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- Tight End Rankings: Taking Over

Chris Pokorny August 12, 2005
Chris Pokorny
PFC Owner & Writer

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For some teams, tight ends do not factor into a team's gameplan a whole lot. For others, it's one of their major offensive weapons. Lately the NFL has seen the growth of the position, with many stars arising. Let's take a look at tight ends that surprised us last year:

Antonio Gates came on strong last year in his second year and was considered by some to have the best year for a tight end in 2004. He may be the person that allowed Drew Brees to shine as well, keeping his job instead of letting Phillip Rivers take over.

One bright spot for the San Francisco 49ers was TE Eric Johnson, who caught 82 passes for 825 yards and 2 TDs. It was his best season as a tight end in a year where he was bothered by some injuries.

There also has to be a tight end that disappoints the league. Here is who underachieved last year:

Kellen Winslow Jr. was a huge disappointment for the Browns, but he was injured of course. Unfortunately, it'll be the same story this year for a tight end that the Browns hoped would electrify.

Todd Heap was another person who had a case of the injury bug. He is always projected as one of the league's best, but an injury prevents that.

With that said, it's time to look at the AFC tight end rankings. Remember that these rankings are based on how I feel the players will perform this season.

AFC East - It's Jolley Time
This division looks the same as last year with the exception of the New York Jets in regards to tight ends. The Jets traded draft picks to the Oakland Raiders, in hope that Jolley would help their offense. Where does he rank? Certainly not ahead of...

1. Randy McMichael - Miami Dolphins - If you take away his off-the-field problems, McMichael is one of the league's best tight ends. It seems like he's been around awhile, but he is only entering his fourth season and continues to perform better every year. The Dolphins' offense struggled last year, but McMichael will always be the bright spot for this team offensively. I'm sure he would prefer it if Gus Frerotte was throwing to him.

2. Doug Jolley - New York Jets - The Jets plan on using the former Oakland Raider more often than the Raiders did. Jolley, who is also entering his fourth season, will see plenty of balls coming his way from QB Chad Pennington. Jolley has not been known as a receiving threat near the goal line the past few years, but that could change this season.

3. Daniel Graham - New England Patriots - Graham's production will be slowed by the depth that the Patriots have at the position. Not only do they have veteran TE Christian Fauria, but second year TE Ben Watson is looking to challenge the talented Graham for playing time. Nonetheless, Graham has proven to be a reliable target for QB Tom Brady the past three seasons(he is also entering his fourth season). Graham seems to have a few games where he doesn't get many balls thrown to him though.

4. Ben Watson - New England Patriots - Watson will challenge Graham for playing time, but will still remain behind Graham. The Patriots should have plenty of multiple tight end formations though, where Watson will get his opportunities.

5. Mark Campbell - The only upside for Campbell this year is that second-year QB J.P. Losman, the Bills' new starter, may throw to him if he has trouble with finding his receivers. In all likelihood, that won't happen and Campbell will have the same type of season he always has - nothing spectacular.

The Rest(in order): Chris Baker, Christian Fauria, Donald Lee

AFC North - Poised for a Comeback
Todd Heap has always ranked as one of the top tight ends in the league, but his injuries last year prevented him from playing often. Kellen Winslow was expected to challenge Heap for the division lead the past two years, but his football and non-football injuries have prevented that. So that obviously means that...

1. Todd Heap - Baltimore Ravens - This is no joke everyone: Todd Heap only played in six games last year, yet he led the AFC North in receiving yards with 303 yards. If he played the whole season, he may have helped the Ravens make it to the playoffs. Heap may not get the chance to have 1,000 yards this season though if the Ravens' new wide receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton are used often. Still, I'm sure he will produce over 303 yards for the season and stay atop the division.

2. Steve Heiden - Cleveland Browns - Heiden stepped up last year for the Browns in the absence of Kellen Winslow. Heiden missed three games of the season and had caught 28 passes for 287 yards and 5 TDs. He would have likely finished better than Heap yardage wise if he played the entire season, making his average numbers sounds good for the AFC North. The Browns offensive will continue to look at the tight end position despite Winslow's absence.

3. Heath Miller - Pittsburgh Steelers - Chosen in the first round of the draft, Miller seems like the best tight end taken in the draft. Ben Roethlisberger didn't have a big target at the position last year that he counted on, so Miller will have to work his way into the offense. He could be under rated though, since the Steelers are without WR Plaxico Burress this year and the healthy of RB Duce Staley remains a concern.

4. Matt Schobel - Cincinnati Bengals - Schobel hasn't done anything overwhelming since entering the league, but he hopes to be a part of a Bengals' offense that could turn out to be big. With how often the team throws to Chad Johnson and its other receivers though, Schobel will likely have the same type of season he's had the past few seasons.

5. Aaron Shea - Cleveland Browns - Shea just barely cracks the top five in the division simply for the fact that the Browns like to throw to both of their tight ends, while the other teams in the division only have one receiving option take "seriously". Shea had nearly the same numbers as Heiden did last year anyway, with about 30 less yards and one less touchdown.

The Rest(in order): Daniel Wilcox, Terry Jones, Reggie Kelley, Jerame Tuman, Tony Stewart

AFC South - Another Colt Takes The Top
In the QB rankings, RB rankings, and WR rankings, the Colts had someone from their team ranked at the top of the division. Do you really expect that to change at the tight end position?

1. Dallas Clark - Indianapolis Colts - With Marcus Pollard gone, Clark will become the teams' primary tight end. Clark had 423 yards and five TDs last year. That may not sound like it's dominating, but it is considering the Colts had three receivers go over 1,000 yards, and Pollard caught six TDs as well. Clark still has Ben Hartsock now to take catches away from him, but it won't be the same as Pollard was.

2. Ben Troupe - Tennessee Titans - The Titans had a rotation of three tight ends last year, but Troupe was the best of them. Troupe hopes he can bond well with QB Steve McNair on the offense in his second year as he rises through the AFC South.

3. Kyle Brady - Jacksonville Jaguars - After being slowed down from a finger injury last year, the veteran Brady believes he can return to his old form. Leftwich has not gotten comfortable with a tight end yet, but Brady is the next best thing in a thin division.

4. Ben Hartsock - Indianapolis Colts - Anyone on the Colts offense is a weapon. Hartsock didn't play a whole lot last year, but will be used more often with the absence of Pollard. I don't think he will fill his shoes this season though, especially if Clark gets more looks than usual.

5. Billy Miller - Houston Texans - Miller has quickly gone from a threat to virtually nothing over the past few years. Miller was very quiet last year because David Carr is considering his other options now. Still, Miller will likely get a game or two where he shines.

The Rest(in order): Erron Kinney, George Wrighster, Mark Bruener

AFC West - The Best TE Division in the NFL
Like the title says, the AFC West dominates when it comes to tight ends. If you take the fourth best starter from this division last year yardage wise(Doug Jolley with the Raiders), he would have had more yards than the AFC North's number one man. That's impressive. But now, who is better, Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates?

1. Tony Gonzalez - Kansas City Chiefs - Gonzalez remains the best tight end in football. He is the primary target for Trent Green on offense and has been consistent every single year he has been in the league. Gates beat him out in touchdowns last year, but his performance doesn't mean that Gonzalez becomes any worse.

2. Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers - Pick another division in football, and Gates would be my first choice at the position. A former basketball player like Gonzalez, Gates will try to reach 1,000 yards this season after falling just short last year. He was predicted to surprise the league last year, but no one could have imagined him to perform as well as he did.

3. Jeb Putzier - Denver Broncos - Putzier had 572 yards receiving last year in becoming a reliable target for Jake Plummer. He needs to start getting more looks around the end zone though until he can even come close to the likes of Gates and Gonzalez above him.

4. Teyo Johnson - Oakland Raiders - Johnson will be the team's starter after the departure of Jolley, and should have a production increase. It won't be dramatic though, since guys like Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, and Ronald Curry will be getting the majority of the passes.

The Rest(in order): Jason Dunn, Justin Peelle Patrick Hape

Despite the fact that the AFC has some of the league's best tight ends in Randy McMichael, Todd Heap, Tony Gonzalez, and Antonio Gates, that doesn't mean that the NFC doesn't have anything to offer. In fact, if Jeremy Shockey could finally have another great season, the NFC could even be comparable to the AFC.

NFC East - A Mini-Version of the AFC West?
The NFC East has a lot of talent at the tight end position just like the AFC West. Jason Witten, Jeremy Shockey, L.J. Smith and Chris Cooley put together the NFC's best tight end division.

1. Jason Witten - Dallas Cowboys - Witten fell 20 yards shy of 1,000 yards last year without a stable quarterback in his second season. Witten is the best tight end in the NFC and could thrive even more with Drew Bledsoe. Bill Parcells has used the tight end well and has watched him flourish into one of the league's best.

2. Jeremy Shockey - New York Giants - After an impressive rookie season, Shockey has not lived up to his hype the past two seasons. He claims to be determined to get back to his dominant form. Second-year QB Eli Manning will hope that Shockey can be the main guy he counts on in this offense by scoring touchdowns.

3. L.J. Smith - Philadelphia Eagles - Smith doesn't have to worry about Chad Lewis in Philadelphia anymore and could get a ton of looks this year. With Todd Pinkston out, Terrell Owens bickering, and the lack of depth at the receivers position, Smith could actually play a huge factor in the performance of QB Donovan McNabb.

4. Chris Cooley - Washington Redskins - Cooley had a nice rookie season but still doesn't have a good quarterback to get him the ball in better situations to elevate to the next level.

The Rest(in order): James Whalen, Dan Campbell, Robert Royal

NFC North - Pollard Gives "Colts" Image
The Detroit Lions hope to be the talk of the league offensively, with their wide receiver group being compared to the depth of the Indianapolis Colts. The Lions now have tight end Marcus Pollard, but will earn that earn him the top of the division?

1. Bubba Franks - Green Bay Packers - Franks still takes the lead in the NFC North after several consistent seasons. He's one of Favre's favorite targets, especially around the goal line area. He caught seven TDs last year and should put up something similar this year.

2. Jermaine Wiggins - Minnesota Vikings - If Wiggins was the only tight end playing for the Vikings at the moment, he would be ranked above Franks after an excellent season last year. How many of you knew that Wiggins led the Vikings in receptions with 71 and had 705 yards receiving with 4 TDs? Jim Kleinsasser will be returning from injury though, which will cut into Wiggins playing time.

3. Marcus Pollard - Detroit Lions - Pollard will get more balls thrown his way than people expect. Even though the team has three great wide receivers, that diversion alone will allow the Lions to create some plays where Pollard is the guy that's wide open. Pollard is used to having talented receivers around him, so their isn't a lot of pressure on him.

4. Desmond Clark - Chicago Bears - Clark has put up fair numbers in the past. The Bears' offense hopes to have a resurgence this year, but they haven't done much the past few years. Grossman will find the tight end on an average basis.

5. Jim Kleinsasser - Minnesota Vikings - Kleinsasser not only gives the Vikings a great blocker again, but he can sneak around and catch passes consistently. An injury derailed him last year, but don't forget that he is a key part of the Vikings offense.

The Rest(in order): Casey FitzSimmons, Dustin Lyman

NFC South - One Major Threat
The NFC South sees itself with a productivity decline compared to other divisions with the exception of the Atlanta Falcons.

1. Alge Crumpler - Atlanta Falcons - Vick has trouble throwing the ball, but at least he has formed a good bond with Crumpler. You have to wonder if Crumpler could put up dominating statistics if he had a better throwing quarterback. If Vick is able to get his accuracy and decisions together this year, look out.

2. Kris Mangum - Carolina Panthers - The Panthers were planning on having free agent pickup Freddie Jones as their tight end, but then Jones retired. Mangum will step back in to the starting role where he had an ok season last year. If he was in another division though, he would likely be ranked fourth.

3. Anthony Becht - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Ken Dilger was a good part of the Buccaneers offense, but he is no longer with the team. Becht doesn't catch for a lot of yardage, but there is a chance that Griese could find him near the goal line here and there.

4. Boo Williams - New Orleans Saints - Boo has a cool first name; who wouldn't want to be called that? If Brooks developed some unbelievable connection with him, the Saints' fans would be chanting "boo" all game. Anyway, Boo is in the mix with three tight ends for the Saints. He usually produces the most, which isn't much.

The Rest(in order): Shad Meier, Mike Seidman, Ernie Conwell, Dave Moore

NFC West - The Final Division
The NFC South didn't have anyone spectacular past Crumpler, and that trend won't change a whole lot when it comes to the NFC West. One man dominates the division, and I'm pretty sure you know who that is.

1. Eric Johnson - San Francisco 49ers - If the 49ers had to vote for one bright spot on their team last year, Johnson would have to be it. If he wasn't injured, he probably would have gone over the 1,000 yard mark, far above the caliber of any other tight end in this division. Whichever quarterback throws to him this year, Johnson should have the same type of good season.

2. Jerramy Stevens - Seattle Seahawks - Splitting time with Itula Mili at times, Stevens still gets more passes his way. Entering his fourth season, Stevens will build on his performance last year.

3. Brandon Manumaleuna - St. Louis Rams - Manumaleuna is probably more famous for his name than his performances. On a high powered Rams offense, Manumaleuna finds himself on the quiet side most of the time. He only averaged about one catch per game last year, and won't see the ball very often.

4. Eric Edwards - Arizona Cardinals - When I say that the Cardinals are thin at this position, I'm not kidding. Freddie Jones is no longer with the team, and Edwards only had five catches last year.

The Rest(in order): Ituli Mili, Aaron Walker

That's it for the NFL tight end rankings. This could be the year where we begin to see several tight ends receive for over 1,000 yards with people like Todd Heap, Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Randy McMichael, Jason Witten, Jeremy Shockey, Alge Crumpler, and Eric Johnson all getting a chance at it. It will be one of the best years in recent memory in regards to strength around the league at the position, so it's up to defenses to make the adjustments. You can't help the fact though that sometimes, your linebacker just doesn't match up to the big man.

-Chris Pokorny

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