Top tight ends in NFL: 49ers’ George Kittle is No. 1, but who else?

George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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Darren Waller, Oakland Raiders
Darren Waller #83 of the Oakland Raiders (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

NFL’s top tight ends, No. 5: Darren Waller, Raiders

2019 Pro Football Focus Grade: 83.2

Football Outsiders DVOA: 22.0 percent

90 receptions, 1,145 yards and three touchdowns

There are some who’d argue Rob Gronkowski should be on this list over the Oakland Raiders’ Darren Waller, who rounds out the top five of Niner Noise’s best tight ends.

Let’s see how Gronk fares after a year off and declined production amid injuries back in 2018 first, though.

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Others might argue other tight ends like the Cleveland Browns’ Austin Hooper, New Orleans Saints’ Jared Cook or the Los Angeles Rams’ Tyler Higbee should be in this No. 5 spot. But if we were to do that, we’d completely overlook the whopping 1,145 total receiving yards Waller put forth last season, which ranked No. 2 at the position behind only Travis Kelce and was 15th among all players in 2019.

Granted, Waller seemingly came out of nowhere last year after failing to reach the 100-yard mark in his first three seasons in the league. But whatever he was doing for head coach Jon Gruden worked. Waller’s 83.2 overall Pro Football Focus grade ranked fifth among all qualifying tight ends, and Higbee (86.1) was the only player above him not to make the list.

Yardage separated the two, clearly. So did DVOA, as Waller’s was nearly 17 points higher than Higbee.

And that was a factor in considering Waller above Zach Ertz, too.

Yet Waller’s breakout season could be pegged as an anomaly, and it’s going to take a bit more than just one eye-popping year to consider him any higher on the list of top tight ends in subsequent seasons.

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Still, coming in at No. 5 isn’t bad at all considering the company.