The tight end position, much like the safety position, has become a cornerstone for NFL offenses as more and more studs make their way into the NFL. What was traditionally viewed as a 6th lineman, has now turned into a potential gamebreaker who creates multiple mismatches throughout each contest. With the most talented depth we've seen at the position, I'll rank the top performers at the position. They need to have played over 400 total snaps and been targeted at least 50 times in order to make the cut. With that being said, lets review the best tight ends from this past season!
Photo: Imagn Content Serv/Junfu Han
12. TJ Hockenson (Last Season: #5)
PFF Grade - 68.1 (13th)
With the loss of Matthew Stafford and the addition of Jared Goff, TJ's play was expected to regress in 2021. Nonetheless, he was still one of the top tight ends in the league, as he compiled 583 yards and 4 TDs through 12 games. He also hauled in over 75% of his targets, ranking him 8th among tight ends. He also caught 11 out of 14 contested catches, the 2nd highest rate among tight ends. His run blocking was lackluster, as he posted the 4th lowest run block grade out of all tight ends with a 45.1; although he ranked 24th in zone blocking with a 66.5 grade on those play types. With playing over 50% of his snaps in the slot, it makes sense why his run blocking grade isn't as high as some of the other names on this list. His pass catching moxie is good enough to make up for his poor run blocking, and it earns him a spot on this years list.
11. Darren Waller (Last Season: #2)
PFF Grade - 68.2 (12th)
Despite playing one game less than TJ, Darren put up some pretty solid numbers. His 665 yards and 2 TDs on 55 catches is decent, but how he got those yards is even more impressive. He played almost 50% of his snaps from the traditional, in line tight end spot, over 28% of the snaps in the slot, and over 20% lined up out wide, giving him some of the rangiest alignment variety among all tight ends. Pair that with a 1.74 yards per route run rate, 7th among tight ends, it's clear to see he was a major receiving threat when healthy. Like TJ, Darren's run blocking was questionable - with a 43.5 run block grade, but his pass catching makes up for it.
10. Hunter Henry (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 73.6 (8th)
Most will think of Hunter Henry only as a red-zone threat. When you look at the tape and where he lined up, you'll find he was much more than that. Across 16 games and 50 catches, Henry piled on 603 yards and 9 TDs, which tied for the most among all tight ends. This is more impressive considering he played the bulk of his snaps in the slot, with 61.7% of his snaps coming from that alignment. Add that to an average depth of target of 10.6 yards, 4th deepest in the league among tight ends, and 0 drops, Henry had a fantastic first season in New England. With a middle of the road run blocking grade of 57.9, Henry puts himself in the top 10 tight ends of 2021.
9. Zach Ertz (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 66.9 (15th)
Even after a mid-season trade, Ertz proved to be one of the top tight ends in the league. In the first 6 games of the season with Philly, Ertz hauled in 18 catches for 189 yards and 2 TDs, which is nothing to write home about for a tight end that used to be one of the best in the league. Once he moved to Arizona, however, it was a completely different story. In 11 games, he totaled 56 receptions for 574 yards and 3 TDs; night and day numbers compared to his first few games. In Philly, he had one game above a 70 receiving grade, in Arizona, he had 5 games above that threshold. He elevated the Cardinals offense and found himself performing similar to his early seasons.
Photo: Arizona Cardinals/Derrick Spencer
8. Mike Gesicki (Last Season: #8)
PFF Grade - 68.7 (11th)
Despite only scoring twice in 17 games, Gesicki did more than enough to earn a spot in the top 10. He tallied 780 yards on 74 receptions, 8th and 5th most among tight ends respectively, while only lining up at the traditional tight end spot on just 7.4% of all of his snaps. He also hauled in 15 contested catches, tied for the 2nd most among tight ends, while dropping just 3.9% of catchable passes. Like most tight ends on this list, his run blocking was subpar, but his pass catching ability shines past that.
7. Kyle Pitts (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 79.7 (5th)
The highly touted rookie had a fantastic first year campaign. Despite his incredible athleticism and freakish size, he split his time pretty evenly in different alignments. With 22% of his snaps in line, 34% out wide, and 44% in the slot, he did his damage in multiple ways. He had the 3rd most yards among tight ends with 1,026, even though he only scored one TD. He also had the 5th most yards per route run with 2.02, to go along with 15 contested catches. 43 of his 68 receptions resulted in first downs, giving him one of the highest rates first down rates in the league. He'll be a focal point in Atlanta's offense for years to come, and he looks to be one of the most dominant tight ends to ever play the game.
6. Rob Gronkowski (Last Season: #6)
PFF Grade - 79.5 (6th)
Even in just 12 games, Gronk had a sneaky good season. On 55 receptions, he totaled 802 yards, 7th most among tight ends despite missing 5 games, and 6 TDs. He also posted an 86.7 receiving grade, 4th highest among tight ends. Out of everyone on this list, he played the 2nd highest snap percentage in the traditional tight end spot, accumulating 55.9% of his snaps at that position. He also had the 4th most yards per route run at 2.09 a clip, with an average depth of target at 10.9 yards. He did have 5 drops, but he made up for it by forcing 16 missed tackles, 3rd most among all tight ends. His run blocking wasn't as great as it was in previous seasons, as he posted a 54.2 grade there, but his above average performance in the pass game gives him a high ranking this season.
5. Dalton Schultz (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 78.1 (7th)
Relatively unknown heading into this season, Schultz was pivotal for the Cowboys offense in 2021. He tallied 78 catches for 808 yards and 8 TDs, all ranking in the top 6 among all tight ends. While playing around 44% of snaps in line and in the slot separately, Schultz posted the 6th lowest drop rate of all tight ends at 3.7%, and he hauled in 12 contested catches, 4th most among tight ends. Pair that up with 13 missed tackles forced, a 122.1 passer rating when targeted, and a 69.9 run blocking grade across 343 run blocking snaps, it's easy to see why Dalton cracks the top 5 in his first full season starting.
Photo: Getty Images/Ronald Martinez
4. Dallas Goedert (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 88.9 (3rd)
In Dallas's first full year as TE1 in the Eagles offense, he exceeded all expectations. Through 15 games, Goedert caught 56 passes for 830 yards and 4 TDs, giving him the 2nd most yards per reception at 14.8, trailing only Kyle Pitts in that category. What's even more impressive, is that 43 of his 56 catches resulted in first downs, giving him the highest first down rate in the entire league. He played nearly 40% of his snaps in the slot, and just over 50% in line, making him a versatile receiving threat. He had the 2nd highest yards per route run, with 2.34 yards, the 2nd highest yards after catch per reception at 6.8 yards, and the 2nd highest passer rating when targeted at 127.4. He also was solid when run blocking, posting a 65.5 grade in that category, ranking 17th among all tight ends. Dallas's balanced play and savvy pass catching ability was on full display in 2021, and he looks to climb the list in 2022.
3. George Kittle (Last Season: #12)
PFF Grade - 90.9 (2nd)
After missing half the season a year ago, Kittle came back and dominated once again. In 14 games, the people's tight end tallied 71 receptions for 916 yards and 6 TDs. He played nearly 60% of his snaps at the traditional tight end spot, making his numbers that much more impressive. He totaled the second most YAC with 461, and he had the most yards per route run a 2.35. In addition, he tied for the most missed tackles forced by a tight end with 19, and posted the 9th highest run block grade among tight ends with a 73.3. If Kittle can play a few more fully healthy seasons, he'll be in the conversation as the best tight end to play the game.
Photo: Getty Images/Thearon W. Henderson
2. Travis Kelce (Last Season: #1)
PFF Grade - 81.9 (4th)
As far as tight ends already in the GOAT conversation, Kelce is certainly one on that list. He dominated again, as he posted a 6th consecutive season of 1,000+ yards, the most ever by a tight end. On 92 catches, he totaled 1,125 yards and 9 TDs, while lining up in the slot almost 45% of the time, and out wide and in line around 27% of the time separately. He had the most YAC of all tight ends with 566 yards, and he had the 2nd most first downs with 62. Even with a run blocking grade of 59.7, ranking in the middle of the road, that doesn't diminish his overall play as one of the best tight ends in the league.
1. Mark Andrews (Last Season: #3)
PFF Grade - 91.5 (1st)
Mark Andrews has quickly climbed the top tight end ladder and earned his spot as the best tight end of 2021. He had 107 catches for 1,361 yards and 9 TDs, all ranking 1st among all tight ends. He did a good chunk of his work from the slot, as he lined up there 62.2% of the time. He posted 2.18 yards per route run, 3rd most among tight ends, and he had the 5th lowest drop percentage at 2.7%, despite being targeted more than any other tight end. Combine that with 75 first downs and a high-end 75.3 run blocking grade, 4th highest among all tight ends, Mark Andrews did more than enough to prove he was the best tight end this season, and he made his case for being the best tight end in the league overall.
Photo: Baltimore Ravens/Phil Hoffmann
Despite some solid play from Noah Fant, Dawson Knox, and Pat Freiermuth, I don't believe they did enough for their offenses to earn them a spot on this list. I would expect at least one of them to make the list next year, especially with Fant landing in Seattle, giving them one of the best receiving threats at the tight end position they've had in a long time.
Join me next time as I cover the best interior defensive linemen of 2021!