of play-caller and play-designer who features smart, versatile tight ends in the passing game. Ertz runs route combinations well, understands the timing of his openings and has become an estimable red-zone target.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

3. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Route Running: 16/20
    Hands: 
    20/25
    YAC: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    78/100

    Delanie Walker continues to be a reliable target for the Titans in an offense that couldn't help its weapons get open. He is a good athlete, and he amplifies that with precise and nuanced route running. His compact frame (6'2", 248 lbs) gives him power and strength after the catch and natural leverage as a blocker. This past season, he saw 111 targets and caught 74 passes. The Titans used him early and often in most games.

    —NFL1000 AFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Joe Goodberry

                 

    Walker, a 12-year veteran, has been able to avoid Father Time because he's still quick to the top of his routes, and he has a great understanding of how to leverage his body to fool defenders out of their coverage. When he's used well, he can be one of the most prolific tight ends in the business. He was still that in 2017 despite a reductive offense and Marcus Mariota's inconsistency at quarterback.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

25 of 26

    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Route Running: 19/20
    Hands: 
    22/25
    YAC: 
    18/20
    Blocking: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    83/100

    Travis Kelce could be called the best receiving tight end in the NFL. He's a fantastic athlete, runs routes like a receiver, can line up anywhere and is dynamic with the ball in his hands. He was the focus of defenses, and he still caught 83 balls for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017. As a blocker, Kelce gave maximum effort and had some key moments in the Chiefs offense. He's a pleasure to watch, as he brings energy and excitement to the team.

    —NFL1000 AFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Joe Goodberry

                

    Kelce is the best route-running tight end in the NFL, and he was a crucial part of a Kansas City team that implemented option concepts in head coach Andy Reid's West Coast passing offense. Kelce can get open from any number of alignments in the formation, from the backfield to the wide side of the field. He presents defenders with a tough problem: Do they go hard at him and hope to win the physical battle, or do they play technique and hope they can slow him down? Since the 6'5", 260-pound Kelce combines strength with technique at a nearly unparalleled level, the answer for any defender is usually incorrect.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

1. Rob Gronkowski

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Route Running: 17/20
    Hands: 
    23/25
    YAC: 
    17/20
    Blocking: 
    23/25
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    87/100

    Rob Gronkowski is everything you see in the highlights; the 6'6", 265-pound tight end is big, fast, strong and has great hands. He's also a fantastic blocker and an intelligent route-runner. Gronk is the NFL's Shaquille O'Neal. He's too big, fast and strong to cover, and teams resort to doubling him and trying to take him out of games. That only works for a short time, as the Patriots offense finds ways to get the ball to its best weapon.

    —NFL1000 AFC wide receivers-tight ends scout Joe Goodberry

              

    At this point in Gronkowski's career, it's a legitimate question to ask: Is he the greatest tight end of all time? The evidence points in that direction, and it's not close. Gronk has the most receiving yards (7,179) and receiving touchdowns (76) for any tight end in NFL history through his first eight seasons. That doesn't count the 25 regular-season games he's missed because of injury, and it doesn't even touch his postseason numbers. The Patriots line up Gronkowski all over the place, but his success has less to do with schematic advantage and more to do with physical dominance. No tight end in the game uses his body more skillfully and with more controlled aggression. Factor in that he's one of the best blocking tight ends you'll ever see, and it's clear we're watching an all-timer at the peak of his career.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar