Like the quarterback position in the NFL, there are not 32 starting-caliber tight ends in the league. The best tight end in the NFL is about to become an AARP member, and the position as a whole is a difficult transition to make from the college level.
And with the continued rise of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan-inspired West Coast attacks, the TE position isn’t seen the same way as it is in other offenses.
Who’s the Best Tight End in the NFL?
Are you sitting down? This news will shock you. Travis Kelce is the best TE in the NFL.
He ranks third in receiving yards since 2018 — only Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill have more. But Kelce has also been staggeringly healthy for such a position of attrition, much like former Chiefs great Tony Gonzalez.
Now, the really sobering stat comes in like a Randy Orton RKO. Rob Gronkowski is just five months older than Kelce. Injuries took from us what could have been one of the greatest position rivalries ever.
Tight Ends Rankings 2-11
The tight end position is historically difficult to make an immediate impact — only two of the top 11 players remain on their rookie deals.
2) George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
Speaking of Randy Orton, draft tight ends who are fans of professional wrestling. The meat-headed, entertainment-based acrobatics seem to be a common theme for many a freak tight end.
Gronk has dabbled, Kelce paid homage to The Rock when he called the mayor of Cincinnati a “Jabroni,” and George Kittle might be the biggest WWE fan among the three.
Kittle might still be the most dangerous post-catch player at the position. Among tight ends with at least 60 targets, Kittle’s 6.5 yards after the catch was third-best. Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and now Christian McCaffrey mean we likely will never see 1,300-yard Kittle ever again, but the talent remains.
He’s also the entire package. Kittle is the best blocking tight end in the league and is also a legitimate pass-catching threat.
3) Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
Just sit back, relax, and watch Mark Andrews go absolutely bonkers with Todd Monken calling the offensive shots. Current Georgia TE Brock Bowers had 56 and 63 reception seasons in college football with Monken at the helm, and he also rushed the ball 13 times.
To get an idea of how underwhelming the position is at the moment from a pass-catching perspective, look no further than Mark Andrews. In what seemed an utterly disappointing campaign in 2022, Andrews’ 847 yards receiving ranked third in the NFL among tight ends.
It was the first time since 2013 that only one TE had over 1,000 yards receiving. But even 2013 had seven with over 800 yards. In 2022, only three had over 800 yards.
4) Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons’ QBs and injuries sabotaged Kyle Pitts in 2022. Despite being in possession of a wingspan approximately as wide as an albatross, the Atlanta QB room couldn’t find their target. They were practically missing the broad side of a barn when targeting the former Florida Gator.
Still, becoming only the second TE in NFL history to post a 1,000-yard rookie season was evidence enough of his unique skill set. He’s far more wide receiver than tight end, but that doesn’t mean he struggles as a blocker, either.
Perhaps that’s why his pass-blocking rate rose just a tad in 2022. It probably doesn’t help that after using the fourth pick on him, the Falcons used the fifth pick in the next draft to select Drake London — another monster pass catcher.
5) Darren Waller, New York Giants
Darren Waller is one of the more unfair chess pieces in the NFL when healthy, but over the past two seasons, that’s been the problem. That’s been a consistent theme for Waller throughout his NFL career. He’s only played full seasons in 2019 and 2020, and has never played more than 12 games otherwise.
Injury concerns have been a common theme for Darren Waller. The only full seasons he’s played in the NFL came in 2019 and 2020. Still, he has been ridiculously productive when healthy.
He possesses unfair size and explosive potential for a 6’6″, 250-pound TE. It will be fascinating to see if the New York Giants can find creative ways to get him the ball because he is their most dangerous pass-catching weapon.
6) Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
Shane Steichen’s evolution of the Eagles’ offense was perfect for Goedert. He was a draft darling coming out of South Dakota State, proving to be an excellent all-around TE prospect. That has come to fruition in the NFL, as Goedert continues improving as a blocker in the pros.
He’s also impressive after the catch. He doesn’t possess the natural explosion and violence of Kittle, but he is springy and tough to bring down on first contact.
7) Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pat Freiermuth spurned the “Baby Gronk” moniker when he was at Penn State — a smart decision on his part. Expectations for the Nittany Lion were high, but thankfully, his hype did not outpace his college tape, which was good but not revolutionary.
He is an old-school tight end, who is a strong route runner from an in-line position, but is athletic enough to cause problems when split out into the slot and out wide. His 6’5, 260-pound frame hasn’t made him a devastating blocker, but he is improving and still has a lot of time to go before becoming a finished product.
8) T.J. Hockenson, Minnesota Vikings
Hockenson is another example of a tight end drafted incredibly high, who, while good, has underwhelmed. In fact, Hockenson never even finished out his rookie deal with the Lions, who traded him to an intra-divisional rival, for Pete’s sake!
The blocking highlights from Hockenson in college masked the technical flaws in his game, which were only exposed consistently when playing NFL-level competition. Hockenson remains a bit of an “all-or-nothing” run blocker and pass protector, and he’s never proven to be the bowling ball after the catch that he was at Iowa.
Yet, he had a career year in Minnesota and is still only 25, which means he’s likely still a few years away from his ceiling.
9) David Njoku, Cleveland Browns
Drafting a tight end high is a bit like investing in bonds. They take time to fully vest, and even if you need the money now, the investment hasn’t broken even yet. You may perish by the time they’re profitable.
David Njoku was selected in the 2017 NFL Draft. His first season with over 500 receiving yards was in 2022. He has improved as a blocker in the run game, which is necessary with a strong offensive line and a stable of backs that get the ball so often.
But everyone should have seen this slow developmental curve coming because he was only 21 during his rookie season. Since then, he’s become one of the more consistent blockers at the position.
10) Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys
Dalton Schultz is an anomaly. He left the Stanford Cardinals as a technically-sound blocker who underwhelmed as a pass catcher. But he became one of Dak Prescott’s favorite targets in 2020, and by 2021 Schultz had become a difference-maker for the Cowboys.
He’s a savvy route runner who is surprisingly agile after the catch. However, there are lapses in his consistency, both as a receiver and blocker. However, he has continuously improved from year-to-year in each operation.
11) Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills
Draft athletic TEs on Day 2 or Day 3. Let them develop in the shadows behind the entrenched starter, then exploit that development for a year or two before ultimately needing to pay them or repeat the process. After all, you wouldn’t want to buy a house that was uninhabitable for years as you fixed it up if that was your only source of shelter.
Knox never had any production in the Ole Miss offense that boasted A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf. Those guys ended up being decent as pros. But as the third option in an offense, someone with his explosiveness and knack for finding space in confined quarters is an asset.
Top Tight Ends Remaining
12) Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars
Evan Engram had a career year with Doug Pederson and the Jacksonville Jaguars and both sides decided they’d like to do that again. The 240-pound “tight end” is a mismatch weapon not too unlike Kyle Pitts and Darren Waller. And with Calvin Ridley now in the mix, those crossing patterns Engrams runs so often could be even more open than in 2022.
Engram’s career year feels like just the start, even at 28 years old. He’s still every bit of the athlete he was coming from Ole Miss.
13) Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
Cole Kmet will be just 24 during this NFL season, and he has already signed a contract extension to remain a Chicago Bear for the foreseeable future. Kmet is a prototypically-built in-line TE from Notre Dame, a historical TE factory.
Kmet is incrementally improving as a run blocker, and he’s already a serviceable pass blocker. The Notre Dame TE is still growing as a route runner, but he’s already a solid receiver in the play-action game.
14) Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
The NFL is a funny place. Hunter Henry is not a bad football player. In fact, he’s a good receiving tight end who, while a bit uninspiring as a blocker, suffices. But he’s going to have the second-highest cap hit of any TE in the league for 2023. And while the Patriots cut Jonnu Smith, they added Mike Gesicki into the mix as a receiving TE.
In six NFL seasons, Henry has had between 478 and 652 receiving yards. That is what we have come to expect from the fascinating group of third or fourth-tier TEs at the NFL level. They can start and they can make a subtle impact, but the position simply doesn’t have the juice required in a league predicated on speed and precision.
15) Mike Gesicki, New England Patriots
A fresh start was exactly what Mike Gesicki needed. From the moment Mike McDaniel stepped foot on Miami Garden’s ground, Gesicki’s career in Miami was over. He simply does not fit what McDaniels needs from a tight end. Because McDaniels understand this is a league that is driven by speed and agility, and rules let it thrive.
Few in the NFL, if any, have better hands than Gesicki, whose hands make passes disappear completely. He should become a reliable target for Mac Jones, even if he’s coming off the bench or as the second TE in 12-personnel sets.
16) Noah Fant, Seattle Seahawks
Noah Fant has never gotten a good crack at being the move TE most dreamed he could be leaving the University of Iowa. And the outlook in Seattle doesn’t offer any hope. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are likely the most talented trio in the NFL, and Kenneth Walker commands carries. The opportunities are sparse.
17) Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams had themselves a disastrous campaign in 2022. Nearly every integral piece to their overall Super Bowl success went down with a serious injury, and the pieces they’d lost on the offensive line caused struggles early on, even before injury crushed them.
Higbee caught a career-high 72 passes, but because they had such poor QB play, he posted the lowest per-catch average since his rookie season.
18) Tyler Conklin, New York Jets
The Jets took the burning page from the Patriots and signed two TEs in a single offseason. And, like the Patriots, the Jets ended up favoring the one making less money. C.J. Uzomah was awarded the bigger contract, but through one season, Tyler Conklin has been the bigger deal in New York.
In 2022, Conklin caught 58 of 87 targets for 552 yards. You could spend hours looking at TE production and the vast majority would look almost identical to that. Unless they’re a freak athlete, it’s very difficult to differentiate themselves from the next guy.
19) Hayden Hurst, Carolina Panthers
Hayden Hurst has been through a lot in his life. He’s spent much of his time at the NFL level advocating for men’s mental health after years of dealing with turmoil as a minor-league baseball player. And then for some reason the Ravens selected him in Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft. Andrews was selected in that same draft, but in Round 3.
Yes, their third-round pick was better than the one they drafted on Day 1. For anybody keeping score at home, that’s 3-0 on the side of less assets yielding greater results on this list. Hurst is a victim of expectation. He should’ve never been a first-round pick, and his current production and value is akin to where he should have been taken in the NFL draft.
He’s a reliable target who could help a rookie QB, but not much more.
20) Austin Hooper, Tennessee Titans
Austin Hooper signed a ridiculous contract with the Cleveland Browns after a 787-yard season in the final year of his rookie deal with Atlanta. He went to Cleveland on a four-year deal worth $42 million. He was cut after two seasons.
Before that contract, there were talks of Hooper being a top 5-10 tight end in the NFL. But Njoku was the better TE on the Brown’s roster, and Harrison Bryant also flashed at times. Hooper got back on track a bit in Tennessee a season ago, but the quick ascension of Chigoziem Okonkwo stole his shine a bit.
He’s since migrated to Las Vegas.
21) Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals
On Aug. 31, Julie Ertz announced her retirement from soccer. It’s a bit of a shock that Zach Ertz hasn’t already followed suit, considering the state of Arizona’s roster. But Ertz is gearing up for his 11th NFL season. He’s a reliable pass catcher against zone coverage. His 8.6 yards per reception before an injury ended his season in 2022 was by far the lowest of his career.
Despite his age and tearing both his ACL and MCL in Week 10 of last season, Ertz has recovered quickly enough to play in Week 1 of the upcoming NFL season with an unknown Cardinals starting QB.
22) Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Chargers
After spending years behind Higbee in Los Angeles, Gerald Everett had a decent season in Seattle that netted him a two-year deal with the Chargers. Now, Kellen Moore’s presence in LA could be the best thing for the 28-year-old tight end.
Moore loves getting the position on the field and giving them options as primary pass catchers in his offensive system.
Everett is not a guy you like having to block the end man on line. In fact, he’s just not really a great blocker at all, but the Chargers will undoubtedly add someone to the position in free agency or the draft who can better fit that specific role.
23) Chigoziem Okonkwo, Tennessee Titans
Chigoziem Okonkwo is living proof that speed is king in the NFL. The 6’2″, 238-pound “TE” ran a 4.52 and jumped 35.5″. That athleticism translated to the Titans play-action passing game, and Okonkwo outproduced every rookie TE not named Cade Otton despite playing a third of the snaps.
Athletic trump cards are practically necessary for success at the position. Taking a leap of faith on height/weight/speed prospects is the way to go at tight end. Okonkwo’s 14 yards per catch were the most among rookies, and the next-closest was Jelani Woods, who posted the best RAS ever for the position.
24) Daniel Bellinger, New York Giants
How will the Giants use Daniel Bellinger in 2023? He would have likely been the most productive rookie TE, but injuries are always a concern for the TE position, and the injury bug bit Bellinger.
With Waller now taking the primary role at the position, how often will the Giants utilize 12 personnel to get mismatches on the outside for Waller? Will they use Bellinger as an H-back to lead block for Saquon Barkley? His 9.65 Relative Athletic Score suggests he could eventually round into a difference-maker at the position.
25) Jake Ferguson, Dallas Cowboys
It’s curious that Jake Ferguson tested like an average athlete because his on-field spring is apparent after the catch. Ferguson lept over defenders a few times in 2022, and he held his own as a run blocker, even though it’s clear he needs to get stronger and more technical at the craft.
With Schultz likely off to a new team in 2023, Ferguson will have every opportunity to prove himself as the Cowboys’ starter.
Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo Bills
The Bills have spent years trying to find a third option to take over a slot role. For all intents and purposes, Kincaid is a slot wide receiver. He just so happens to stand at nearly 6’4″ and weigh nearly 250 pounds. And while he was unable to test during the draft process, his on-field ability as a receiver was the best in a great class.
Sam LaPorta, Detroit Lions
The Lions recycled drafting a TE high instead of paying the one they already had on the roster. Considering Hockenson is now the richest TE in NFL history and decidedly not the best TE in the NFL, the Lions are probably comfortable with their decision. They even got the same model! A brand new Iowa TE.
Michael Mayer, Las Vegas Raiders
Michael Mayer enters in a good spot, because he won’t be counted on to produce immediately with Hooper there as the entrenched starter. But Mayer should, at worst, be around the top of that fourth tier of tight end within a few years. He may not have a defining trait, but he is long and reliable in traffic.
Luke Musgrave, Green Bay Packers
If the rest of this list is any indication, Luke Musgrave won’t be the starter in Green Bay for very long. The Packers doubled up on TEs in the NFL Draft, selecting Musgrave in Round 2 and Tucker Kraft in Round 3.
In all seriousness, Musgrave was a fantastic prospect hampered by injuries in 2022. He also happens to be the more explosive athlete of the duo, which likely means he will bring the score to 3-1 in this contest of the doubled-up TEs.
Luke Schoonmaker, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys took a page out of the “draft athletic TEs” playbook, but nobody is quite sure why. They must not trust the development of Peyton Hendershot, who flashed infrequently as an undrafted rookie a season ago. Meanwhile, Jake Ferguson was never relinquishing the starting role.
And Schoonmaker, although a rookie, is already older than both of the other Cowboys TEs.
Darnell Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers
Other tight ends were selected before Darnell Washington who doesn’t show up on this list yet. However, from everything we’ve heard during camp, Washington will be on the field for Pittsburgh in September.
And he will likely look like a sixth offensive lineman when he’s there. The behemoth from Georgia could have bulked up and been a highly sought-after tackle, but his unique athleticism can be used as a weapon up the seam.