Tight end rankings: Falcons’ Gonzalez remains the measure of greatness

Not so long ago, it was easy to identify the NFL’s elite tight ends. During the NFL’s passing explosion, however, it now seems like every team has a special athlete who can serve as both a surehanded receiver and nimble blocker.

To whittle the league’s current crop of talented tight ends down a select 10, Sporting News enlisted the help of NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger. Here is Baldinger’s rankings of the top tight ends heading into the 2010 season:

1. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. There are no signs of a drop off with any part of his game. He remains the gold standard — an athletic receiver and physical blocker to whom modern tight ends are measured.

Of the seven seasons Jason Witten has played for the Cowboys, he's started all 16 games in four of those seasons.
Of the seven seasons Jason Witten has played for the Cowboys, he’s started all 16 games in four of those seasons.

2. Jason Witten, Cowboys. He’s the consummate professional. You know what you will get game after game: A hardnosed effort where he leaves everything on the field. He’s an essential third-down option for Tony Romo.

3. Antonio Gates, Chargers. San Diego was wise to lock him up to a long-term deal last week. As a matchup nightmare, he opens up the field for the rest of the receivers. He’ll also be counted on to recharge a power running game.

4. Dallas Clark, Colts. He is the best and smoothest route-runner we’ve ever seen at the position. He can line up and get to any spot on the field, and Peyton Manning will find him everywhere.

5. Vernon Davis, 49ers. He always has been a chiseled athlete who looks the part of a premier tight end, but thanks to coach Mike Singletary lighting a fire under him, he’s finally playing up to his talent. Expect another explosive season.

6. Heath Miller, Steelers. Although he lacks the flashy game or gaudy fantasy statistics, he does all it takes to help Pittsburgh win.

7. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings. Like Davis, Shiancoe has put together a good hands game with his impressive physique. He is unquestionably an excellent red-zone target, even better when Brett Favre is at quarterback.

8. Owen Daniels, Texans. He was right there on the cusp of joining the elite tight ends before tearing his ACL last season. If he comes back strong, he has the smarts and skills to re-stake his claim.

9. Kevin Boss, Giants. Considering New York’s offensive philosophy is to pound the football, he excels as a run blocker. In the passing game, Eli Manning has great trust in him in all situations.

10. John Carlson, Seahawks. There are several young and exciting receiving tight ends, but this one for some is the undiscovered gem of the Emerald City. He runs exceptionally well and has performed like a wide receiver in two seasons in Seattle.

All-star watch

Five more promising tight ends who eventually will be Pro Bowl-bound:

Brent Celek, Eagles. Expect Kevin Kolb to lean on him a lot.

Jermichael Finley, Packers. He’s an explosive athlete in an explosive passing offense.

Dustin Keller, Jets. Going into his second year with Mark Sanchez, watch for their chemistry on underneath routes.

Zach Miller, Raiders. Jason Campbell soon will learn he’s the most reliable and skilled receiver in Oakland.

Brandon Pettigrew, Lions. He’ll be welcomed back from knee surgery to be Matt Stafford’s security blanket.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

Not so long ago, it was easy to identify the NFL’s elite tight ends. During the NFL’s passing explosion, however, it now seems like every team has a special athlete who can serve as both a surehanded receiver and nimble blocker.

To whittle the league’s current crop of talented tight ends down a select 10, Sporting News enlisted the help of NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger. Here is Baldinger’s rankings of the top tight ends heading into the 2010 season:

1. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. There are no signs of a drop off with any part of his game. He remains the gold standard — an athletic receiver and physical blocker to whom modern tight ends are measured.

Of the seven seasons Jason Witten has played for the Cowboys, he's started all 16 games in four of those seasons.
Of the seven seasons Jason Witten has played for the Cowboys, he’s started all 16 games in four of those seasons.

2. Jason Witten, Cowboys. He’s the consummate professional. You know what you will get game after game: A hardnosed effort where he leaves everything on the field. He’s an essential third-down option for Tony Romo.

3. Antonio Gates, Chargers. San Diego was wise to lock him up to a long-term deal last week. As a matchup nightmare, he opens up the field for the rest of the receivers. He’ll also be counted on to recharge a power running game.

4. Dallas Clark, Colts. He is the best and smoothest route-runner we’ve ever seen at the position. He can line up and get to any spot on the field, and Peyton Manning will find him everywhere.

5. Vernon Davis, 49ers. He always has been a chiseled athlete who looks the part of a premier tight end, but thanks to coach Mike Singletary lighting a fire under him, he’s finally playing up to his talent. Expect another explosive season.

6. Heath Miller, Steelers. Although he lacks the flashy game or gaudy fantasy statistics, he does all it takes to help Pittsburgh win.

7. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings. Like Davis, Shiancoe has put together a good hands game with his impressive physique. He is unquestionably an excellent red-zone target, even better when Brett Favre is at quarterback.

8. Owen Daniels, Texans. He was right there on the cusp of joining the elite tight ends before tearing his ACL last season. If he comes back strong, he has the smarts and skills to re-stake his claim.

9. Kevin Boss, Giants. Considering New York’s offensive philosophy is to pound the football, he excels as a run blocker. In the passing game, Eli Manning has great trust in him in all situations.

10. John Carlson, Seahawks. There are several young and exciting receiving tight ends, but this one for some is the undiscovered gem of the Emerald City. He runs exceptionally well and has performed like a wide receiver in two seasons in Seattle.

All-star watch

Five more promising tight ends who eventually will be Pro Bowl-bound:

Brent Celek, Eagles. Expect Kevin Kolb to lean on him a lot.

Jermichael Finley, Packers. He’s an explosive athlete in an explosive passing offense.

Dustin Keller, Jets. Going into his second year with Mark Sanchez, watch for their chemistry on underneath routes.

Zach Miller, Raiders. Jason Campbell soon will learn he’s the most reliable and skilled receiver in Oakland.

Brandon Pettigrew, Lions. He’ll be welcomed back from knee surgery to be Matt Stafford’s security blanket.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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