NFL’s top 5 tight ends for 2015

Rob Gronkowski deservedly continues to grab the headlines, but the NFL is well-stocked with productive tight ends.

The Gronk continues to bring production and attention to the NFL as the league’s best tight end, but the NFL has plenty of star power behind him at the position.

There is the old guard like Antonio Gates, who was one of the new wave of pass-catching specialists when he entered the league more than a decade ago, but the new blood is showing they can keep up and even take over in the rankings.

1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Gronkowski knows how to stay in the spotlight in the age when NFL players are covered like actors off the field and harder to cover on the field, but he also knows how to perform on game day in a starring role as a nightmarish matchup. His 1,124 yards were best among NFL tight ends by more than 100 yards, his 74.9 yards per game weren’t even close to being touched, his 12 touchdowns tied for the league lead at the position and his 19 catches of 20 yards or more was easily best. He might not be the best blocker, but that’s not his role.

2. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
Like the Saints on the whole, Graham had a bit of down season (for him) in 2014. He played in all 16 games, but his 889 receiving yards were his lowest in four years, despite being fifth-most among tight ends and despite 85 receptions. He still managed 10 touchdowns and eight catches of 20 yards or more, but it will be interesting to see what kind of a factor he is with Seattle instead of Drew Brees’ approach of spreading around the ball and having five players with 45 or more catches last year. Graham will be the focus of the passing game, but what will Russell Wilson be able to do with him?

3. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Olsen has been a solid tight end since his arrival to the Chicago Bears in 2007, but he has taken his production to another level in the last three years with the Carolina Panthers. That reached a career high last year with his 1,008 receiving yards on a career-best 84 catches and career-tying six touchdowns. He was one of only three tight ends to play more than 1,000 snaps. He hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season, adding consistent availability to his résumé in addition to ascending production as Cam Newton’s second-favorite target.

4. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Both Witten and Gates have been models of consistency and production since entering the NFL together in 2003, but Witten hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season and is the better blocker, giving him the edge among the “old men” in these rankings for 2015. Last year, Witten, like Olsen, was a workhorse playing in more than 1,000 snaps. He finished the season with 64 catches for 703 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers may signal a slowdown, but younger tight ends still reference him as one of the league’s best all-around players at the position.

5. Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears
Many would argue for Julius Thomas, Charles Clay or Gates in the top five, but it remains to be seen how Thomas will perform without a quarterback like Peyton Manning. Bennett led all tight ends in receptions (90) with Jay Cutler on the throwing end and two big receivers to account for in Chicago’s offense. The Bears still have Alshon Jeffery, but Kevin White is replacing the now-departed Brandon Marshall. Does that mean Cutler looks Bennett’s way even more and the tight end expands on his No. 3 ranking of 916 yards from last year?

Honorable mention: Charles Clay, Julius Thomas, Antonio Gates, Delanie Walker, Travis Kelce.

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