Now that future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski has retired, there’s a new generation of players set to take the mantle from him.
Some of these tight ends mentioned below are household names. What Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz did last season was nothing short of amazing. However, there are other younger tight ends that have already made names for themselves.
Here, we rank the 10-best players at this position heading into the 2019 season and after Gronk’s retirement.
1.Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
A four-time Pro Bowler over the course of his six-year career, Kelce has been considered the best young tight end in football. That can now be taken to an entirely new level since Gronkowski’s retirement.
Last season alone, Kelce put up 103 receptions for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns. It represented his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. This is something Gronkowski never accomplished during his nine-year career. That’s a pretty stunning realization to come to.
2. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
It might just be a matter of time before Kittle replaces Kelce atop this list. The former mid-round pick from Iowa absolutely dazzled during a record-breaking sophomore campaign that saw him record 88 receptions for 1,377 yards. Kittle did so with the likes of Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard tossing him the rock. Let that sink in.
Already a solid blocking tight end, Kittle’s game-breaking ability could make him a legend moving forward. Here’s a dude that racked up north of 800 yards after the catch last season. For comparison’s sake, only three other tight ends had more total receiving yards in 2018.
3. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
It was close between Ertz and Kittle for No. 2 on the list. We really could’ve gone either way here. This former second-round pick from Stanford has morphed into a dominating receiving tight end. He was consistently good between 2015-17 — racking up 800-plus yards each season.
However, it’s what Ertz did in 2018 has helped him ascend the ranks at his position. The dude hauled in a tight end record 116 receptions for 1,163 yards while matching his career high with eight touchdowns. Ertz has certainly built something with Carson Wentz in Philly.
4. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Prior to missing all but just one game this past season to a devastating ankle injury, Walker was among the best all-around tight ends in the NFL. A former receiver in college, his blocking ability turned heads during a seven-year career with the San Francisco 49ers.
But since joining the Titans back in 2013, Walker has upped his game from a receiving standpoint in a big way. He averaged 74 receptions for 900 yards from 2014-17 — earning three Pro Bowl appearances in the process. The hope in Nashville is that Walker will rebound from last season’s injury and return to form.
5. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts
Largely considered a draft bust with the Detroit Lions after they selected him No. 10 overall back in 2014, Ebron turned his career around in a big way in his first season with the Colts. The talented tight end posted career-high marks in receptions (66), yards (750) and touchdowns (13). It was a brilliant initial campaign with the Colts.
What makes Ebron’s ascension up the ranks so amazing is that he’s still only 25 years old. There’s a lot of room to grow. And with Andrew Luck tossing him the rock, we’re expecting even bigger things from Ebron in 2019.
6. David Njoku, Cleveland Browns
A surprise first-round pick of the Browns back in 2017, Njoku is nowhere near hitting his ceiling. It’s why he’s much higher on this last than others after combining for 88 receptions and 1,025 yards in his first two NFL seasons.
The Miami (F) product is just now entering his Age-23 season. All of his numbers improved as a sophomore with Njoku catching a solid 66 percent of the passes thrown in his direction and avoiding the drop issues that plagued him as a rookie. We’re incredibly excited to see him work with Baker Mayfield and an improved Browns offense next season.
7. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
It finally looks like Matt Ryan has his go-to target at tight end after the great Tony Gonzalez retired in 2013. It just took Hooper a couple years to get his footing. Last season saw the Stanford product record 71 receptions for 660 yards and four touchdowns. It was his 80.7 percent catch rate that astounded onlookers.
A two-way tight end in every sense of the term, Hooper’s game continues to grow. He might not be a big name. That’s fine. But he’s certainly deserving of a spot here.
8. Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
Yet another tight end that bombed out at previous stops. When the Tennessee Titans selected Cook in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft, the expectation was that he’d be a great fit with Vince Young. It never came to fruition. Cook ended his four-year career in Nashville averaging under 430 receiving yards per season.
After another uneventful stop with his former coach Jeff Fisher as a member of the Rams, Cook signed a one-year deal with the Raiders last year. He responded by putting up career-high numbers across the board, including 68 receptions and nearly 900 yards. Cook simply needed to find his groove. The hope here is that said groove continues in the Bayou where Cook will be catching passes from future Hall of Famer Drew Brees.
9. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
He has not put up eye-opening numbers since Minnesota selected the former Notre Dame standout in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. That’s more than fine. Rudolph is about as consistent as they come from a receiving standpoint.
Over the course of the past two seasons, Rudolph has put up 1,166 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s also catching north of 70 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. Add in improved blocking, and Rudolph has turned into a great all-around tight end.
10. Evan Engram, New York Giants
Now the face of New York’s offense with Saquon Barkley following the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, we’re expecting huge things from Engram as a third-year player. A mismatch waiting to happen, the 24-year-old Engram had a productive sophomore season. It saw him catch 45 passes for 577 yards.
Though, those numbers were down from his rookie season due to the tight end missing five games to injury. With Engram fully healthy and now that he’ll get more targets, we’re predicting a breakout third season. That’s typically when young tight ends find their groove.