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Quick Reads Decade in Review: TE Totals

New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Welcome to the final piece in Quick Reads' Decade in Review. Today we're going to look at the best tight end of the 2010s to show who helped (or hurt) their teams the most. We're also going to take a peek at rushing and passing data, where some familiar names pop up.

Prior pieces in this series:


Decade Totals

Best Total DYAR, Tight Ends, 2010-2019

Name G Tgt Rec Yards TD C% Y/C Rec
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Total
DYAR
DYAR/
Game
Rob Gronkowski 115 796 522 7,863 80 65.6% 15.1 2,120 0 0 2,120 18.4
Jimmy Graham 153 1,009 650 7,883 74 64.4% 12.1 1,146 12 0 1,158 7.6
Travis Kelce 96 715 507 6,465 37 70.9% 12.8 1,142 31 -22 1,151 12.0
Antonio Gates 127 719 476 5,618 57 66.2% 11.8 1,046 0 0 1,046 8.2
Jason Witten 144 964 693 7,012 45 71.9% 10.1 864 0 0 864 6.0
Vernon Davis 142 625 402 5,463 41 64.3% 13.6 677 -4 0 674 4.7
Tony Gonzalez 64 470 326 3,320 29 69.4% 10.2 658 0 0 658 10.3
Greg Olsen 142 908 565 6,869 44 62.2% 12.2 607 0 0 607 4.3
Zach Ertz 106 763 524 5,751 35 68.7% 11.0 592 0 0 592 5.6
Jared Cook 149 761 459 6,103 34 60.3% 13.3 510 -2 0 508 3.4
Heath Miller 90 495 350 3,856 18 70.7% 11.0 484 0 0 484 5.4
George Kittle 45 306 216 2,945 12 70.6% 13.6 449 9 0 458 10.2
Hunter Henry 41 191 136 1,709 17 71.2% 12.6 449 0 0 449 10.9
Jermichael Finley 43 239 162 2,035 14 67.8% 12.6 427 0 0 427 9.9
Cameron Brate 82 293 195 2,156 27 66.6% 11.1 392 0 0 392 4.8
Aaron Hernandez 38 260 175 1,956 18 67.3% 11.2 304 60 0 364 9.6
Austin Hooper 59 277 214 2,244 16 77.3% 10.5 362 0 0 362 6.1
Tyler Eifert 59 270 185 2,152 24 68.5% 11.6 353 0 0 353 6.0
Delanie Walker 129 698 453 5,271 34 64.9% 11.6 313 23 0 336 2.6
Jordan Reed 65 447 329 3,371 24 73.6% 10.2 305 11 0 316 4.9

We are gathered here today in praise of Gronk.

It's no surprise that Rob Gronkowski was the most valuable tight end of the past 10 years, but it's hard to wrap your head around the size of the gap between Gronk and anyone else. Second-place Jimmy Graham has only 55% of Gronkowski's total; he is closer to the 203 DYAR of Anthony Fasano in 39th place than he is to Gronk. Part of this is simply good timing -- if you want to be the best tight end of the decade, it certainly helps to start your career in 2010. Even on a per-game basis, however, Gronkowski dominates the competition; no other name in this table can even get within two-thirds of Gronkowski's average of 18.4 DYAR per game. We'll get into the finer details of Gronkowski's statistics later, but for now I'll just point out that Gronkowski's 80 touchdown catches in the 2010s were the most of any player, tight end or otherwise, and he averaged nearly a yard and a half more per catch than anyone else listed here. And that's just what he has done as a receiver. FO doesn't have statistics to measure individual blocking, another skill in which Gronkowski has proven to be a master.

The same cannot be said for Jimmy Graham, the second-most valuable tight end of the decade. A basketball player in college, Graham himself has argued that he should be considered a slot receiver, not a tight end. An NFL arbitrator disagreed, and so Graham falls into this category, whether he wants to block anyone or not. Regardless, Graham was an electric receiver, leading all tight ends in targets and yards and finishing second in catches and touchdowns. If he were considered a wideout, his 74 touchdown receptions in the 2010s would have tied Antonio Brown for the most at that position.

While Gronkowski and Graham hit the league in 2010, Travis Kelce wasn't drafted until 2013, and wasn't a starter until his second season. Since then he has caught 507 passes for 6,465 yards and 37 touchdowns, leading all tight ends in each of those categories in that timeframe.

And then we get a string of old men who were drafted long before the decade began but were still productive, at least for a little while. Greg Olsen began his career in 2007, one year after Vernon Davis. Antonio Gates and Jason Witten both started in 2003. Tony Gonzalez was drafted in 1997. Yet each was among the most valuable tight ends of the 2010s. That's a credit to those men for lasting so long in such a violent game. It may also be a sign of how the game is changing, as more passes are going to wide receivers and running backs and fewer are going to tight ends. That's not to say there are no good young tight ends, however -- the 49ers and Chargers are perfectly happy with George Kittle and Hunter Henry.

Worst Total DYAR, Tight Ends, 2010-2019

Name G Tgt Rec Yards TD C% Y/C Rec
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Total
DYAR
DYAR/
Game
John Carlson 58 174 104 1,055 3 59.8% 10.1 -219 0 0 -219 -3.8
Brandon Pettigrew 82 432 271 2,622 15 62.7% 9.7 -180 0 0 -180 -2.2
Jermaine Gresham 132 566 377 3,752 29 66.6% 10.0 -171 0 0 -171 -1.3
Dante Rosario 76 113 66 611 3 58.4% 9.3 -144 -4 0 -148 -2.0
Demetrius Harris 86 134 72 754 9 53.7% 10.5 -146 0 0 -146 -1.7
Alex Smith 50 52 31 196 2 59.6% 6.3 -124 -14 0 -138 -2.8
Daniel Graham 38 42 20 178 1 47.6% 8.9 -138 0 0 -138 -3.6
Luke Stocker 114 117 76 630 5 65.0% 8.3 -126 0 0 -126 -1.1
Ricky Seals-Jones 39 119 60 773 8 50.4% 12.9 -124 0 0 -124 -3.2
Mike Gesicki 32 121 73 772 5 60.3% 10.6 -121 0 0 -121 -3.8
Ross Travis 24 29 14 142 0 48.3% 10.1 -107 0 0 -107 -4.5
Larry Donnell 54 161 110 974 9 68.3% 8.9 -99 0 0 -99 -1.8
Garrett Graham 60 178 100 1,059 10 56.2% 10.6 -95 0 0 -95 -1.6
Dallas Clark 45 245 149 1,477 12 60.8% 9.9 -95 0 0 -95 -2.1
C.J. Fiedorowicz 51 142 89 881 6 62.7% 9.9 -94 0 0 -94 -1.8
Marcedes Lewis 140 466 270 3,173 27 57.9% 11.8 -88 0 0 -88 -0.6
David Njoku 36 158 93 1,066 9 58.9% 11.5 -83 -2 0 -85 -2.4
Vance McDonald 87 268 166 1,936 15 61.9% 11.7 -83 0 0 -84 -1.0
Kellen Davis 93 100 44 504 10 44.0% 11.5 -83 0 0 -83 -0.9
Blake Bell 65 64 38 424 0 59.4% 11.2 -83 0 0 -83 -1.3

To a degree, John Carlson is a victim of bad timing here. For the first two years of his career, he was a perfectly adequate starting tight end in Seattle, finishing eighth in DYAR as a rookie and 25th in 2009. Unfortunately, as the calendar flipped over to 2010, the bottom fell out of Carlson's career. He never made the top 40 again, finishing below replacement level every year as he bounced from the Seahawks to the Vikings to the Cardinals.

Carlson is not alone here; many of these players managed to get a lot of targets despite subpar results. Unlike what we saw among running backs and wide receivers, when the players with the worst DYAR usually washed out of the league quickly, most of these players stuck around for a few years; 16 of them qualified for the DVOA leaderboards we'll get to later. That is likely because backs and wideouts who can't produce with the ball in their hands usually have nothing else they can bring to the table, but at this position, fantasy production is only part of the job. That's right, we are in the world of the blocking tight ends! What, you think Jermaine Gresham racked up 500-plus targets because Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer were forcing him the ball in Cincinnati and Arizona? No, he was on the field because he was there to clear space for runners such as BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and David Johnson, and that meant he was occasionally the target on a third-and-long dumpoff when A.J. Green or Larry Fitzgerald were double-covered.

And again we see that many of these men were actually drafted in the prior decade. The most obvious example there is Dallas Clark, who was drafted in 2003 and became a tremendous weapon for the Colts, making the top 10 in DYAR four times. But the end of his career was not nearly as successful as he finished below replacement level in three straight seasons for Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore. Other players here who were holdovers from the last decade include Dante Rosario, Alex Smith (no, the other one), Daniel Graham, and Marcedes Lewis.


Receiving

As you might expect, the best tight ends in receiving DYAR are virtually unchanged from the best tight ends in total DYAR. In the lower stretch of the table, Kyle Rudolph and Martellus Bennett replace Jordan Reed and Aaron Hernandez, but there are few other changes. However, it's still worth running the following table to see some of the more granular data.

Best Receiving DYAR, Tight Ends, 2010-2019

Name G Tgt Rec Yards TD 1D Fum C% 1D% Avg Fum/C Rec
DYAR
DYAR/
Game
Rob Gronkowski 115 796 522 7,863 80 406 5 65.6% 51.0% 15.1 1.0% 2,120 18.4
Jimmy Graham 153 1,009 650 7,883 74 432 8 64.4% 42.8% 12.1 1.2% 1,146 7.5
Travis Kelce 96 715 507 6,465 37 334 9 70.9% 46.7% 12.8 1.8% 1,142 11.9
Antonio Gates 127 719 476 5,618 57 318 5 66.2% 44.2% 11.8 1.1% 1,046 8.2
Jason Witten 144 964 693 7,012 45 361 5 71.9% 37.4% 10.1 0.7% 864 6.0
Vernon Davis 142 625 402 5,463 41 205 6 64.3% 32.8% 13.6 1.5% 677 4.8
Tony Gonzalez 64 470 326 3,320 29 215 0 69.4% 45.7% 10.2 0.0% 658 10.3
Greg Olsen 142 908 565 6,869 44 364 5 62.2% 40.1% 12.2 0.9% 607 4.3
Zach Ertz 106 763 524 5,751 35 317 5 68.7% 41.5% 11.0 1.0% 592 5.6
Jared Cook 149 761 459 6,103 34 293 8 60.3% 38.5% 13.3 1.7% 510 3.4
Heath Miller 90 495 350 3,856 18 207 5 70.7% 41.8% 11.0 1.4% 484 5.4
George Kittle 45 306 216 2,945 12 137 1 70.6% 44.8% 13.6 0.5% 449 10.0
Hunter Henry 41 191 136 1,709 17 98 2 71.2% 51.3% 12.6 1.5% 449 10.9
Jermichael Finley 43 239 162 2,035 14 134 1 67.8% 56.1% 12.6 0.6% 427 9.9
Cameron Brate 82 293 195 2,156 27 128 2 66.6% 43.7% 11.1 1.0% 392 4.8
Austin Hooper 59 277 214 2,244 16 105 0 77.3% 37.9% 10.5 0.0% 362 6.1
Tyler Eifert 59 270 185 2,152 24 118 0 68.5% 43.7% 11.6 0.0% 353 6.0
Kyle Rudolph 128 629 425 4,154 47 238 1 67.6% 37.8% 9.8 0.2% 314 2.5
Delanie Walker 129 698 453 5,271 34 247 9 64.9% 35.4% 11.6 2.0% 313 2.4
Martellus Bennett 114 582 398 4,138 26 194 4 68.4% 33.3% 10.4 1.0% 312 2.7

We mentioned earlier how Rob Gronkowki's explosive ability was unmatched among other tight ends. Since he was running deeper routes than his peers, it's no surprise that his catch rate was less impressive, below average in this table. This does not mean, however, that he was unreliable or erratic as a receiver. Quite the opposite, in fact -- he was one of three players in this table to pick up a first down on more than half of his targets.

Between volume and efficiency, Gronkowski's numbers in this table are so dominant that it's almost fruitless to compare him to other tight ends. Instead, let's look at how he fared compared to the best wide receivers of the past decade. If you read last week's piece, you'll recall that Michael Thomas gained a first down on 50.8% of his targets, the highest rate of any of the decade's top 20 wideouts. Well, Gronkowski gained a first down even more often than Thomas, 51.0% of the time, and he averaged 3.4 more yards per catch. Gronk led the decade's top tight ends by averaging 9.9 yards per target. Only one of the decade's best wideouts gained yards so efficiently: DeSean Jackson, the NFL's preeminent deep threat, averaged 10.1. Gronk is the only player at either position to score a touchdown on more than 10% of his targets. Anyway you look at it, Gronkowski may have been the league's most dangerous passing-game weapon of the 2010s.

The bottom 20 tight ends in receiving DYAR are the same as the bottom 20 in total DYAR, in the same order, but we'll run that table to show you the more specific receiving numbers.

Worst Receiving DYAR, Tight Ends, 2010-2019

Name G Tgt Rec Yards TD 1D Fum C% 1D% Avg Fum/C Rec
DYAR
DYAR/
Game
John Carlson 58 174 104 1,055 3 52 0 59.8% 29.9% 10.1 0.0% -219 -3.8
Brandon Pettigrew 82 432 271 2,622 15 131 5 62.7% 30.3% 9.7 1.8% -180 -2.2
Jermaine Gresham 132 566 377 3,752 29 191 13 66.6% 33.7% 10.0 3.4% -171 -1.3
Demetrius Harris 86 134 72 754 9 43 1 53.7% 32.1% 10.5 1.4% -146 -1.7
Dante Rosario 76 113 66 611 3 25 2 58.4% 22.1% 9.3 3.0% -144 -1.9
Daniel Graham 38 42 20 178 1 8 1 47.6% 19.0% 8.9 5.0% -138 -3.6
Luke Stocker 114 117 76 630 5 32 1 65.0% 27.4% 8.3 1.3% -126 -1.1
Ricky Seals-Jones 39 119 60 773 8 34 1 50.4% 28.6% 12.9 1.7% -124 -3.2
Alex Smith 50 52 31 196 2 13 1 59.6% 25.0% 6.3 3.2% -124 -2.5
Mike Gesicki 32 121 73 772 5 34 2 60.3% 28.1% 10.6 2.7% -121 -3.8
Ross Travis 24 29 14 142 0 1 2 48.3% 3.4% 10.1 14.3% -107 -4.5
Larry Donnell 54 161 110 974 9 54 5 68.3% 33.5% 8.9 4.5% -99 -1.8
Garrett Graham 60 178 100 1,059 10 54 2 56.2% 30.3% 10.6 2.0% -95 -1.6
Dallas Clark 45 245 149 1,477 12 85 1 60.8% 34.7% 9.9 0.7% -95 -2.1
C.J. Fiedorowicz 51 142 89 881 6 46 2 62.7% 32.4% 9.9 2.2% -94 -1.8
Marcedes Lewis 140 466 270 3,173 27 155 3 57.9% 33.3% 11.8 1.1% -88 -0.6
David Njoku 36 158 93 1,066 9 47 0 58.9% 29.7% 11.5 0.0% -83 -2.3
Vance McDonald 87 268 166 1,936 15 88 6 61.9% 32.8% 11.7 3.6% -83 -1.0
Kellen Davis 93 100 44 504 10 29 1 44.0% 29.0% 11.5 2.3% -83 -0.9
Blake Bell 65 64 38 424 0 14 0 59.4% 21.9% 11.2 0.0% -83 -1.3

We also have receiving DVOA info for tight ends, which means -- yes -- it's time to talk about Gronk more.

Best Receiving DVOA, Tight Ends, 2010-2019

Name G Tgt Rec Yards TD 1D Fum C% 1D% Avg Fum/C Rec
DVOA
Rob Gronkowski 115 796 522 7863 80 406 5 65.6% 51.0% 15.1 1.0% 31.4%
Hunter Henry 41 191 136 1709 17 98 2 71.2% 51.3% 12.6 1.5% 27.3%
O.J. Howard 38 140 94 1457 12 71 4 67.1% 50.7% 15.5 4.3% 25.3%
Darren Fells 86 143 102 1171 17 66 0 71.3% 46.2% 11.5 0.0% 21.7%
Mark Andrews 31 148 98 1404 13 73 2 66.2% 49.3% 14.3 2.0% 20.2%
Tim Wright 41 124 89 907 13 56 0 71.8% 45.2% 10.2 0.0% 19.4%
Jermichael Finley 43 239 162 2035 14 134 1 67.8% 56.1% 12.6 0.6% 18.9%
Darren Waller 38 140 106 1305 5 65 1 75.7% 46.4% 12.3 0.9% 17.7%
Joel Dreessen 61 160 112 1274 16 63 1 70.0% 39.4% 11.4 0.9% 17.3%
Ladarius Green 53 156 95 1391 8 64 0 60.9% 41.0% 14.6 0.0% 17.3%
Travis Kelce 96 715 507 6465 37 334 9 70.9% 46.7% 12.8 1.8% 16.5%
Antonio Gates 127 719 476 5618 57 318 5 66.2% 44.2% 11.8 1.1% 14.5%
George Kittle 45 306 216 2945 12 137 1 70.6% 44.8% 13.6 0.5% 14.5%
Fred Davis 45 168 111 1509 7 72 1 66.1% 42.9% 13.6 0.9% 14.0%
Zach Miller 52 178 125 1419 13 67 0 70.2% 37.6% 11.4 0.0% 13.6%
Cameron Brate 82 293 195 2156 27 128 2 66.6% 43.7% 11.1 1.0% 13.3%
Tyler Eifert 59 270 185 2152 24 118 0 68.5% 43.7% 11.6 0.0% 11.9%
Austin Hooper 59 277 214 2244 16 105 0 77.3% 37.9% 10.5 0.0% 11.8%
Tony Gonzalez 64 470 326 3320 29 215 0 69.4% 45.7% 10.2 0.0% 11.5%
Gary Barnidge 93 264 166 2016 14 104 0 62.9% 39.4% 12.1 0.0% 10.4%
(Minimum 100 targets; 107 players qualified)

We've limited this to players with 100 targets -- theoretically, enough to qualify for our leaderboards in four different seasons, though of course some players got there much faster than that. We found 107 players who qualified.

In smaller sample sizes, we start to find individual players who were superior to Gronkowski in one receiving facet or another. Henry and Jermichael Finley had better first-down rates; O.J. Howard averaged more yards per catch and per target; Darren Fells and Tim Wright scored touchdowns more frequently. (For those unfamiliar with Wright -- i.e., most of you -- he had a short career in the middle of the decade, playing 41 games for the Buccaneers, Patriots, and Lions. He only caught 89 passes in his career, but 13 of them were touchdowns.) None of those players saw Gronkowski's workload, however -- collectively, they were targeted 837 times, only 41 more than Gronk by himself -- and none of them could match his combined efficiency either. We'll also remind you that Gronkowski is a top-shelf blocker. There is no question that he was the best player at his position in the past 10 years; the only question is whether any player anywhere else in the league did their job better than Gronk did his.

Right about now, readers across central Florida are putting their eyeballs back into their heads, because they realize that not only do the Buccaneers have Gronk, but they also have Howard, one of the league's best young players at the position. And yes, if there was any doubt, both will be on the field at the same time quite a bit this year. In fact, you might even see Tampa Bay going with triple-tight end sets -- Cameron Brate, yet another name on this list, restructured his contract with the Bucs in March.

In fact, most of the players at the top of this list are young and active -- Howard, Brate, Hunter Henry, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, George Kittle, and Austin Hooper will all be 29 or younger this season. Perhaps the future of the tight end position is not so bleak as the DYAR totals would suggest.

Finally, we should point out the Zach Miller in this table is the Zach Miller who played for the Jaguars and Bears, not the Zach Miller who played for the Raiders and Seahawks.

Worst Receiving DVOA, Tight Ends, 2010-2019

Name G Tgt Rec Yards TD 1D Fum C% 1D% Avg Fum/C Rec
DVOA
Dante Rosario 76 113 66 611 3 25 2 58.4% 22.1% 9.3 3.0% -27.2%
John Carlson 58 174 104 1055 3 52 0 59.8% 29.9% 10.1 0.0% -25.9%
Ricky Seals-Jones 39 119 60 773 8 34 1 50.4% 28.6% 12.9 1.7% -24.5%
Luke Stocker 114 117 76 630 5 32 1 65.0% 27.4% 8.3 1.3% -23.6%
Demetrius Harris 86 134 72 754 9 43 1 53.7% 32.1% 10.5 1.4% -23.4%
Kellen Davis 93 100 44 504 10 29 1 44.0% 29.0% 11.5 2.3% -21.9%
Mike Gesicki 32 121 73 772 5 34 2 60.3% 28.1% 10.6 2.7% -21.8%
C.J. Fiedorowicz 51 142 89 881 6 46 2 62.7% 32.4% 9.9 2.2% -17.4%
Larry Donnell 54 161 110 974 9 54 5 68.3% 33.5% 8.9 4.5% -16.3%
Garrett Graham 60 178 100 1059 10 54 2 56.2% 30.3% 10.6 2.0% -15.5%
David Njoku 36 158 93 1066 9 47 0 58.9% 29.7% 11.5 0.0% -15.3%
Visanthe Shiancoe 37 153 85 941 5 46 0 55.6% 30.1% 11.1 0.0% -15.1%
Jeff Heuerman 51 103 63 678 5 35 0 61.2% 34.0% 10.8 0.0% -14.6%
Chris Cooley 30 142 86 922 3 44 3 60.6% 31.0% 10.7 3.5% -14.3%
Brandon Pettigrew 82 432 271 2622 15 131 5 62.7% 30.3% 9.7 1.8% -13.7%
Logan Paulsen 120 144 91 907 7 45 3 63.2% 31.3% 10.0 3.3% -13.4%
Josh Hill 103 164 109 1017 14 57 2 66.5% 34.8% 9.3 1.8% -13.3%
Rob Housler 65 175 109 1168 1 51 2 62.3% 29.1% 10.7 1.8% -13.1%
Dallas Clark 45 245 149 1477 12 85 1 60.8% 34.7% 9.9 0.7% -12.8%
Austin Seferian-Jenkins 43 190 116 1160 11 54 2 61.1% 28.4% 10.0 1.7% -12.8%
(Minimum 100 targets; 107 players qualified)

As we mentioned before, most of the tight ends who were terrible in total DYAR had enough targets to qualify for the DVOA leaderboards, so many of these names will be familiar. The least efficient tight end of the decade was Dante Rosario, who had a few good years in the 2000s for Carolina before floundering with the Panthers, Broncos, Dolphins, Chargers, and Bears for several years. He qualified for our tight end leaderboards twice this decade, with DVOAs of -29.3% in 2010 and -56.8% in 2013.

Delanie Walker finished the decade with a -0.3% DVOA on 698 targets, most of anyone with below-average efficiency. Jermaine Gresham had -171 DYAR on 566 targets, most of anyone who finished below replacement level.


Rushing

New England's Aaron Hernandez had nine rushes for 97 yards and 60 DYAR, most among tight ends this decade in all three categories. That works out to 10.8 yards per run, and six of them gained first downs.

Noah Fant had -25 DYAR, worst among tight ends. He had three carries as a rookie for Denver last year; remarkably, all of them lost yardage. He lost 5 yards on one carry against Oakland in September, then got two carries against Minnesota in November, resulting in a loss of 2 and a loss of 5.


Passing

There were five passes thrown by tight ends in the 2010s, one each by five different players. Logan Thomas completed his for 15 yards and 15 DYAR with Buffalo in 2018. (Note that this does not include Thomas' all-or-nothing stint as a quarterback with Arizona in 2014; Thomas' 11 dropbacks that season resulted in eight incompletions, two sacks, and just one completion, but that one completion was an 81-yard touchdown. He finished with -18 DYAR.)

Travis Kelce's one pass with Kansas City in 2017 was intercepted. That was worth -22 DYAR, worst among tight ends in the 2010s.

These numbers do not include postseason data. You may recall that Philadelphia's Trey Burton completed a pass for a 1-yard "Philly Special" touchdown in the Super Bowl against New England. That play was worth 18 DYAR, so if you want to say Burton was the best passing tight end of the 2010s, we won't argue.


Notable Seasons

We're not going to go in-depth on the best and worst seasons of the decade because A) we just wrote about that for ESPN+ in December, and B) all that information is freely available elsewhere on the site for anyone who wants to compile it. But a few bullet points:

  • Gronkowski's 461 DYAR in 2011 was the best in this or any other decade. The second-best mark of the 2010s was Antonio Gates' 361 in 2010.
  • Gronk's 339 DYAR in 2017 were third best. His 279 DYAR in 2012 were fifth. He had three other seasons in the top 11.
  • Marcedes Lewis' -161 DYAR with Jacksonville in 2011 was the worst mark of the decade.
  • Jared Cook, Jimmy Graham, and Greg Olsen were the only tight ends to qualify for our tables in every year of the 2010s. Graham is the only player with positive DYAR in each of those years.
  • Jermaine Gresham qualified for our tables with negative DYAR six times, most in the league.

Comments

41 comments, Last at 08 Jul 2020, 10:48am

1 Is Gronk the best offensive…

Is Gronk the best offensive player of the the decade? Probably. Not sure if I can come up with a worthy challenger. Maybe Joe Thomas? Could make an argument for Calvin Johnson maybe. That's all I can come up with.

 

What about the whole league? I think if I had my choice of non qb to draft first over the decade, it would be JJ Watt. After that, it's probably Gronk or Aaron Donald and then a mishmash of others.

6 If you want to include his…

If you want to include his blocking, I would take Gronk over Johnson.  Johnson can only do one thing, after all (even if he does that one thing really, really well).

As far as non-QB's to draft, I would still take Gronk over Donald or Watt (but it's close).  He could both carry my mediocre/caretaker quarterback (which is important in a passing league), and help out with the running game.

10 To your first paragraph, by…

To your first paragraph, by that logic, Marshall Faulk is better than Jerry Rice because he could do three things( He could block in the passing game, receive in the passing game, and rush for the running game). 

But you raised a fun philosophical debating point - which player is more impactful, a tight end like Gronk or CJ. I think I'd rather have CJ because he's a better receiver in all aspects and more snaps are spent throwing the football than running so CJ  just by position is going to be apart of the passing game more than Gronk. There is a reason its considered an outlier season to have 1300+ yards for a tight end while that's run of the mill probowler for a receiver. 

 

To your second point - I kind of agree. Offense usually(with rare exceptions) dictates to the defense by formation, by speed of the huddle, and by personnel and defenses react to that. Also, teams, provided they have the talent to do so, can mitigate the damage players like Watt and Donald are capable of doing. You can avoid running in their directions, stacking double teams or using chips to blunt the worst carnage they can inflict. 

12 But you raised a fun…

But you raised a fun philosophical debating point - which player is more impactful, a tight end like Gronk or CJ. I think I'd rather have CJ because he's a better receiver in all aspects and more snaps are spent throwing the football than running so CJ  just by position is going to be apart of the passing game more than Gronk. There is a reason its considered an outlier season to have 1300+ yards for a tight end while that's run of the mill probowler for a receiver. 

As an inversion, what does Fitzgerald look like if you call him a TE from 2016-2019?

15  "by that logic, Marshall…

 "by that logic, Marshall Faulk is better than Jerry Rice because he could do three things( He could block in the passing game, receive in the passing game, and rush for the running game). "

Well, Rice was so miles ahead of everyone else, that his one thing outdoes Faulk's three things.

Going back to Megatron and Gronk, I don't think he's quite that far ahead of Gronk's receiving.  Megatron was a physical freak and made plenty of big plays, but he wasn't perfect.  His route running was pretty good, but not top echelon.  He also had his share of drops (which are overlooked, because he made so many other big plays and impossible catches).  

Yes, saying, "you're not as good as Jerry Rice" is praising with faint damning, but my point is I don't think Megatron was quite as far ahead of his contemporaries (Julio Jones, peak Dez Bryant, etc), as Rice was.

Your point about a WR being a larger focal point of a modern NFL offense is a good one.  But I wonder, is it easier to take a great WR out of the game than a great receiving TE?  A linebacker and most safeties would struggle to cover the latter.  But if you try to go too light on defense, then the TE can help a power running game steamroll you.  IIRC, the Patriots did just that with the Pagano-era Colts on a Sunday night game early in the decade.

18 I guess I have a better view…

I guess I have a better view of CJ than you do. I thought almost everything about his game was top notch. Ok, hands maybe weren't Hopkins like, but they were good enough. And there absolutely is a different gear Calvin could reach that put him in a very small conversation. His route running I thought was splendid. Back when Greg Cosell was doing cut ups for NFL.com, he did some breakdowns of CJ. He had a gracefulness out of cuts that just torched dbs who were so scared of his speed and size that they couldn't handle his unbelievable ability to be in out of breaks. Those cut ups practically alone sent my impression of CJ into the stratosphere. But I also watched a fair amount of him. He was sublime and one of my very favorite nfl players.  

He benefited and was hurt by playing for the Lions. He benefited because the team threw a lot and there wasn't anyone else worth throwing to besides CJ(at least for the bulk of his career). Fair.

But he was also in a pretty unimaginative offense and never got to showcase his skills on the grand stage because those Lions teams, even when they were good, were so top heavy by salary that you could beat them if you took away a few things(which great defenses and smart coaches would do). I also think CJ's gravity effect would showcase more if the Lions had had Golden Tate for a longer period of time instead of Theo Riddick and Joique Bell. 

Gronk by contrast played with a team that intentionally showcased his talent to its fullest. Swap Gronk with CJ and the Pats probably go back to the 07 style offense instead of the 2011 style offense. Is one better than the other? Hard to say - just different flavors of excellence. 

When it comes to whos the harder person to guard; I mean its a bit unfair because CJ is guarded by people whos main skill is to cover. Gronk is being guarded by people who have to be competent in run defense or they don't see the field. I guess that gives Gronk the edge that way. 

The trump card for me here is this: Gronk on most teams or CJ on most team, which brings more impact week to week. In this regard, I'd probably take CJ. 

20 All fair points.  And I didn…

All fair points.  And I didn't mean to imply CJ wasn't great, (I personally think he should be first ballot HOF), just that Gronk and Rice were further ahead of their competition than he was (in my opinion).

It's just a damn shame that by the time the Lions got a WR2 that was worth a damn (Tate), CJ was an injury-riddled shell of himself.....the fact that he still put up >1000 yards and >8TD's in those last two, injury-limited seasons perhaps just speaks more to his greatness.

23 That doesn't really count. …

That doesn't really count. 

Not only was it pre-Stafford, but Williams and Johnson were only together for 2007 (Johnson's rookie year) and less than half of 2008. 

Their quarterbacks were Jon Kitna (who was a homeless man's proto-Jameis Winston....he thought interception avoidance was for p**sies), "Backwards" Dan Orlovsky, the corpse of Daunte Culpepper, and early career Drew Stanton (before he developed into a mediocre backup....before that he was a terrible backup).

35 PFF uses a SUBJECTIVE grading system

And the site wasn't even live until 10 years into Gonzalez's career.  Think of PFF grading like you think of tackle stats.  Depending on who is doing the scoring, the grading is likely to be vastly different.

 

 

38 It's not that simple

What stat do you think would tell the story of the blocking prowess of a tight end?  Both were prolific pass catchers, so pass blocking would be a pretty small chunk so sacks wouldn't work.  Rushing would be a realistic measure, as you would assume having an other-worldly blocker would make a pretty big difference.

Though, total yards is often a scheme oriented stat, so yards per rush then?

Gronk's teams, in yards per rush over his career, have finished as follows in the NFL rankings:

  • 2010 - 10th
  • 2011 - 21st
  • 2012 - 14th*
  • 2013 - 9th*
  • 2014 - 22nd
  • 2015 - 28th
  • 2016 - 24th*
  • 2017 - 11th
  • 2018 - 18th
  • Average NFL Ranking - 17.44

 

Gonzalez teams over his first 9 years

  • 1997 - 12th
  • 1998 - 25th
  • 1999 - 12th
  • 2000 - 24th
  • 2001 - 5th
  • 2002 - 2nd
  • 2003 - 11th
  • 2004 - 3rd
  • 2005 - 5th
  • Average NFL Ranking - 11.1

 

Oddly, if you remove the years with asterisks above, in which Gronk played only partial seasons, NE's average placement doesn't really change.  Odd when you have the single greatest blocking tight end in the history of football ever on your team.  That, or it was just a media narrative because he is a huge dude and you got to see him block a CB every once in awhile on SportsCenter.

39 Unadjusted yards per rush?…

Unadjusted yards per rush? Seriously? That’s how you intend to measure a TE’s blocking ability separate from the rest of the offensive line, offensive scheme, and situation? 
 

It’s also not even qualitative analysis, so bonus points for poor reading comprehension. 

 

40 "Huge dude you see on…

"Huge dude you see on SportsCenter" is a qualitative analysis.

Man, it's hard to tease out contributions by real linemen. It's darn near impossible to tease out cameo appearances by tight ends.

41 I’m pretty obviously…

I’m pretty obviously referring to the yards per rush part, but I can appreciate some good pedantry when I see it. 

Most laypeople/casual fans can still judge blocking at extremes. I watch the Giants maybe twice a year, but it’s pretty obvious that Erick Flowers was awful at LT. And It’s pretty obvious that Gronk, a guy who could stone Haloti Ngata in goal line situations but also handle Terrell Suggs 1-on-1 in pass pro, was a better blocker than Tony Gonzalez. 

5 Kellen Winslow the Greater…

Kellen Winslow the Greater may have something to say about that.

But you also need to disentangle Don Hutson's actual position. Because he certainly did line up at tight end at least some of the time (both in GB and at Alabama), and you can argue his true position was as a Jimmy Graham-type slot/tight end.

https://youtu.be/gOQjKQAIBL8?t=81
http://www.remembertherosebowl.com/2012/04/frank-thomas-breaks-down-alabama.html
https://www.profootballhof.com/blogs/for-petes-sake/packers-prized-catch/
https://www.xsosfootball.com/flanker-split-end-shallow-cross-pass-concept/

Even when "split" out, he was often only on the 6-2 end's outside shoulder. This is a split only about as far out as a slot receiver, and much less than the classic split end who became a truly wide receiver. He wasn't a flanker -- he wasn't off the line or covering another TE. Is that a full-time WR, or a TE with a wider than usual split in the T- or short punt formations?

He's often treated as WR, because end hadn't finished diverging during his career, but if you just placed Jimmy Graham, whole-cloth, into the late 30s, he'd have been considered a WR, too.

3 How did Gronk and Hernandez…

How did Gronk and Hernandez compare during their coincidental years?

 

In retrospect, it seems odd that a guy who came into the league as an H-back only got 9 carries. Especially in a gadget run-heavy offense.

7 Jesus Christ, Brandon…

Jesus Christ, Brandon Pettigrew. You spent your entire career with borderline Hall guys, and you were the second shittiest TE of the decade. 

No one got further in their career just by looking the part.

14 Yep, Pettigrew managed to be…

Yep, Pettigrew managed to be consistently below average or worse while spending the majority of his career in a passing offense that was consistently above average or better.

Besides the constant diet of failed completions (he was too slow to get open on deep/intermediate routes), he was usually good for a killer fumble or dropped touchdown seemingly every other game.

To steal from Bill Simmons, he is on the Mount Rushmore of Martin Mayhew's worst draft picks.

8 I expected to see some of…

I expected to see some of Julius Thomas here, primarily because of that year when the Manning Broncos were unstoppable offensively.  I guess it just shows how bad he actually was.

11 I have spent a lot of time…

I have spent a lot of time thinking about Julius Thomas. How he was so great with the Broncos and so utterly garbage anywhere else.

Its probably wrong to say he's just a product of Manning like some street free agent. What I think is true is if Manning is able to tell him where to run his routes, he's a dangerous receiver with good size and speed for his build. Maybe that would also work with Brady but I doubt Belichick would stomach his awful blocking. 

13 And this is the second part…

And this is the second part of Gronk -- he only ever played with the best statistical QB of his decade, and other than in 2010, was their deep threat among a sea of slot guys.

Did he make Brady, or did Brady make Gronk in the way that Manning made Thomas and Brady made Danny Woodhead (Woodhead, admittedly, was also good with another HOF QB in SD) and James White?

 

21 In the years after the Late…

In the years after the Late Unpleasantness with Aaron Hernandez, the Pats basically had one year of Martellus Bennett, as far as returning to a 2 TE set.

In that season (2016), Bennett had more DYAR than Gronk and finished tied for 3rd with Hunter Henry in DVOA. Other than that year, he was basically a 0-0 guy, who was the #2 TE in Dallas and Chicago.

Basically, he went from median NFL TE to top-10 decade guy, and then crashed back to earth. 

Their other TEs since Hernandez are basically treating James Develin as a TE and the corpse of Ben Watson.

26 This analysis is tough to…

This analysis is tough to disentangle.

There are something like two games where Gronk played and Brady did not. (Games 3-4 of 2016; Gronk was coming back from another injury, and was terrible with Brissett -- 1/3 for 11 yards, he played 53 total snaps)

There are only two seasons where Gronk missed games while the Patriots had a viable backup TE -- 2012 (Hernandez, games 12-16) and 2016 (Bennett, games 1-2, 10, 12-16). 2016 also gives you four games for Bennett without Brady, including two crossover games with Gronk and Brissett. 

In 2016, Bennett was really good without Brady and much better than Gronk in weeks 3-4. Gronk sort of prospered at Bennett's expense when they were both playing with Brady, either Bennett's second half wasn't amazing.

2012 is interesting, because you fill three of the four quadrants.
In games 1-2, 6, 17, and R1, you have both Hernandez and Gronk.
In games 3-5 and 8-10, you have Gronk but not Hernandez.
In games 11-15 and R2, you have Hernandez but not Gronk.

2019 is basically the Bucket of Warm Spit year, where Brady didn't have a functional TE.

30 I think Thomas is generally…

I think Thomas is generally overrated because he was such a great fantasy TE (due to his touchdown totals) and was part of a historically great offense. His conventional stats (other than TDs), advanced stats, and PFF grades really don’t match his reputation. 

27 Truly incredible

Truly incredible that gronk is so far ahead, even with tons of missed games AND retiring for 2019 AND being a shell of himself in 2018.

We'll see how it goes down in Tampa.  I'm guessing week 3 retirement, given how 2018 looked, but perhaps he's got something left.

32 Gronk is underrated because…

Gronk is underrated because these tables aren't including his 16 playoff games for 81/1163/12.

Although I guess he still wouldn't double up the #2 in DYAR, because Kelce had some pretty big playoff numbers too.