2017 Stats: 12 Catches, 160 Yards, and 1 Touchdown (15 games)
Richard Rodgers has reached his peak as a player. I can’t ever see him becoming more than a role tight end. He’s an average blocker with below average hands and an overall below average threat as a receiver, period. Rodgers’ production obviously suffered greatly after the other (Rodgers) went down halfway through the season. He’s good enough to make an NFL roster, but don’t expect him to start for anyone in 2018.
2017 Stats: 15 Catches, 153 Yards, and 4 Touchdowns (16 Games)
Luke Willson is an athletic tight end that can be an excellent compliment to a starter for someone. He’s an ok blocker and can come in and stretch the field with his athleticism. He had a case of the drops on 2017, but he also made some “wow” catches on film. If I’m a team looking for a cheap receiving option as a backup Tight End, Luke Willson is my guy.
2017 Stats: N/A
Had Tyler Eifert stayed healthy in 2017, he would probably be at the top of this list without argumentation. But the guy just can’t seem to stay healthy. It doesn’t seem to look like Eifert will be back in Cincinnati next season. A team to watch out for is New England. Rob Gronkowski has made the retirement option known, so Eifert might be a good fit, but even if Gronk decides to play again in 2018, New England has been known for having two starting-caliber tight ends on the field at the same time in some of their offensive packages. Eifert could be slated in Foxborough even if Gronk does decide to continue playing.
#5 Austin Seferian-Jenkins
2017 Stats: 50 Catches, 357 Yards, and 3 Touchdowns (13 Games)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins finally lived up to his 2014 draft hype in 2017. He’s a great player that can do it all at the tight end position but his biggest issue is the inconsistency. For every great catch or block, he made he countered it with a drop or missed block. Seferian-Jenkins did have a hard time staying healthy in 2017 despite playing in 13 games…he toughed out near half of them. Someone is going to get lucky if he can stay healthy in 2018.
#4 Trey Burton
2017 Stats: 23 Catches, 248 Yards, and 5 Touchdowns (15 Games)
Don’t let the numbers fool you. When you have a guy like Zach Ertz in front of you it’s hard to put up big numbers. Trey Burton can play and there will absolutely be a high demand for his phone number in the coming month. He’s not the greatest blocker, but Zach Ertz isn’t either. Burton can catch the football and move the chains with the best of them. Don’t be surprised if he receives starter money at the tight end position from somebody.
#3 Antonio Gates
2017 Stats: 30 Catches, 316 Yards, and 3 Touchdowns (16 Games)
2017 was the worst statistical season Gates has had since he was a rookie back in 2003. He’s past his prime and isn’t what he used to be but he’s still as solid as they come. The emergence of Hunter Henry hasn’t helped Gates’ cause either. He only started 4 games in 2017. Retirement certainly isn’t off the table, but it sounds like Gates wants to play in 2018. I have a hard time imagining he suits up for anyone other than the Chargers next season. A 1-2 year deal with a lot of guaranteed money seems sufficient enough for #85.
#2 Benjamin Watson
2017 Stats: 61 Catches, 522 Yards, and 4 Touchdowns (16 Games)
Even at 37 years of age, Benjamin Watson is still getting it done each and every season. He’s as reliable and balanced as they come. He has terrific hands and he can turn inline and block when he’s asked to. Watson is another aging Tight End that could hang the cleats up and call it a career this offseason but it sounds as though he wants to come back and play again in 2018. Baltimore would be stupid to let him walk. He played like a top 10 Tight End in 2017.
#1 Jimmy Graham
2017 Stats: 57 Catches, 520 Yards, and 10 Touchdowns (16 Games)
Without a doubt the best Tight End in the 2018 free agency class. At 6’7″ 265 pounds, Graham is one of the most dangerous red-zone threats in all of football. He didn’t play up to his potential in 2017, but Seattle’s inability to stretch the field was affected greatly by the lack of blocking that Russell Wilson received this past season. Seattle will likely look to see what Graham is asking for and try to retain him but I could also see teams like the Texans, Packers, and heck maybe even his former team the New Orleans Saints inquire about his services for 2018. Per sportrac.com, Graham’s market value is set at 3 years-$20.2 million dollars.
*You can follow me on Twitter at @Purple_Post.