If you haven’t been paying attention to Ramblin’ Fans’ Power Rankings over the last couple of days, we have already mowed through the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receiver. Naturally, the next position up for ranking is the tight ends, a position that is becoming more and more important in the modern era of football.
For that last decade, the tight end was a luxury position, occasionally risen to glory by the performance of Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, or Antonio Gates. Now, after the dominance by the New England Patriots with their Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez combo, the league is shifting back towards the two-tight end sets. We saw that in this year’s NFL Draft, with the Bengals mading a hard push to snag Tyler Eifert, pairing him with Jermaine Gresham, the leagues 8th leading tight end in receiving yards last season.
Last season, the San Francisco 49ers’ had a formidable combination in Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis. Who will man the top of the rankings in 2013?
1. Lance Kendricks/Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams
With the acquisition of Jared Cook his offseason, the St. Louis Rams now have the most underrated tight end duo in the NFL. Cook is a physical freak, measuring in at 6’5” tall and 246 lbs., on top of running a 4.49 40-time, with a 41 inch vertical to boot. There is a consensus opinion that Cook was misused in Tennessee, which is an understatement given the unnecessary focus on Chris Johnson in their offense. Even so, he will come into the NFC West trailing only Vernon Davis in terms of production on the field in 2012. Cook snagged 44 receptions for 523 yards, including 4 touchdowns; only 25 yards shy of Davis with 3 more receptions.
However, even if Davis gets the nod over Cook, the St. Louis Rams still have third-year tight end Lance Kendricks on the roster. Kendricks had just as many receptions as both Davis and Cook in 2012, tallying up 500 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. He was also listed as the St. Louis Rams No. 1 fullback on the depth chart for part of the 2012 season after the release of Brit Miller, pointing to his versatility in the offense and his prowess as a blocker in the NFL.
2. Vernon Davis/Vance McDonald, San Francisco 49ers
Vernon Davis is one of the biggest household names at tight end in the NFL, right after Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, and Tony Gonzalez. Davis was the favorite target of Alex Smith, but saw his targets and, consequently, his production fall off a cliff once Colin Kaepernick took the reins. In fact, he only recorded 144 receiving yards in the final 7 games of the season after Kaep was deemed the “starter.” Davis is solid as a run blocker and posted one of the best catch rates among tight ends last season. Still, if Kaepernick cannot get the ball into his hands, Davis’ athletic superiority will be wasted as a middle-tier, in-line blocker.
McDonald was the 49ers’ second round selection in the 2013 draft, and is fairly similar to Jared Cook in at least one area. McDonald has little to no experience as an in-line blocker, which does not necessarily fill the void left by Delanie Walker. McDonald figures to be used primarily in the slot, however, unlike Cook, he was not overly dominate in college, and doesn’t possess the speed to be much of a threat down the field. He also had some issue with drops at Rice, which will not change being on the receiving end of a Kaepernick tight rope.
3. Zach Miller, Seattle Seahawks
Zach Miller was a Top 5 tight end in the NFL a couple of years ago, but has slowly dropped back into irrelevance within the Seahawks’ offense. Miller finished the 2012 season with 38 receptions for only 396 yards, with a mere 3 touchdowns to show for his troubles. Miller, like Davis, is adequate as an in-line blocker, which helped pave the way for Marshawn Lynch on the edge. However, Russell Wilson targeted Miller on only 46 throws throughout the entire season, and with the addition of Percy Harvin to the roster, that number doesn’t look to change.
4. Rob Housler/Jeff King, Arizona Cardinals
Rob Housler will start the season at the top of the Cardinals’ depth chart, among with Jeff King. Never heard of these two? You are likely not alone…
The duo combined for an impressive 62 receptions last season. However, those catches only racked up 546 yards and resulted in a grand total of zero touchdowns on the season. Both players also graded out in the Bottom 5 run-blocking tight ends in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus.