The main job for tight ends in the National Football League isn't to catch passes—it's to block. But coming across a tough guy who can also catch the ball and gain you big chunks of yardage is always an added bonus.
Considering tight ends don't seem to get much credit, here is my list of top receiving tight ends, in no particular order.
Jason Witten, Cowboys
Witten, the only tight end to break 1,000 yards this season (1,002), lost his star quarterback halfway through the season, yet his numbers didn't suffer.
Also leading all tight ends with 94 receptions, Witten is a hard hitter and isn't afraid to catch the ball over the middle. His nine touchdown catches were good enough for fourth among tight ends. Don't expect the 28-year-old to slow down just yet either.
Vernon Davis, 49ers
When he isn't nicked up or throwing tantrums on the sidelines, Davis is one of the most effective tight ends out there. He has yet to surpass 1,000 yards in his five seasons played but has now put up 900 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Davis made the Pro Bowl last season with 78 receptions for 965 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns in San Francisco. This season he didn't match that, but with just 56 receptions he accumulated 914 yards (16.4 YPC) and seven touchdowns. His yards per catch ratio went up nearly four whole yards. Not bad.
Antonio Gates, Chargers
The former Kent State basketball standout caught just 50 passes this season (lowest since he caught 24 during his rookie season in 2003).
But in just 10 games he finished with 782 yards (15.6 YPC), 10 touchdowns and his seventh Pro Bowl selection. Even while battling foot injuries most of the season, Gates proved he can make an impact in San Diego.
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
It's obvious that the 34-year-old's glory days are behind him; perhaps he even left them back in Kansas City when he departed for Atlanta after the 2008 season.
Nonetheless, Gonzalez makes this list because the future Hall of Famer caught 70 passes and six touchdowns with the NFC South champion Falcons this past season. He still has yet to win a playoff game, but that's a whole different subject.
With 11 Pro Bowl appearances, five first-team All Pro selections and career numbers like he has (1,069 receptions, 12,463 yards and 88 touchdowns) there's no doubt Gonzalez will see himself in Canton someday.
Todd Heap, Ravens
Much like Gates this season, Heap missed a portion of the season, as a result of a pulled hamstring, but when he was in (successfully completed 12 full games), Heap was effective.
In his 10 seasons in Baltimore, the two-time Pro Bowler has never broke 1,000 yards, but I think that has more to do with the fact that he's never been a primary target for the Ravens and doesn't quite get the number of passes thrown his way as Gonzalez, Gates and Witten.
This season he did, however, set a career high with 15.0 yards per catch (40 receptions, 499 yards). He has always been a reliable target on third downs as well.
Dallas Clark, Colts
Playing just six games in 2010, I think it's safe to safe Clark's 2010 campaign was a complete failure after he suffered a wrist injury on October 17 against the Washington Redskins.
He ended up with 37 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
With All-Pro Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, expect Clark's numbers to go back up next season as long as he's healthy. With him back in Indy's arsenal of weapons, I wouldn't be surprised if Clark put up 2009-like numbers (100 receptions, 1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns and a Pro Bowl appearance).
Others of Note:
Heath Miller, Steelers
Miller seems to get overlooked by opposing defenses. At 6'5" and 256 pounds, the 28-year-old may not be all that fast, but he has great hands and set a career high with 12.2 yards per catch in 14 games this past season.
Dustin Keller, Jets
Just finishing his third pro season in New York, Keller's numbers have sufficiently improved with each passing year. The continued maturity and comfort of young quarterback Mark Sanchez will only help Keller's receiving numbers next season.
Owen Daniels, Texans
At 242 pounds, Daniels is a pretty quick tight end and has shown that he can make an impact on the game. If he can stay healthy (10 starts this season, only eight last season), we could see him return to his 2008 form (70 receptions, 862 yards, two touchdowns).
Jermichael Finley, Packers
Finley hasn't been able to prove much yet in his short career after sustaining a season-ending knee injury and being placed on the IR in October. But the 23-year old has shown flashes of brilliance, including a six-reception, 159-yard playoff performance in 2009, when the Pack fell to Arizona 51-45 in OT.
Tony Moeaki, Chiefs
Tony Gonzalez's heir apparent in Kansas City.
Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
One of New England's two brilliant rookie tight ends.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
The second brilliant rookie tight end in New England.
Jacob Tamme, Colts
Stepped up his game when Dallas Clark went down in Indy.
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