It’s time for the fourth installment of Goal-Line Stand’s offseason positional power rankings. The consensus seems to be that two players have separated themselves from the pack at the tight end position. And while I think that’s going to change in the near future, I’m leaving those two at the top of this list for now.
1. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Despite not having his Pro Bowl quarterback for much of the season, Witten led all tight ends in catches (94), yardage (1,002), and fell one touchdown reception short of the tight end lead in that category, too. He’s become a model of consistency and good health, and he’s probably just entering his prime now. Oh, and he gets extra points for being a stellar blocker.
2. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
I fear that this will be the last time we’ll see Gates this high on a list like this, as injuries have begun to take their toll. Over a 10-game span in 2010, Gates was the best tight end in football: 50 receptions, 782 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. The problem is that he was only able to get through 10 games. He’ll be 31 before he plays another regular-season game, which has me wondering if he’ll soon begin to lose ground to younger players below him on this list.
3. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
His 16.3 average was off the charts, and led all tight ends with at least 20 receptions by a wide margin. Considering the inconsistency that surrounds him on offense, the extremely athletic Davis has been tremendous. Imagine how good he’d be in the Cowboys’ or Chargers’ offenses.
4. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
Too soon? Yeah, I’m taking anticipated future production into account a little bit, but Pettigrew broke out in his second season. The 26-year-old doubled his rookie numbers without the luxury of having Matthew Stafford throwing him passes for much of the year.
5. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts
Clark’s a machine, but a wrist injury ruined his 2010 season. If you prorate the numbers Clark put up in six games last season, he would have come dangerously close to compiling similar stats to the ones he had in 2009. He isn’t flashy, but he’s the ultimate safety valve who rarely makes mistakes. Without Clark, the Colts are significantly less effective.
6. Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins
Despite having an eccentric personality, playing in a major market and putting up super numbers, Cooley has flown under the radar his whole career. In 2010, only one tight end had more receptions than he did and only two had more yards than him. Cooley’s biggest problem: he’s scored just six touchdowns in the last three seasons.
7. Kellen Winslow, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The former No. 6 overall pick hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in his career, but his last two seasons in Tampa have been very productive. Winslow’s only 27 and the Bucs’ young offense is only getting better, so there’s still hope for him to turn into a superstar.
8. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars
The 26-year-old busted out with 700 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010. The dude doesn’t dazzle — he never had more than six catches or 70 yards in a game — but he gets the job done, especially in the red zone. In the process, he’s become the No. 1 option in Jacksonville’s offense.
9. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
Gonzalez and Gates will retire as the most dominant tight ends on this list, but 35-year-old Gonzalez has lost a step. His 9.4 average was a career low, and the rest of his numbers were lower than they’ve been since 1998.
10. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers
Don’t get me wrong, if I was starting a team and needed a tight end, Finley would be higher on my list than Winslow, Lewis and Gonzalez, but injuries hurt his stock for the purpose of power rankings. Three years into his career, Finley has yet to play a full season. He’s shown glimpses of greatness, and his ridiculous ability gets him some love, but he’ll have to stay on the field to remain in this list.