Source: Sacramento Bee

The NFL has three tight ends that are in a class of their own right now. However, the order of these three players is hotly debated. In this article, I will rank the top tight ends in the NFL, starting with the All-Pro caliber trio and moving down toward several emerging pass-catchers.

1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

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In 2018, Kelce became the second tight end in NFL history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. His 103 receptions, 1,336 yards, and ten touchdowns were all the second-most by a tight end in 2018. With Rob Gronkowski in retirement, Kelce is the league’s best tight end. He’s the most unstoppable force at the position right now. Few linebackers can run with and even fewer defensive backs can cover the 6-5, 260 lbs. freak of nature. Kelce had five 100-yard games and three outings with multiple touchdowns last season.

2. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

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Ertz set the single-season record for receptions by a tight end with 116 in 2018. At his position, he finished third in receiving yards (1,163) and receiving touchdowns (eight). Ertz is more well-rounded than George Kittle right now, and he’s more of a finished product as well. There’s a reason why he’s averaged 804 yards per season in his six-year career, despite entering the league as a backup to Brent Celek. Last season, Ertz posted five 100-yard games and also had five outings with ten or more receptions.

3. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

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Kittle led tight ends in receiving yards per game last season with 86.1. He also set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377. His 88 receptions were the third-most among tight ends and he led the position in receptions of 20 or more yards (20) and 40 or more yards (six). Kittle did only reach the endzone five times though. His receiving numbers were also ballooned by an incredible 210-yard performance in Week 14. With that outlier removed, Kittle averaged 77.8 receiving yards per game. He has the potential to rise higher on this list in the future but Kittle is still a little raw.

4. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The Alabama product seems primes for a breakout season in 2019. Last year, Howard racked up 34 receptions, 565 yards, and five touchdowns in ten games before injuries took him out for the season. He was averaging 56.5 receiving yard per game, which was fourth among tight ends last season and translates to 904 yards over a 16-game season. Expect Howard to compete for a Pro Bowl bid this coming season.

5. Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints

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Cook set career-highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns last season and made his first Pro Bowl. Cook won’t be as central to the offense in New Orleans as he was in Oakland last season, but he will benefit from playing with Drew Brees. I don’t think Cook will match his 68 receptions and896 receiving yards from 2018. He might top the six touchdowns he scored, but he’ll be more of a complementary player for the Saints and less of a star.

6. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts

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Placing Ebron is a problem. The former Detroit Lion had the best season of his career in 2018, and it wasn’t even close. Ebron made 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns. He led all tight ends in touchdowns. Before 2018, Ebron had just one 700-yard season and 11 receiving touchdowns in his entire career. He might be able to match his 2018 yardage output in 2019, but it seems unlikely that he’ll reach 13 touchdowns again.

7. Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers

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McDonald broke through in his second year with the Steelers. The 6-4, 267 lbs. trucking machine caught 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns. McDonald was also a significant contributor in the run game. As you may expect, it’s hard to move a jacked 267lbs. blocking specialist. It’s great to see how McDonald’s game has grown and been embraced by the fans in Pittsburgh.

8. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans

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It’s hard to tell what we’ll see from Walker this season. He got injured in the Titans first game last season and went on IR right away. At age 35, it will be tough for Walker to return to Pro Bowl form. However, from 2014 through 2017 Walker posted 296 receptions, 3,585 receiving yards, 20 receiving touchdowns, and he made three Pro Bowls. He’s also one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. I don’t want to disrespect a man who had four straight seasons with at least 800 yards, but since we haven’t seen him play in so long, it wouldn’t feel right to rank him any higher.

9. Evan Engram, New York Giants

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Engram screams of potential. We got a taste of what he could do in 2017 when he posted 64 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns. Unfortunately, injuries contributed to Engram having a mediocre sophomore season. He caught 45 passes for 577 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. His receiving yards per game average did increase though, and he dropped fewer passes. In 2019, Engram needs to continue perfecting his catching and concentrate on staying healthy.

10. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons

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The former third round pick made his first Pro Bowl in 2018 thanks to 71 receptions, 660 yards, and four touchdowns. Hooper is one of Matt Ryan’s many offensive options, and that can sometimes lead to him having poor performances. For instance, he had four games with fewer than 30 yards last season. Sometimes, he just gets buried under Atlanta’s other stars. His 71 receptions were the fourth-most among tight ends in 2018.

Honorable Mentions

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Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers

Henry has flashed signs of potential with the Chargers, but he missed all of last season. His career is largely based on potential at this point, considering he has two good but not great seasons under his belt. Los Angeles is hoping for big things from Henry in 2019.

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

After a subpar rookie season, Njoku took steps in the right direction in 2018. He finished the year with 56 receptions, 639 receiving yards, and four receiving touchdowns. With Baker Mayfield also on the rise, Njoku could increase his production in 2019. He could also be buried under Cleveland’s talented wide receivers though.

Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins

In terms of talent, Reed is a top ten tight end. We all saw what he is capable of back in 2015 and 2016. However, Reed can’t seem to escape his injury history. He’s been placed on IR three times during his NFL career, including both of the previous two seasons. At 29 years old, Reed is still capable of putting up big numbers if he stays healthy.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

Rudolph posted one of his best seasons last year, recording 64 receptions for 634 yards and four touchdowns. While he did rank in the top ten for receptions and yards among tight ends, Rudolph isn’t really in that elite class. He’s more of a known factor at this point. Rudolph is a good player, but other tight ends have better numbers and more upside at this point.

What now?

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Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals

The former first round pick from Notre Dame made the Pro Bowl back in 2015. Since then, he’s landed on IR for three straight seasons. Eifert also ended his 2014 season on IR after just one game. Six years into his NFL career, Eifert has played in just 43 games. The Bengals have graciously given him many chances to return, but Eifert hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

Antonio Gates, Free Agent

After 16 seasons with the Chargers, Gates is on the open market. The 39-year-old made 28 receptions for 333 yards and two touchdowns last season. At this point, it’s clear Gates isn’t in great shape and that he’s a shadow of his former All-Pro self. At this point, retirement might be the best option for the future Hall of Famer.

Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers

The former All-Pro didn’t have a terrible season with the Packers, but it wasn’t what anyone expected either. People though Graham would thrive with Aaron Rodgers, but Graham finished the year with 55 receptions, 636 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. Graham finished ninth among tight ends in receptions and yards. His two touchdowns are pretty damning though and his 39.8 receiving yards per game was just the 16th-most among tight ends. We’ll see if Graham can return to Pro Bowl form in his second year in Green Bay.

Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

After becoming the first tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive seasons with 1,000 or more receiving yards, Olsen has suffered two straight years ruined by injuries. The once-great tight end has 44 receptions, 482 yards, and five touchdowns in 16 games over the past two seasons. At one point, Olsen was putting together a dark horse Hall of Fame candidacy. Now, he’s just fighting to stay on the field.

Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

After a disastrous year as a broadcaster for ESPN, Witten is back in the NFL. 2018 will be Witten’s 16th season in the NFL. We’ll see what the future Hall of Famer has left in the tank.

Rising Stars

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Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

The 2018 third round pick wasted no time getting involved. He put up 34 receptions, 552 yards, and three touchdowns as a rookie. Those numbers aren’t anything to write home about, but they show that Andrews has a strong base to build on.

Trey Burton, Chicago Bears

Burton had been waiting for an opportunity for years, and he finally got it last season with the Bears. He turned in an average season with 54 receptions, 569 yards, and six touchdowns, but it was only his first year as a starter. It’ll be interesting to see how he and Mitchell Trubisky grow together.

Will Dissly, Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks drafted Dissly for his ability as a run blocker, but the Washington product played well as a rookie. It may have only been a four-game sample, but Dissly caught some peoples’ attention.