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NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Top 15 Tight Ends in the NFL

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The New and the Old(Graham and Gonzalez)

NFL
Kirby Lee-US Presswire

The position of the NFL tight end has been ever changing for the past several years. The best in the game have shown a versatility never before seen on the gridiron as the offensive coordinators in the league are able to utilize the strength, speed and hands that have become a norm instead of a abnormality. After five weeks in the NFL, these tight ends are far and away the best of the bunch when it comes to all aspects of their ever changing position.

When someone thinks of a solid, all around tight end from the past, you might probably think of Mark Bavaro, who revolutionized the trade with exceptional route running, strong blocking and decent hands that could bring in the passes from Phil Simms all over the field. Since then, the NFL has given birth to what is now known as the "Joker" tight end. This refers to the most versatile of the group that can not only run the inseam, but line up in the slot, as a wide receiver, and in some instances as a running back.

The first that comes to mind in today's NFL is the New England Patriots' Aaron Hernandez. When healthy and on the field, this incredible athletic specimen can confound defenses and line up anywhere on the field. The amazing part is that he is not even the best tight end on his own team, never mind the league.

This is the amazing circumstance that the NFL finds itself. For the past decade or so, you could count the upper echelon of NFL tight ends on one hand, led by Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez. Now, asking for the top fifteen is a lot easier as the variety is great. So here are my top 15 NFL Tight Ends for 2012. Feel free to comment and "rant" with me on your own choices if you tend to disagree.

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Martellus Bennett-NY(Football)Giants #15

NFL
Jim O'Connor-US Presswire

Martellus Bennett was known as a bust with the Dallas Cowboys. So far with the NY Giants, he has shown to run good routes and hum to the tune of 19 catches for 217 yards and 3TDs. It's still early in the season, but I think Eli Manning has found a reliable target when under pressure and he deserves to break the top 15.

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Kellen Davis-Chicago Bears #14

NFL
Rob Grabowski-US Presswire

Kellen Davis is starting to become a good blocking tight end that Jay Cutler is more comfortable with. Only 8 catches for 129 yards and 1TD on the year, but I look for him to improve those numbers as the season goes on.

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Kyle Rudolph-Minnesota Vikings #13

NFL
Bruce Kluckhohn-US Presswire

Does anyone know who Kyle Rudolph is outside of Minnesota? You will soon enough. Christian Ponder has discovered a rhythm with Rudolph that has led to 19 catches for 169 yards and 4TDs. Needs some work on his blocking, but the way this tandem has started, the finish might be exceptional.

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Brandon Pettigrew- Detroit Lions #12

NFL
Jeff Hanisch-US Presswire

Brandon Pettigrew is a specimen that is hindered by the system that the Detroit Lions run. Matthew Stafford could get him the ball more, but when you have Calvin Johnson on the outside and Tony Scheffler taking reps, that leaves minimal chances for Pettigrew to shine. He has 23 catches for 223 yards with only 1TD so far, but his athleticism and potential will keep him in any top 15 list.

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Brent Celek-Philadelphia Eagles #11

NFL
Jeffrey Pittenger-US Presswire

Brent Celek is a very talented and athletic tight end who can run with the best of them and is difficult to take down. He has been a fail-safe for a harried and mistake-prone Mike Vick and has posted 21 catches for 324 yards, but only one TD.

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Aaron Hernandez-New England Patriots #10

NFL
Ron Chenoy-US Presswire

Aaron Hernandez has been hurt with an ankle injury so we have not seen much of him the past couple weeks. He is, however, the ultimate "Joker" tight end that can line up anywhere on the field and be productive. As he gets back on the field and becomes part of the best one-two TE tandem in the league with Rob Gronkowski, he goes back up to about 4 or 5 on this list.

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Owen Daniels-Houston Texans #9

NFL
Don McPeak-US Presswire

Owen Daniels deserves to be in the top ten at number 9 for the sole fact that his abilities are now utilized with Matt Schaub at QB. Daniels can block, run after the catch and break tackles. He has 19 catches for 232 yards and 2TDs so far and should be in the 800-1,000 yard range by the end of the year.

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Heath Miller-Pittsburgh Steelers #8

NFL
Jason Bridge-US Presswire

Heath Miller is a target that Ben Roethlisberger can always rely on. He blocks with the best of them and can manhandle the linebackers while finding the open spot in the end zone. He is humming to the tune of 19 catches for only 170 yards, but has become a favorite of Big Ben with 4TDs.

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Jermichael Finley-Green Bay Packers #7

NFL
Mary Langenfeld-US Presswire

Jermichael Finley has been plagued with injuries, but he has battled through them all year while putting up 22 catches for 198 yards and 1TD. His issue this year is that Aaron Rodgers is looking human, but he can still be one of the toughest TEs in the league to bring down. In his fourth season, there is plenty of potential for Finley and I am sure he will make the most of every opportunity. His big draw back is dropping passes.

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Antonio Gates-San Diego Chargers #6

NFL
Jake Roth-US Presswire

As we get down the list to number six, everyone needs to understand one thing. The tight ends as a whole in the NFL are very good compared to what they were even ten years ago. With that said, Antonio Gates at one time was one of two tight ends mentioned along with Tony Gonzalez as the best in the game and everyone else was on a level below.

Now in his 10th season, Gates is still proving that he belongs in the upper echelon. He can block, catch, read defenses and patiently run his routes. Yes, he has lost a step, but you would still love to have him on your team from a leadership viewpoint. If only Norv Turner knew how to utilize him better to improve his numbers. 13 catches for 143 yards and 0TDs.

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Tony Gonzalez-Atlanta Falcons #5

NFL
Christopher Hanewinckel

It's amazing to even be able to mention a 14th season TE as one of the top 5 in the NFL. But that is exactly where Tony Gonzalez belongs. Maybe it is the system he is in, quite possibly it is his toughness, sure-handedness and ability to read the defensive schemes that allow him to excel. Matt Ryan is going to miss him when he is gone, and NFL fans should savor the rest of his time in the league while they can.

Gonzalez has, like Gates, lost a step. But you would never know it as he leads all TEs with 39 catches for 388 yards, 29 first downs and 4TDs. Take that father time!!

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Jason Witten-Dallas Cowboys #4

NFL
Tim Heitman-US Presswire

Why should I put Jason Witten at number four on this list? In his 10th season, he is yet another TE that is producing at a late age. Forget the fact that Tony Romo seems to forget him in the red zone. Witten's ability is top flight, with good hands, runs after the catch, hard to tackle and can read the defenses with the best of them. Witten has only produced to the tune of 21 catches for 188 yards and 1TD, but he is as reliable as they come.

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Rob Gronkowski-New England Patriots #3

NFL
Nick Barnett-US Presswire

The second half of the two-headed monster in New England. Rob Gronkowski is an absolute freak at 6-6 260lbs and is probably the hardest tight end to tackle in the league. He is an excellent route runner that blocks well enough and if it is in his area, he will catch it. Never underestimate this man, because his range makes him one of the most dangerous players in the game. Through the first five games, the Gronk has accumulated 23 catches for 295 yards and 3TDs.

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Jimmy Graham-New Orleans Saints #2

NFL
Derick Hingle-US Presswire

Who Dat?? That's right, it is Jimmy Graham. Only five players were targeted more times in 2011 than Graham and they were all wideouts. Graham can run all routes, beat linebackers, safeties and corners, while making exceptional runs after the catch. Graham is what some would call the new Tony Gonzalez. Watch out NFL, he will be at the top of this list for a long time. so far in 2012, all he has done is catch 25 passes for 252 yards and 3TDs.

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Vernon Davis-San Francisco 49ers #1

NFL
Cary Edmondson-US Presswire

I know you didn't think I would forget the freak, did you? Alex Smith should praise the San Francisco 49ers organization for keeping Vernon Davis and showing him his potential. Davis is an absolutely determined player that will catch anything, anywhere on the field. He has shown the ability to line up in the slot and at the corners and beat the defender. His ability and prowess make him a valuable target for Smith who is just now progressing to a top tier QB. Davis has strolled to 20 catches for 303 yards and 4TDs and remains one of Smith's favorite targets. Along with Hernandez, probably the best "Joker" of all tight ends.