This one isn't as much fun to debate, because the top spot in a ranking of NFC East tight ends basically isn't up for discussion.
Sure, there are several talented tight ends plying their trade in the division. But they're all jockeying for second place when you consider there's a potential Hall of Famer on one of these rosters. It's still fun to establish a pecking order, especially when teams like the Eagles and Redskins are developing some exciting young talents at the position. Wherever Giants tight end Brandon Myers would have ranked on this list (probably fourth or fifth), it became a moot point during the weekend. Myers' contract with New York was voided, and he became a free agent – leaving the Giants without a viable option at the position.
Assuming New York doesn't bring Myers back for cheaper, I imagine that's a position they'll look to address this spring.
Anyway, without further ado: *1. Jason Witten, Cowboys: *It says a lot that Witten's 2013 season, which was viewed as modest by most, saw him finish with 73 catches, 851 yards, eight touchdowns and an invitation to the Pro Bowl.
That probably explains why Witten will be knocking on the doors to the Cowboys' Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as he sits on the cusp of 1,000 career receptions and 10,000 career yards in an 11-year career. It's only logical that 73 receptions in 2013 would be seen as a drop off after Witten set the record for receptions by a tight end with 110 in 2012. Witten's eight touchdowns last season – four of those in the two games against the Giants – were the second-best total of his career. He has gone for more than 1,000 yards and caught more than 90 passes in three of the past five seasons. [embedded_ad]
There's no question that at 32 years old, Witten is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. But Tony Gonzalez has given a blueprint for just how long a tight end can continue to produce, and there's no question Witten is still producing at a top level.
2. Brent Celek, Eagles:He hasn't quite climbed into the upper echelon of NFL tight ends – not with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski emerging in recent years. But Celek has put together a surprisingly solid career, going for more than 500 yards in five straight seasons.
Celek's 502 yards and four touchdowns in 2013 weren't anything to get excited about, especially compared to his 971-yard effort in 2009. But Celek saved his best for last, going for five catches, 71 yards and a touchdown in Week 17 against Dallas.
With the increased focus on LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson in Chip Kelly's offense, Celek's catch total plummeted to 32 – down from 62 and 57 the two seasons before that. He still maintained a big-play presence, however, as he averaged 15.7 yards per catch.
3. Zach Ertz, Eagles:If I'm an Eagles fan, I'm very excited about the second-round rookie from Stanford. Ertz actually caught four more passes than his teammate, Celek, though for 40 fewer yards.
At 6-5, 250 pounds, Ertz showed a surprising amount of speed and athleticism, giving him the potential to be the newest matchup nightmare among NFL tight ends. Not that it's fair to compare anyone to a talent like Graham, but Ertz chalked up a similar rookie campaign to the Saints' big man.
The resume is still small, but the upside is pretty exciting.
4. Jordan Reed, Redskins:Another game I'm taking more on potential than proven commodity – assuming injury issues don't derail him.
Reed emerged halfway through the 2013 season as a potential threat, when he reeled in nine balls for 134 yards and a touchdown in the Oct. 20 win against Chicago.
Concussion problems ended Reed's season abruptly, which makes Reed's statline for just nine games even more impressive. When Reed's season finished in a loss to Philadelphia on Nov. 17, he had 45 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns.
The concussion problems sent him to IR, but not before he emerged as the Redskins' top tight end target moving forward.
5. Gavin Escobar, Cowboys:Another young guy – though without the same kind of early progress as Ertz and Reed.
Of the three big rookie tight ends, Escobar clearly showed the least with just nine catches for 134 yards and two scores. He definitely showed flashes – the leaping diving catch for 25 yards against Chicago and the somersaulting touchdown against Philadelphia come to mind.
That doesn't seem like enough for a second round pick when you consider what Ertz, taken just 12 spots in front of Escobar, was able to accomplish.
Escobar showed some promising athleticism and good hands, so it's far too early to write him off. But it doesn't help that several other rookie tight ends made more impressionable debuts in the division.
6. Logan Paulsen, Redskins:The Redskins' secondary tight end target among a bevy of options at the position. Paulsen enjoyed the best season of his career in 2013, though that amounted to just 28 catches for 267 yards and three scores.
The starting tight end spot was up for grabs in Washington when the season started, though it seems like Reed would be the preferred option over Paulsen if he's healthy.