Gronk has been bonked.
The New England Patriots tight end, infamous to many, retired this offseason, sparing the NFL his dances, his drives, his swagger, is gone. Rob Gronkowski’s career lasted just nine seasons, but he managed to revolutionize the tight end position and made it into a valuable fantasy commodity.
So the question now becomes, who is best suited to pick up where Gronkowski left off?
10. Greg Olsen, Carolina
The latter and most recent stages of his career have been ruined by injury, but it would feel wrong to leave the seasoned veteran Olsen off of a best tight ends list. While he’s been limited to 16 games over the past two years, Olsen had a streak of three consecutive seasons of at least 1,000 yards receiving (as well as five straight of at least 800) before that.
In his nine games last year, Olsen managed to reach the end zone four times and he hauled in 27 receptions.
9. Jason Witten, Dallas
Call it a lifetime achievement award, but it’s nice to have a consummate on-field professional like Witten back in an NFL locker room. Even before retiring, when it was clear he wasn’t the dominant force he used to be, Witten still managed to finish 12th in yardage (560) among tight ends.
He returns to the Cowboys after they struggled to find his replacement. If he can provide a similar haul in yardage, his return will be worth it for both sides.
8. Austin Hooper, Atlanta
Hooper seems to be the tight end position’s next breakout star. He shared starting duties with Logan Paulson in 2018, but he’s clearly the guy in Atlanta now. Hooper was one of four tight ends to earn 70 receptions last season, as he became a reliable second option behind Julio Jones.
Over the past two seasons, Hooper has earned 1,126 yards on 112 receptions. A breakout season seems imminent.
7. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota
Rudolph has some stability with a new four-year extension worth $36 million. That money was likely spent to make new franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins more comfortable as he tries to get the Vikings back in the playoffs.
Rudolph has tallied four consecutive seasons of at least 400 yards. In that span, he has reached the end zone 24 times.
6. Jordan Reed, Washington
The strong and physical Reed has dealt with injuries that have stifled an otherwise strong start to his NFL career, as he has yet to play a full 16-game season. Last year was no exception as he only played in 13 games.
Despite the injuries, he managed to earn 558 yards on 54 receptions. Reed’s best year came in 2015, when he tallied 954 yards on 87 receptions, 11 of which went for touchdowns.
5. Trey Burton, Chicago
Burton’s name will forever be followed by the term “Philly Special.” Long before that memorable trick play, he had established himself as a strong blocker. A departure to the Windy City gave him a chance to prove he was much more than one play and able to contribute to the box score as well.
In 2018, Burton set new personal bests with 569 yards on 54 receptions for six scores, as he started all 16 games for the first time in his career.
4. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis
It would’ve been easy to write off Ebron as a first-round bust. But a change of scenery from Detroit to Indianapolis revitalized his career. In 2018, Ebron set new career-highs with 750 yards and 13 touchdowns on 66 catches.
3. George Kittle, San Francisco
Last season’s breakout star was undoubtedly Kittle. In just his second season out of Iowa, the fifth-round pick set an NFL-record with 1,377 receiving yards for a tight end. His 88 catches were the best-ever by a 49ers tight end. Perhaps most impressively, Kittle accomplishments came with San Francisco struggling to find consistent quarterbacking after Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury. Now comes the hard part…proving it was no fluke.
2. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia
Everyone already knew Ertz was a special athlete coming out of Stanford. Any naysayers were officially silenced during his Eagles’ memorable run to a Super Bowl title. But last season he broke out completely.
Ertz hauled in 116 receptions in 2018, breaking an NFL tight end record previously set by Witten. He accompanied his historic tally with 1,163 yards (the first time he broke 1,000) and eight touchdowns.
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City
Big, strong, talented, physical, a reality show star…truly Kelce is the heir to the tight end empire Gronkowski left behind. Since 2014, Kelce has not ended a season without at least 800 receiving yards or 60 receptions.
The arrival of Patrick Mahomes allowed him to truly flex his power last season, earning a career-best 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kelce is also just 29, meaning his reign as an offensive terror may have just begun.