NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2019" airs daily at 9 p.m. ET over the next two weeks, unveiling a new set of 10 honorees in each installment. In Episode 7, the third-highest-ranked tight end -- Zach Ertz -- was revealed at No. 40. With that in mind, NFL Network analyst and former No. 1 overall pick David Carr provides his own ranking of the top 10 tight ends heading into the 2019 regular season.
In one season, Kittle went from unheralded former fifth-round draft pick to the NFL record-holder for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end, finishing 2018 with 88 receptions for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder did it all for the 49ers' offense during a season in which it lost star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The third-year TE should see a lot of targets as a physical presence who can line up anywhere for San Francisco. As dynamic as he is as a receiver, Kittle is also willing to do the dirty work as a blocker to help the team win.
Kelce is a fantastic athlete who is always in the right position, and it speaks volumes about his game that Andy Reid isn't afraid to split him out wide against a cornerback. The seventh-year veteran enjoys a size advantage against just about everyone he lines up against and more often than not gets separation at the top of his route. As one of two tight ends to post at least 1,000 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons (Greg Olsen did so in 2014-16), Kelce will be as dangerous as ever, especially with reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill back on the field in 2019.
Ertz is a matchup nightmare for defenses. He finished the 2018 season with 116 receptions (second-most in the NFL), becoming the first player in Eagles history to have 100-plus catches in a season. Obviously, he's a huge asset for Carson Wentz in the passing game, but Ertz isn't afraid to stick his hand in the dirt and block a defensive end who's 60 pounds heavier than him. Not many guys are so willing to do that.
Ebron is the prototypical tight end when it comes to his combination of size (6-4, 253 pounds) and athleticism. He had a phenomenal 2018 campaign and excelled in the red zone, hauling in a career-high 13 receiving touchdowns (more than he had in his first four seasons combined). Ebron was the only player in the NFL with three-plus receiving TDs when aligned next to the tackle, in the slot and out wide, according to Next Gen Stats. He finally lived up to his status as a former first-round pick of the Detroit Lions. It just took moving down to Indy to do it.
Rudolph reminds me of Jason Witten when he was in his heyday, and signing him to a four-year extension this offseason was huge for the Vikings. Rudolph has been extremely reliable in starting 104 of 112 games played since he was drafted in the second round in 2011. Over his eight seasons, he's averaged 9.8 yards per catch and his 41 receiving touchdowns in that span are tied for third most among players selected in the 2011 draft behind only A.J. Green and Julio Jones. Rudolph will remain a big part of the offense in 2019 even though Minnesota drafted TE Irv Smith Jr. in Round 2 this year.
Like the Eagles with Zach Ertz, the Chargers can use Henry in a lot of ways. The fourth-year tight end, who missed the entire 2018 regular season with a knee injury, can have his way with most safeties and linebackers as a pass catcher but still blocks well enough to to keep him on the field in running situations. Henry scored 12 TDs in the two seasons prior to his major injury, and with the team's Pro Bowl RB1, Melvin Gordon, staying away from camp as he seeks a new contract, the Bolts have to be glad to get one of their young stars back on the field.
McDonald is a throwback at the position, yet he's more athletic than people give him credit for. He is a quarterback's best friend, and he's versatile -- he can put his hand in the dirt as an effective blocker in the run game or spread out wide in a two-minute drill. Coming off a career season, McDonald must step up again for the Steelers' offense as a reliable target for Ben Roethlisberger.
Cook has improved since leaving Green Bay after the 2016 season, leading the Raiders in receiving yards in each of the last two seasons. The 11th-year veteran had 896 receiving yards for Oakland last season (fourth-most among NFL tight ends) and outproduced the entire Saints' TE unit in targets, receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs. Sean Payton and Drew Brees like to see what the defense is showing by moving players around on the line of scrimmage, which makes Cook a perfect fit for this offense. He matches up well against most defenders, including cornerbacks on the perimeter, but is also willing to block for his teammates.
Perhaps the most physically gifted guy on this list, Njoku is a nightmare matchup for linebackers and safeties. He has improved over his two NFL seasons and is coming off a 2018 campaign that saw him catch 56 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns. He needs to become more consistent catching the ball and providing help in the run game, but he can be dominant at times in both areas. With some improvement, Njoku could easily climb to the top of this list.
Waller is my wild-card selection for this list, and I'm basing my projection on what I saw during OTAs, as he has just 18 career catches in 22 games. However, like former Raider Jared Cook, Waller can beat single coverage as a receiver and also fulfill his blocking and chipping duties. This under-the-radar tight end will be one of those players who sneakily racks up 100 yards in a game. With Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams and Josh Jacobs attracting so much attention from defenses, Waller is poised for a breakout campaign in 2019.