Rob Gronkowski runs with the ball against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter of the AFC Divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium.

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Silverman: Gronk, Olsen, Kelce Lead The Way In TE Class

Steve Silverman
August 09, 2018 - 4:21 pm
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The tight end position has multiple meanings to teams throughout the NFL. The sleek, fast tight end who can streak down field and catch long passes is coveted by fantasy football players and several coaches, while teams that are rich in wide receivers and running backs may be looking for better blockers at the position.

However, there are those tight ends who can do it all. They can block, catch the third-down passes that keep drives alive and also catch long passes that lead to a sudden change on the scoreboard.

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In this version of our player ratings we list the 10 best tight ends in the league, and we are most enamored with the versatile players at the position who can do it all.

Rob Gronkowski remains at the top of our rankings, and we also have great respect for everything that Greg Olsen can do.

1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

While we take issue with the widely held belief that New England quarterback Tom Brady is the best at his position in the game’s history, there is a strong possibility that Gronkowski could end up as the top tight end in the history of the game, if he can stay healthy and play at least three more seasons.

Gronkowski is a 6-6, 265-pound warrior who runs better than 4.65 in the 40 and has some of the most reliable hands the position has ever seen. He is always a good blocker, and can dominate when he sets his mind to it.

However, Gronkowski’s greatest asset is his ability to make big plays when the Patriots need them. Gronkowski is coming off a 69-1,084-8 season, and more than 80 percent of the passes he caught went for first downs. Gronkowski is basically unstoppable as long as he is healthy.

That has been the issue with Gronk to this point in his career. He has suffered major injuries in 2012, 2013 and 2016, and minor injuries and muscle strains have dogged him during other seasons. The Pats are hoping they can get a full and healthy season from their most explosive big-play maker, and that’s something that has not happened since 2011.

2. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

Unlike Gronkowski, Olsen had been one of the most durable tight ends in the league until last year when he suffered a broken foot in Week Two. Olsen had long operated under the radar because of his all-around ability and maximum effort on every play.

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Olsen caught 77-1,104-7 in 2015 and he followed that with 80-1,073-3 in ’16. Those numbers went way down last year as he played just seven games because of the foot injury, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t bounce back in a huge way in 2018.

Even though the numbers were down, Olsen had a huge day in the Panthers playoff loss to the Saints as he caught 8-107-1, which indicates that he can still take over a game. He also had a big game against a soft Green Bay defense late in the season.

3. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

Now that Jason Witten has retired, Kelce may be the standard for all tight ends not named Gronkowski. He is an emotional playmaker who can catch anything he gets his hands on, and he will fight through coverage to get open.

Kelce has put together back-to-back sensational seasons, catching 85-1,125-4 in 2016 and 83-1,038-8 last year. He could reach double-digits in touchdowns this year as long as Patrick Mahomes can make a successful adjustment to the No. 1 quarterback position, with all indicators pointing to the quarterback having a sensational arm.

Kelce is one of the best blockers at the position, and he combines that nastiness with size and speed. He is one of the Chiefs best all-around players, and he can be a game-changer.

4. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

Some players tend to get overrated when they play on Super Bowl-winning teams, but that is not the case with Ertz, who has been a hard-working and consistent contributor since he was drafted out of Stanford in 2013.

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Ertz had his best year in 2017 when he caught 74-824-8, and he became starting quarterback Carson Wentz’s top target. Ertz does not block with the ferocity of Kelce or Gronkowski, but he is a hard worker and a willing blocker.

Ertz has caught at least 70 passes in each of the last three seasons. He should be able to exceed the 80-catch mark and take another step forward with his blocking this year.

5. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans

Walker is 34 years old, and no player is immune to the aging process. However as quarterback Marcus Mariota starts his fourth year with the Titans, he knows that Walker is his most dependable receiver and that he will find a way to get open and make the catch when the game is on the line.

Walker has been quite consistent through the years. He is coming off a 74-807-3 season, and has either led the team or finished second in receptions in each of the last five years.

In addition to putting up the numbers, Walker is a responsible player who feels he must carry the Titans on his back if that’s what is needed to earn a victory.

The Titans have a pair of excellent blocking tackles in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin so they don’t need Walker to provide crushing blocks, but he is decent in that area when asked to do so.

6. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers

7. Evan Engram, New York Giants

8. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

9. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins

10. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy