As the 2020 NFL season draws near, most fans are well aware of the league's superstars, many of which make up Pete Prisco's annual Top 100 ranking. But how many of the NFL's very best happen to play tight end?
In anticipation of the new season, we're running through every position group to separately rank the top 10 players at certain spots, from quarterback to cornerback. Now, it's time for the TEs.
Before you get into the rundown of 2020's top 10, here are a couple of interesting takeaways:
- It was an even split between conferences, with five TEs coming from the NFC and five from the AFC
- Four of the top five TEs were represented in one of the last three Super Bowls
- Two of the top 10 TEs enter 2020 on new teams
- The top three (we'll call them the "Big Three") all eclipsed 170 catches and 2,000 receiving yards since 2018, the only ones to do so around the NFL
On Monday, my colleague Sean Wagner-McGough walked through the top 10 quarterbacks. On Tuesday, Patrik Walker unveiled the top 10 running backs. On Wednesday, Jared Dubin unveiled the top 10 receivers.
Onto the rankings ...
10. Hunter Henry, Chargers
If this list were based solely off untapped (or teased) potential, Henry would be much higher. Somehow still just 25, the former second-rounder has been a hot, productive target whenever he's been on the field. The problem, of course, has been staying on the field; Henry's missed 23 games in four years and played just 12 over the last two. Any further knee issues will be worrisome, but if he can suit up for Los Angeles, he should again be heavily involved. With a 71.2-percent career catch rate, he's definitely got an 800-1,000-yard season in him. It's just a matter of staying in the lineup.
9. Tyler Higbee, Rams
Somewhat of a late bloomer, Higbee made a minimal impact as a pass catcher in his first three years despite starting 39 games, then turned it on as Jared Goff's safety valve late in 2019, racking up 48 catches for 542 yards in the final six weeks of the season. Projecting based solely off a half-season is dangerous, but Goff is exactly the kind of QB who thrives off a quick, efficient TE pairing. Higbee's realistic long-term ceiling might not be far off his 2019 totals (69 catches, 734 yards), but even that production, with a few more scores, makes him an intriguing watch for 2020, especially with Brandin Cooks now out of the picture on the outside.
8. Austin Hooper, Browns
Cleveland paid for Hooper's potential more than his production when it gave the former Falcons starter $44 million over four years this offseason, but the truth is the Browns aren't making a big gamble. The 25-year-old Hooper has already shown he can be a steady, under-the-radar target, and most importantly, his career trajectory has only gone up. He's matched or improved his catches, yards and touchdowns in every single one of his NFL seasons, and even a repeat of his 2019 (75 receptions, 787 yards, six TDs) would bode extremely well for Baker Mayfield and Co. Even if he's high-volume more than explosive, he's due to put up decent numbers.
7. Jared Cook, Saints
Is there a more underrated veteran TE than Cook? The biggest downside with the 33-year-old might be his age, but consider that he's coming off back-to-back Pro Bowls -- the first two of his career -- and two of the finest statistical performances of his 11-year run, it seems like he's got plenty left in the tank. It helps that he's part of a Saints offense with some of the best weapons in the NFL. Cook has started for five different teams since coming into the league, and he's been solid for every one of them, save for an injury-plagued stop in Green Bay. With five 600-yard seasons in seven years, including a nine-TD outing in 2019, he's long been a proven target.
6. Darren Waller, Raiders
Before 2019, Waller was little more than a "Hard Knocks" fairy tale, with 18 catches and two suspensions through four seasons. You don't just go off for 90 catches and 1,100 yards by accident, however. Put simply, Waller's breakout was so encouraging that it's impossible to keep him out of the top 10 entering his second year as a full-time starter. He didn't just lead the Raiders' pass catchers; he was also very reliable, hauling in nearly 77 percent of his targets. Las Vegas would ideally siphon some of his catches to the speedy WRs it added this offseason, but regardless of whether it's Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota at QB, he's going to get work.
5. Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers
How good do you have to be to spend a year entirely out of football, not play a full NFL season since 2011 and still clock in as a top-five player at your position? As good as Gronk. At this point in the former Patriots star's career, it'd be downright foolish to expect Gronkowski to be active for all 16 games in his reunion with Tom Brady in Tampa. But what if the year off has him rested up? Either way, when he was healthy prior to his early retirement, he wasn't showing many signs of slowing down. Four 1,000-yard seasons are numerical proof of his dominance, which is even more apparent in the eye test. And considering how good the Bucs' WRs are, he should have plenty of open looks in the open field.
4. Mark Andrews, Ravens
Buried as the No. 4 TE on Baltimore's crowded depth chart just two years ago, Andrews has quickly emerged as MVP Lamar Jackson's favorite target, and the best thing he has going for him is upside. After catching a league-leading 10 TDs in 2019 despite officially starting just four games and missing one more, this guy's still got all kinds of green grass in front of him. The 24-year-old former third-rounder just has to be competent in a Ravens offense strictly built around Jackson and a run-first attack that demands plenty of quick strikes over the middle, and yet he's much more; Andrews' 14.3 yards-per-catch total from 2018-2019 bested everyone ahead of him on this list. Alongside Jackson, the sky is the limit.
3. Zach Ertz, Eagles
Philadelphia's top receiving option ever since Carson Wentz arrived in 2016, Ertz has been spectacular by way of his steadiness. His numbers don't always jump off the page, as he's topped 1,000 yards just once in seven years, but he's never not a huge part of the Eagles' offense. With at least 70 catches and 800 yards in five straight seasons, only one of which saw him play all 16 games, Ertz has single-handedly helped offset his team's lack of consistent, premier WR help. He "only" caught 88 balls and six TDs in 2019, but that was alongside quasi-starter Dallas Goedert. Even if Goedert gets more reps in 2020, Ertz has unmatched chemistry with Wentz and is a guarantee for high volume over the middle.
2. George Kittle, 49ers
There's a reason Kittle is expected to "destroy" the current TE market. He's the NFL's closest thing, in both stature and production, to a No. 1 WR at his position. A two-time All-Pro, the 26-year-old Iowa product has had two straight seasons of at least 85 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and five TDs, and if not for a knee injury that sidelined him two weeks in 2019, he likely would've set career highs in receptions and scores. Best of all, Kittle was easily the most sure-handed of the top-tier TEs, bringing in nearly 80 percent of his 100-plus targets as Jimmy Garoppolo's top outlet. In San Francisco's offense, where the ground game is king and gadget WRs start on the outside, he's a safe bet to go well over 1,000 yards again.
1. Travis Kelce, Chiefs
The five-time Pro Bowler "only" scored six TDs during the Chiefs' Super Bowl run, but let's not over-complicate this: He's the best. At 30, he may not be as spry as Kittle, who's also got three fewer seasons of wear and tear. But the resume speaks for itself. On a Chiefs offense loaded with star power, Kelce still stands out as Patrick Mahomes' most reliable target. We're talking four straight years with at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards, not to mention only one missed game over the last six years. You could argue that Kittle, Ertz and maybe even Andrews have a higher ceiling, but no one's got such a steady floor, and considering his supporting cast, there's no reason to expect any drop-off from Kelce's run of gaudy numbers.
- Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
- Evan Engram, New York Giants
- Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
- Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
- Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers