The NFL has always been a league of evolution. From the days of ground-and-pound offenses to the pass-heavy schemes of today, adaptability is key. One position that has seen a significant evolution in recent years is the tight end.
No longer just an extra blocker or a short-yardage target, today’s tight ends are athletic freaks capable of stretching the field and making big plays. Let’s take a look at the top 10 tight ends in 2023.
10. Jonnu Smith – Atlanta Falcons
Smith’s move to New England alongside Henry has formed one of the most formidable tight end duos in the league. Jonnu currently plays for the Atlanta Falcons. Yards After Catch Smith’s ability to break tackles and gain yards after the catch makes him a dangerous weapon in open space.
Versatility The Patriots utilize Smith in various roles, from traditional tight end to lining up in the backfield, showcasing his versatility.
9. Robert Tonyan – Chicago Bears
Playing alongside Aaron Rodgers, Tonyan has emerged as a reliable target, especially in the red zone. He signed with the Chicago Bears in 2023.
Tonyan’s knack for finding the end zone has made him one of the top scoring tight ends in the league.
Chemistry with Rodgers
The connection between Tonyan and Rodgers has grown over the years, leading to numerous highlight-reel plays.
8. Hunter Henry – New England Patriots
Henry’s move to New England has seen him become a favorite target, especially in crucial situations.
Time and again, Henry has come up with big catches in crucial moments, earning the trust of his quarterback.
Henry’s blocking ability, combined with his skills as a receiver, make him a valuable two-way player for the Patriots.
7. Mike Gesicki – New England Patriots
Gesicki’s athleticism and ball skills have made him a standout player for the Dolphins, especially in passing situations. He was signed by the New England Patriots in March 2023.
Jump Ball Specialist
Gesicki’s basketball background shines through when he’s going up for contested catches, often coming down with the ball against smaller defenders.
Despite changes at the quarterback position, Gesicki has remained a consistent producer for the Dolphins, showcasing his adaptability.
6. Dallas Goedert – Philadelphia Eagles
After the departure of Zach Ertz, Goedert has stepped up as the primary tight end for the Eagles, showcasing his all-around skills.
Goedert’s ability to both block and catch effectively makes him a versatile weapon for the Eagles offense.
Red Zone Efficiency
With his size and catching ability, Goedert has become a favorite target in the red zone, leading to numerous touchdowns.
5. Noah Fant – Seattle Seahawks
Fant’s combination of size and speed has made him a key weapon for the Broncos, especially in the middle of the field. In 2022, he signed with the Seattle Seahawks.
Stretching the Field
Unlike many tight ends, Fant has the speed to stretch the field vertically, creating opportunities for big plays.
Growth and Potential
Each season, Fant has expanded his game, improving as a blocker and becoming a more refined route runner.
4. Kyle Pitts – Atlanta Falcons
The young star from Florida has lived up to his draft hype, quickly becoming a focal point of the Falcons’ passing attack. Nowadays, he plays for the Atlanta Falcons.
Standing at 6’6″ with the speed of a wide receiver, Pitts is a matchup problem for both linebackers and safeties. His unique skill set has been utilized to exploit defenses.
In his rookie year, Pitts showcased his potential, setting multiple records and hinting at a bright future in the league.
3. Mark Andrews – Baltimore Ravens
Andrews has emerged as Lamar Jackson’s go-to target in Baltimore, showcasing his ability to make big plays in crucial moments.
Whether it’s third down or in the red zone, Jackson often looks Andrews’ way. His reliable hands and ability to make contested catches have made him a key player for the Ravens.
Improving Every Year
Since entering the league, Andrews has shown consistent improvement in his route running and blocking, solidifying his place among the elite tight ends.
2. George Kittle – San Francisco 49ers
Known for his ferocious blocking and explosive plays after the catch, Kittle is a cornerstone of the 49ers’ offense.
Kittle is not only a threat in the passing game but also an essential part of the 49ers’ run game. His blocking ability is second to none, making him a complete tight end.
Yards After Catch (YAC)
One of Kittle’s most impressive traits is his ability to gain yards after the catch. His combination of speed, strength, and agility makes him a nightmare for defenders.
1. Travis Kelce – Kansas City Chiefs
A veteran in the league, Kelce continues to be a dominant force for the Chiefs. His connection with Patrick Mahomes is unparalleled, making them one of the most dynamic duos in the league.
Consistency is Key
Year after year, Kelce produces at an elite level. His ability to run crisp routes and his exceptional hands make him a favorite target for Mahomes.
Beyond his on-field production, Kelce’s leadership in the locker room is invaluable for the Chiefs. His experience and football IQ help guide younger players, ensuring the Chiefs’ offense remains one of the best in the league.
Darren Waller – New York Giants
Waller’s journey from practice squad player to one of the league’s best tight ends is nothing short of inspirational.
- Athleticism on Display: Waller’s basketball background is evident in his play. His ability to high-point the ball and make contested catches is among the best in the league.
- Overcoming Adversity: Waller’s personal journey of overcoming addiction and turning his life around serves as an inspiration to many. His dedication and commitment to his craft are commendable.
T.J. Hockenson – Minnesota Vikings
Since being drafted in the first round by the Lions, Hockenson has steadily improved each season and is now among the league’s elite tight ends.
- Red Zone Threat: Hockenson’s size and catching ability make him a favorite target in the red zone. His knack for finding the end zone has been crucial for the Lions’ offense. Nowadays, he plays for Minnesota Vikings.
- Building Chemistry: With a young quarterback at the helm, Hockenson’s reliability and consistency have been essential. Their growing chemistry promises great things for the Lions in the future.
Irv Smith Jr. – Cincinnati Bengals
The young tight end from Alabama has been making waves in the NFC North and quickly became a favorite target for Kirk Cousins. This year, he represents the colors of the Cincinnati Bengals.
- Rising Star: Smith’s combination of speed and agility allows him to create separation from defenders, leading to big plays down the field.
- Red Zone Efficiency: With his ability to find soft spots in the defense, Smith has become a reliable target in the red zone, resulting in numerous touchdowns for the Vikings.
Cole Kmet – Chicago Bears
Drafted in the second round by the Bears, Kmet has shown significant growth in his game, establishing himself as a key component of the Bears’ offense.
- Dual-Threat Ability: Kmet’s prowess isn’t limited to just catching passes. He’s also an effective blocker, making him a dual threat on the field.
- Building Chemistry: With a young quarterback at the helm in Chicago, Kmet’s consistency and reliability have been crucial. Their growing connection promises a bright future for the Bears’ offense.
Adam Trautman – Denver Broncos
Trautman has been a pleasant surprise for the Saints, stepping up in the absence of veteran tight ends and making a name for himself in the league. This season, he plays for the Denver Broncos.
- Reliable Hands: Trautman has showcased his reliable hands, making tough catches in traffic and moving the chains during his time playing for the Saints.
- Growth Potential: Still early in his career, Trautman’s potential is evident. With more experience and continued development, he could soon join the ranks of the elite tight ends in the NFL.
Dawson Knox – Buffalo Bills
Playing in a high-powered Bills offense, Knox has taken advantage of his opportunities, becoming a valuable weapon for quarterback Josh Allen.
- Big Play Ability: Knox has a knack for making big plays at crucial moments, often turning short passes into long gains with his speed and elusiveness.
- Improving Every Game: Knox’s growth is evident with each game. His improved route running and understanding of the game have made him a key player for the Bills.
How do teams typically utilize their tight ends in the modern NFL?
In the modern NFL, tight ends are used in a variety of ways. While traditionally they were primarily blockers or short-yardage receivers, today’s tight ends are often used as primary pass catchers, running routes similar to wide receivers.
They can line up on the line of scrimmage, in the slot, or even out wide. Their versatility allows teams to create mismatches against defenses, especially when the tight end is athletic enough to challenge both linebackers and safeties in the passing game.
Are there any rookie tight ends in 2023 that are expected to make a significant impact?
While the article focuses on established and emerging stars, each year brings a new crop of rookie tight ends. It’s always challenging to predict immediate success for rookies, but based on college performances and draft positions, there are always a few who are expected to contribute significantly to their teams.
Keep an eye on the NFL draft results and preseason performances to identify these potential breakout rookies.
How important is blocking for a tight end in today’s NFL?
Blocking remains a crucial skill for tight ends, especially for teams that prioritize the run game. While receiving skills can make a tight end a star, their ability to block effectively can ensure they stay on the field for more snaps.
A tight end who can both block and catch effectively is invaluable as they can keep defenses guessing on every play.
How has the tight end position evolved over the past decade?
Over the past decade, the tight end position has evolved from a primarily blocking role to a more versatile, pass-catching role. With the rise of pass-heavy offenses and the emphasis on creating mismatches, tight ends with wide receiver-like skills have become more valuable.
Their ability to challenge defenses both in the run and pass game has made them key cogs in many offensive schemes.
Are tight ends typically used in special teams?
Yes, many tight ends play roles on special teams, especially early in their careers or if they are not the primary tight end on their team. Their combination of size and speed makes them valuable in kick and punt coverage, as well as in blocking roles on return teams.
How do tight ends compare in terms of salary to other positions?
Historically, tight ends have been paid less than positions like quarterback, wide receiver, and left tackle.
However, as the role of the tight end has evolved and their importance in offenses has grown top tight ends have seen a significant increase in their salaries, with some earning contracts comparable to top wide receivers.
The tight end position in the NFL continues to evolve, with players bringing a mix of size, speed, and skill to the field. As the 2023 season unfolds, these ten players are set to leave their mark and solidify their status among the league’s elite.
We’ve also ranked the top 10 fastest players in NFL, so make sure to check it out!