Ranking the NFL's 5 best tight ends
The NFL is currently experiencing a purple patch at the tight end position. Every draft, the league is seemingly flooded with at least two to three real contributors at the position.
With all this talent seemingly available, it's becoming pretty difficult to identify the cream of the crop.
Some say Kansas City's Travis Kelce due to the sheer chunk yardage he produces season in and season out, while traditionalists argue for San Francisco's George Kittle due to the complete skill set he displays as the lead receiver, blocker and leader for the 49ers offense.
But who else rounds out the top five? Let's deep dive.
5. Darren Waller (Las Vegas Raiders)
Darren Waller suffers on the chart below, placing clear at the bottom, but Raiders coach Jon Gruden has shown consistent confidence in him as he's seen the 2nd-most targets for his position at 61.
Waller has rewarded this faith by putting up the third-most yards by a tight end this season. When compared to someone like Zach Ertz, who's seen a similar target range (54) but has caught only 53.3 percent of the balls thrown his way while posting 7.4 Yards Per Reception (almost a full yard less than Waller), we can better appreciate the production Waller has given the Las Vegas Raiders and coach Gruden.
4. T.J Hockenson (Detroit Lions)
T.J Hockenson the Detroit Lions, the 8th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, has been a lone bright spot in the mostly grey Matt Patricia era.
The sophomore tight end is putting up great production on limited targets. He's a guaranteed first down every throw, has a healthy 71 percent catch rate and has hauled in four touchdowns this year. It's these key stats that push him slightly ahead of Waller, who is 51 yards ahead of him on 20 more targets.
3. Robert Tonyan (Green Bay Packers)
Robert Tonyan has two fewer catches than Hockenson on 13 less targets; I think that gives him the edge.
I'm a big Tonyan fan and feel he's on a franchise tight end trajectory. The Lions actually had him as an undrafted free agent in 2017, two years before they spent a premium pick on Hockenson at the same position. In that way, Hockenson and Tonyan are connected and should be weighed against each other due to the fact Tonyan is having an All-Pro season for one of the Lions' division rivals.
Tonyan has an 18 percent touchdown catch rate and is also a guaranteed first down every catch while leading the position in yards per reception. Having Aaron Rodgers is a plus, but Tonyan is carving out his own respectable legacy in this league.
2. Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs)
Travis Kelce is the best receiving threat playing the tight end position and has Andy Reid's stamp of approval. That should be good enough for all of us, honestly.
Kelce will probably have fans suggesting he should be higher up, but Kelce has had better seasons than his current one and is not the most complete tight end playing the game despite being the most prolific receiver at the position.
He leads all tight ends in touchdowns, targets and receptions. Patrick Mahomes' safety blanket is the 2nd-best tight end in the NFL.
1. George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers)
Justifying George Kittle at No. 1 over Travis Kelce despite lower volume production starts in the efficiency numbers.
Kittle is more likely to come down with the ball while being slightly more productive with the ball in his hands. Kittle also separates from Kelce by being a more complete tight end through his blocking.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan loves using Kittle as a major piece in San Francisco's rushing attack, and this unmeasurable side of Kittle's game makes him more valuable than Kelce. Kittle is the 49ers' biggest threat in the passing game while being one of the key cogs in one of the league's most effective run games.
This balance leads me to declare Kittle to be the best tight end in the NFL.