Ranking the NFC East, 2019: tight ends

The draft is done, the free agents have been signed, the coaches have met their players. Now there’s not much to do but wait for training camp. While we wait, it seemed like it might be fun to evaluate and rank the NFC East position-by-position.

Last off-season, Hogs Haven published articles that focused on ranking position groups and head coaches in an effort to identify what the division would look like in 2018. This year, we’re going to look at the division again.


Click here to read previous Ranking the NFC East articles


Positional overview

I was watching Good Morning Football’s Friday edition yesterday, and they did a segment on the most important passer/catcher duos in the NFC East. The only wide receiver mentioned in the segment was Amari Cooper. Other than that, the focus on pass catchers was all about the tight ends.

The NFC East, one way or another, has become home to a great collection of pass catching tight ends, with offenses that rely on their production. The division is headlined by Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Evan Engram, Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Jason Witten. Personally, I think that the NFC East will make its mark with great running back play and great tight end play in 2019. It’s possible that the division boasts the best collection of TEs in the league.

The tight end position in the NFC East is interesting, to me, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the Cowboys’ decision to re-sign Jason Witten a year after he retired and joined the Monday Night Football team.

I’ll say here that I assume that this was a face-saving move for everyone involved. Witten was a disaster as a game analyst in the booth; the effort to re-create the Tony Romo lucky lightning strike simply proved the adage that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same general vicinity. It appears to me that, with ESPN and Witten in a bad spot, Jerry Jones simply “took one for the team” by giving Witten a contract that got him out of the booth and back on the field, avoiding the ignominy of anyone having to fire him.

Personally, despite his obvious skill, I’ll be shocked if Witten is playing football again in 2020, seventeen years after he was drafted by the Cowboys. Hopefully, by then he’ll have secured a gig selling cars or working as a financial advisor in his hometown.

Speaking of great-but-aging tight ends, the Redskins have one or two of their own. Vernon Davis is 35 years old, likely playing his last season in the NFL, and, like Witten, seems to already be working on his second career (following the Terry Crews plan), though he is still an above-average tight end with amazing strength and pretty much the same speed he had coming out of college. Physically, he can probably do a Tom Brady and play into his 40s if he wants to, but it has been reported that Vernon is already preparing for a post-NFL career in acting. Davis grew up in the DMV area, and will probably remain a prominent figure in the area even after his NFL retirement.

Jordan Reed, drafted in 2013, should be in the prime of his career, but he has been dogged by injury issues throughout his time with the Redskins. Personally, I’m a huge Jordan Reed fan, and I feel like he can dominate a defense when he’s on the field. The question is whether the Redskins will continue to pay him premium contract dollars for elite ability, but below-average availability. I’m taking the optimistic view that this is the season when Jordan Reed stays healthy from beginning to end, outdoing his 2015 performance and finally breaking 1,000 yards in a season.

The division team that seems to have the best tight end situation is the Philadelphia Eagles, who have very few roster holes overall. Zach Ertz is not only the best tight end in the division; he is probably one of the top-3 in the league. The backup, Dallas Goedert, just finished his rookie season, but appears to be an excellent complement to Ertz. In that Good Morning Football segment I mentioned earlier, Mike Garafolo said that he expected Goedert to be a bigger part of the Philly offense this season (and Garafolo spends a lot of time around the Eagles facility). We’ve seen from the Patriots (and even the Redskins) how devastatingly a two-tight end offense can be used to create matchup nightmares for defenses.

The Giants, as we have had to say so often in this series over the past two months, just don’t seem to have as much depth as their division rivals. That said, they are in pretty good shape where the starter is concerned. Evan Engram is a third-year player who has shown tons of promise, but who also comes with question marks. His 1,299 yards in his first two years put him among the top-5 tight ends of the past decade, in company with Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Jimmy Graham and George Kittle if Evan Silva is to be believed. In the face of many predictions that Saquon Barkley will face a long season of 11 defensive players within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, Engram is one of the players the Giants expect to fill some of the production void that has been left behind by Odell Beckham Jr.

So far, though, he has spent a lot of time on the sidelines. Engram missed a good deal of the off-season program with a hamstring injury, coming off a season in which he missed games with a concussion as well as knee and hamstring injuries.

Of course, when he was on the field in 2018 he was generally productive, particularly toward the end of the season, when Beckham was sidelined. In the final four games of the season he caught 22 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown. But there were 10 games last season — six of which that had him as a gameday inactive — in which he had two or fewer receptions. The Giants will need Engram to consistently produce at a high level to provide some reliable dimension to their offense, but the real concern for the Giants isn’t so much about Even Engram, but the seeming fact that the depth behind Engram is unimpressive, leaving one to wonder, yet again, how Dave Gettleman is going to manage the re-shaping of his underpowered roster.

The division’s top tight ends – the KS4GM analysis

In this section, we’ll offer a look at a few of the top players in the division, focusing on their on-field production, with player overviews written by KyleSmithforGM, who volunteered to help me with this series.

Let’s see what KS4SM thinks about some of the NFC East’s top tight ends. He will discuss 5 players, in order:


Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Evan Engram was a multi-year standout at Ole Miss before being drafted by the New York Giants in the first round (pick 23) of the 2017 NFL draft. He had an impressive rookie season, collecting 64 receptions for 722 yards and 6 TDs. His 2018 season was less remarkable (45 rec, 577 yards, and 3 TDs), but he suffered a knee injury early in the season that caused him to miss several games (he only played in 11 games all season). Despite his lackluster 2018, big things are expected from him in 2019, as we can see from the comments of his coach, Pat Shurmer:

“When he got healthier, he was able to produce in a way we think he can. He had production when he was in there, but then he got hurt a few times. By the end, he was feeling good, running well and playing well. That is a function of Evan doing his thing. … He can block. I think he can block better than you do. I think his whole game improved when he became healthy. He is a willing blocker.”

Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys


NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Minicamp

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Witten is back! After a disastrous 2018 in the Monday Night Football booth with Booger and Joe Tessatore, Witten has decided to come out of retirement to return to duty with the Dallas Cowboys.

Witten, whose career with the Cowboys began when he was drafted by the third round of the 2003 NFL draft is a 4 time All-Pro, 11 time Pro Bowler, and very likely Hall of Famer, once he retires for good. The question now is, how much does he have left in the tank? In his last season with the Cowboys, 2017, he had a steady 63 receptions, 560 yards, and 5 TDs as Dak Prescott’s security blanket, something that Prescott may need with the departure of slot receiver Cole Beasley to Buffalo.

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles


NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Ertz has grown into one of the top tight ends in the NFL, garnering Pro Bowl selections in both 2017 and 2018, and he broke the NFL record for receptions by a tight end in 2018, with an astonishing 116. He also collected 1,163 yards and 8 TDs. With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, he trails, perhaps, only Travis Kelce as one of the most dangerous tight ends in the game.

Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles


NFL: International Series-Philadelphia Eagles at Jacksonville Jaguars

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Despite having Ertz, the Eagles drafted Goedert in the second round (pick 49) of the 2018 NFL draft. He played in all 16 games last year, and even with Ertz vacuuming up a ridiculous number of tight end receptions, was able to amass 33 receptions of his own, collecting 334 yards and 4 TDs. There’s every reason to believe his role will continue to expand in the coming years.

Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins


NFL: Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Reed played at in at least 13 games for only the second time in his career in 2018. As a result, despite having a checkdown-throwing Alex Smith, and a rogue’s gallery of back-up QBs throwing to him, he was able to grab 54 receptions for 558 yards and 2 TDs. His best games actually came with Colt McCoy behind center. Jordan’s best days are likely behind him, and even if he manages to go into the season healthy, there are strong doubts that a player who has averaged playing less than 11 games per year over his 6-year career is going to be a reliable target all season.

A look at the top of the depth chart for each team

Of course, no position group consists of just one or two players. In a sport that is as physically demanding as football, one in which player injuries are common, the unit depth is as important a factor as the skill of the star players.

Here, we’ll take a look at the top of the depth chart for each team — the pool of players from which the ones on the final 53 seem likely to be chosen. Not all the players listed will make the team, and I might easily miss — especially for the Redskins’ division rivals — players who will make the Week 1 roster, but this list should give some idea of the relative depth of the four positional groups.

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

Cowboys

Poll

Who is the best tight end in the NFC East?

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    Evan Engram

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    Jordan Reed

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    Vernon Davis

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    Jason Witten

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    Zach Ertz

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    Dallas Goedert

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Which NFC East team has the BEST tight end group in the division?

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Which NFC East team has the WEAKEST tight end group in the division?

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What will happen to Vernon Davis in 2019?

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    He’ll play for the Redskins

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    The team will cut him at the end of preseason to avoid his near-$5m cap hit

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Bonus question: Will Jordan Reed be a Redskin in 2020?

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    Yes

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