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Y-Iso: Ranking the NFC West Tight Ends

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We continue our look at the NFC West positional groups.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks-Minicamp Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to keep up with the series, here are last week's rankings.

Results: The Arizona Cardinals actually won the fan poll from last week. Of 318 total votes, the Cardinals lead with 161 votes. Seattle came in second with 140, with the Rams and 49ers receiving eight and nine votes respectively.

The NFC West has been a division in which the tight end does not garner a second look. Since the departure of Vernon Davis in 2015, only one tight end has been a serious threat to opposing defenses. For the 2017 season, the NFC West will only have one player who exceeded 400 yards the previous season.

This week's rankings will be among the easiest of the series. So, without further ado, let us rank!

Los Angeles Rams: 4th
Gerald Everett
Cory Harkey
Temarrick Hemingway
Tyler Higbee
Johnny Mundt
Travis Wilson

I understand that Harkey was used as the Rams fullback in 2016. He makes this list because every website lists him as a TE/FB. Harkey saw 111 snaps in 2016. He was asked to run block 91 of those, block on 11 pass snaps, and ran routes nine times. Harkey did not record any stats in 2016 but graded out as Pro Football Focus 13th best run blocking fullback last season.

The Rams have two tight ends who received any sort of recognition from PFF. Tyler Higbee was their 58th ranked tight end. He recorded 11 catches for 85 yards and a score. He received a 46.7 overall grade from them, helped in large part because of his 69.3 pass blocking grade. He totaled 402 snaps, 200 of which saw him go for a pass.

The other is Temarrick Hemingway. Hemingway saw 18 snaps in 2016, only one prior to week 13. He did not record any stats. only one prior to week 13. He did not record any stats.

The big thing for the Rams and this group is potential. Thye drafted a talented tight end from South Alabama in Gerald Everett. Everett drew a lot of rave reviews during the process, mainly for how fluid he is for such a big player.

Johnny Mundt is a guy who played at Oregon and had a productive career. He was a good run blocker for the Ducks. The Ducks utilized him as a fullback as well during his career. Mundt lacks ideal speed but gets open on his routes.

One other thing to keep in mind is McVay's offense. Last season, McVay's offense distributed the ball to a tight end 27% of the time. Receivers caught a pass 54% of the time, and running backs only saw a pass 19% of the time. In comparison, Rams receivers saw a target 60% of the time.

Year one of McVay could see him lean heavily on Todd Gurley while he develops the tight end and receiver rooms.

Arizona Cardinals: 3rd

Jermaine Gresham
Ifeanyi Momah
Troy Niklas
Ricky Seals-Jones
Hakeem Valles
Steven Wroblewski

The Cardinals finally fall below second on this list. Jermaine Gresham is reliable when it comes to staying on the field. The rest of this list either is unreliable or has yet to see the field.

The Cardinals tight ends are not asked to be pass catchers solely. Arians wants them to be able to block first and be a pass catcher second.

Gresham saw 835 snaps in 2016. The Cardinals saw enough out of him to give him a four year 28 million dollar contract. Gresham was PFF’s 59th ranked tight end of 2016. He posted poor grades in both pass blocking and run blocking. His 66.9 pass catching grade lead the team, however.

Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah are in similar boats. Both make plays when they are on the field, but both have yet to stay on the field. Momah managed to see the field for 30 snaps in 2016, Niklas was there for 63. Niklas always has a nice offseason but will suffer a hamstring injury here, and hand injury there, and they ultimately bench him.

Momah had a fantastic 2015 offseason, but his knee injury cost him the year. His 2016 was less impressive but showed enough to make the opening day roster before another injury ended his season.

Hakeem Valles could be the Cardinals best run blocker. He has bricks for hands as a pass catcher. Valles posted the best run and pass blocking grades among tight ends. Valles will have a lot of competition to make the roster.

Ricky Seals-Jones and Steven Wroblewski are unproven, inconsistent rookies. Wroblewski is a massive man at 6’7. Many of the pros on him was how well he gets out of his stance and into a block. Like Valles, Wroblewski drops easily catchable passes. Seals-Jones is the same. With Jones, the biggest knock against him is that he isn’t focused on the play. The Cardinals signed two massive players with upside, but both won’t take part in the season until injuries take place.

The one thing separating the Cardinals from the Rams spot is the production. The Cardinals have one guy who has produced for several years, while the Rams have little in terms of production.

San Francisco 49ers: 2nd

Blake Bell
Garrett Celek
Cole Hikutini
George Kittle
Vance McDonald
Logan Paulsen
Kyle Nelson

Finally, a top two finish for the 49ers. The 49ers had three players ranked inside PFF’s top 60. All but two of their tight ends received a grade. So why second place? For starters, none of these tight ends are world beaters. None of these guys requires opposing defenses to scheme for them.

Another is the Kyle Shanahan’s offensive philosophy. Shanahan does not have a history of distributing the football to his tight ends. In 2010, tight ends saw the highest distribution percentage under Shanahan, and that was only 22.1%. of the time. That means his tight ends will have to primarily be blockers.

Only Logan Paulsen graded average in both pass and run blocking. Paulsen was also the 45th best tight end graded by PFF. The 49ers added Paulsen as a free agent from the Bears. Paulsen has been a capable blocking tight end in the NFL.

Vance McDonald saw the second most snaps of the 49ers tight ends, 443. McDonald recorded 24 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. McDonald was the only 49er tight end with an average overall grade but graded out poorly in both pass and run protection. It’s been mentioned on a number of occasions that the 49ers have attempted to trade McDonald, and was even mentioned in a draft trade. His five year, 35 million dollar contract is the team's motivating factor. It is unlikely he will be on the teams 53 man roster.

Garrett Celek has been little more than a tight end three, with occasional moments of being a tight end two. Celek had a career year in 2016, recording career highs in catches (29) and yards (350), while tying his career mark in touchdowns (3). Celek has a chance to be the team's second tight end this year if they manage to sell McDonald.

The 49ers added two rookie tight ends. Cole Hikutini was a day three prospect, hampered by scouts questioning his toughness as a blocker. Hikutini wound up going undrafted and quickly picked up by the team. He will have his work cut out for him to even make the teams practice squad, showing he can develop into an NFL-caliber blocker.

George Kittle was labeled as pro ready by NFL.com. Mark Dulgerian believed him to be one of the best blocking tight ends in the class as well. Kittle will make an impact on day one it seems and should fit perfectly in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Kittle gained first team snaps during minicamp, and the Sacramento-Bee called him a “lock to make the roster”.

Blake Bell seems the second likeliest to depart the roster, behind McDonald. The former quarterback turned tight end has been battling injuries his career.

Kyle Nelson is the team's long snapper and can be a tight end in emergency situations.

Seattle Seahawks: 1st

Jimmy Graham
Stevie Donatell
Marcus Lucas
Tyrone Swoopes
Nick Vannett
Luke Willson

Seattle garners the number one spot due in large to Jimmy Graham. The NFC West’s top tight end caught the most passes, most yards, and most touchdowns of any division rival. In fact, the 49ers were the only unit as a whole to catch more touchdowns than Graham did alone.

Graham was the fifth best tight end graded by PFF. His 870 snaps were the most in the West. Graham is not locked up past this season, which will be interesting to see just how much that motivates him in 2017.

Luke Willson signed a one-year deal this offseason, after testing the market. Willson was the 42nd ranked tight end PFF. Wilson has never caught more than 22 passes in a season and does not offer a reliable blocker.

Stevie Donatell signed with New England in 2016, spent the season on the Rams practice squad, and signed with the Seahawks in May.

Marcus Lucas signed with the Panthers in 2014. At 6’4, they moved him to be a tight end, and now three years later, that project is still a work in progress.

Out of Teas, Tyrone Swoopes made the move from quarterback to tight end. Not likely to make the teams roster, but could be in play for the Seahawks practice squad.

Nick Vannett received praise from coach Pete Carroll, who expects him to have a big year in 2017. He could compete with Willson for tight end two on the Seattle roster.

Poll

Who has the best tight ends in the NFC West?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Arizona Cardinals
    (18 votes)
  • 7%
    Los Angeles Rams
    (17 votes)
  • 8%
    San Francisco 49ers
    (19 votes)
  • 76%
    Seattle Seahawks
    (179 votes)
233 votes total Vote Now

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