After watching games and breaking down film, Scouts Inc. has evaluated and graded more than 2,500 NFL players heading into the 2011 season. Here's how the tight ends stacked up.
Much like fullbacks, pure blocking tight ends are not in high demand, so you have to begin evaluations with a certain word on your mind: mismatch. Everyone is looking for guys who create mismatches and force a defense to declare how to account for these weapons.
There isn't an all-around tight end better than Jason Witten, but Antonio Gates' effect on a defense has to put him at No. 1. Here's a guy at what many consider a complementary position, and he's changing everything in terms of how the defense has to prepare. He's just a significant weapon.
In grading tight ends, versatility is also very important. And although good-blocking tight ends are not as prevalent anymore, with the rash of double-tight end sets we see, blocking still is incredibly important -- even if it's from just a team's No. 2 tight end. But the list of dynamic pass-catching tight ends seems to be growing at a rapid rate. More and more, we find guys who run routes like wideouts.
Gates came into the league with rare receiving skills and speed, but has grown into his body and become a very effective in-line blocker as well. He runs routes like a wide receiver with a quick release off the line as well as the ability to get in and out of his breaks with excellent foot quickness and a good burst.
He has a very wide receiving radius and consistently makes highlight reel catches. He has become QB Philip Rivers' first option when inside the red zone due to his ability to find space, adjust and go up for the ball in a crowd.
Witten had arguably his best season as a pro, leading the team in receptions and touchdowns in 2010. He is an excellent combination of size, strength and athleticism for the tight end position. Witten is an excellent technician as a run blocker with good pad level, foot quickness and hand use. He isn't powerful at the point of attack but shows good functional strength to set the edge.
He is a crafty veteran who understands angles to seal defenders on combination blocks. He is an excellent route runner with quickness, balance and instincts to get separation out of his breaks. He has great hands and can make plays in traffic. Witten continues to be one of the best tight ends in league and a tough matchup for any coordinator to defend.
Finley is a tall, lean player with speed to stretch deep zones, and the hands and concentration to track the ball well on all levels of the field. He has a feel for finding voids as well as working the sideline.
Finley is a solid blocker that lacks great explosion, but has gained weight and strength since entering the league, which has improved his overall effectiveness at the point of attack.
Clark is definitely more of a receiving tight end than a blocking one, although he will show good effort to sustain his blocks. He is quick and nimble on his release. He knows how to set defenders up to separate with nifty moves getting in and out of his breaks.
He and Peyton Manning always seem to be on the same page. He has a wide receiving radius that allows him to extend to catch the ball, and he does a good job of putting the ball away quickly after the catch.
Gonzalez has lost a step over the years but still is an elite tight end who can run both short and deep routes. He has excellent agility and body control and is one of the most effective receivers when it comes to going up and catching the ball in a crowd, both over the middle in the short zones as well as downfield.
He has natural receiving skills and a wide catching radius that allows him to reach for the low ball or extend for the high ones, and he gets the ball tucked away quickly when turning upfield after the catch. He is a pesky blocker who knows how to get in the way and get the job done, but is not a strong inline blocker when trying to seal defensive ends.