Tight end isn’t a known commodity in the first round of the NFL Draft and is one of the bigger risks for franchises. Many of the tight ends selected in the first round of the draft over the past two decades were superior athletes who could catch the football, yet struggled to live up to their potential.
Only four tight ends have been taken in the top 10 since 2000. Those four have had varying degrees of success in the league, even if all have had good careers (two are still playing and not even in the prime of their careers). The best tight ends taken in the draft have come after Day 1 (Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Dallas Goedert). None of the top-five tight ends in all-time receiving yards were drafted in the first round.
There are at least two tight ends worth taking in Round 1 (Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid), making this a cautionary tale regarding taking a tight end this early in the draft. Not every tight end taken in the first round is going to have a Pro Bowl career, even if many of them have a long stay in the league.
Who have been the best tight ends taken in the first round since 2000? The tight ends taken in Round 1 have more impressive resumes than expected.
For more draft content, check out our latest prospect rankings and mock drafts, as well as our podcast, “With the First Pick,” featuring former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. (Check out the latest episode below.)
1. Greg Olsen
Olsen ended his career as one of the best tight ends in NFL history, a career worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Olsen finished with 742 catches for 8,683 yards and 60 receiving touchdowns in his career, earning three Pro Bowl appearances — all with the Panthers (2014-2016). He finished with three 1,000-yard seasons in his career, just one of eight tight ends to accomplish the feat. Only Tony Gonzalez, Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski and Jason Witten have more 1,000-yard seasons.
Olsen is seventh all-time in receiving yards amongst tight ends, with all six ahead of him heading to the Hall of Fame or are already enshrined. He’s also sixth amongst all tight ends in receptions and ninth in receiving touchdowns.
2. Vernon Davis
Davis spent 14 years in the NFL, earning two Pro Bowl selections in a long tenure with the 49ers. While Davis never had a 1,000-yard season, he did finish with 900-plus yards in consecutive seasons (20019-2010).
Davis was never one of the elite tight ends in his era, which is why selecting him at No. 6 overall may have been a reach for the 49ers. Hard to argue with his productivity, though, as his 583 catches are 12th amongst tight ends on the all-time list and his 7,562 receiving yards are 11th.
3. Dallas Clark
A key piece in the Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl run, Clark was a security blanket in the middle of the field for Peyton Manning for nearly a decade. Clark had one of the greatest seasons for a tight end in NFL history in 2009, finishing with 100 catches for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns — becoming the first tight end to amass 100 receptions and 10 touchdowns in a season.
Clark was a first-team All-Pro in that 2009 season (his lone Pro Bowl selection as well), finishing with 505 catches for 5,665 yards and 53 touchdowns in 11 seasons.
4. Heath Miller
- Draft selection: No. 30 overall, Pittsburgh Steelers (2005)
- Career: Pittsburgh Steelers (2005-2015)
The greatest tight end in Steelers history, Miller is the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions (592), yards (6,569), and touchdowns (45) amongst tight ends. The starting tight end on Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl XL and XLIII title teams, Miller made two Pro Bowls and was a consistent blocker throughout his career.
A fan favorite in Pittsburgh, Miller was a franchise icon. Certainly worthy of his draft selection.
5. Jeremy Shockey
One of the most hyped tight end prospects to come out of college this century, Shockey took the league by storm in his rookie season. A game changer at tight end for the Giants, Shockey was a first-team All-Pro in year one when he finished with 74 catches for 894 yards and two touchdowns — the second most receptions and receiving yards for a rookie tight end in NFL history (at the time).
Shockey made four Pro Bowls in his first five seasons, finishing his 10-year career with 547 catches for 6,143 yards and 37 touchdowns. He won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints in 2009.
6. Todd Heap
- Draft selection: No. 31 overall, Baltimore Ravens (2001)
- Career: Baltimore Ravens (2001-2010), Arizona Cardinals (2011-2012)
Heap was in-between those two Ravens’ Super Bowl titles, yet he still was a productive tight end throughout his decade in Baltimore. Earning two Pro Bowls with the Ravens, Heap was an excellent blocker and aided one of the stronger offensive lines of that era.
Heap finished with 499 catches for 5,869 yards and 42 touchdowns. He’s the Ravens’ all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns amongst tight ends.
7. Kellen Winslow Jr.
Arguably more hyped of a prospect than Shockey (his teammate at Miami), a torn ACL didn’t stop Winslow from tearing up the NFL in 2006 and 2007 — when he had 171 catches for 1,981 yards and eight touchdowns. Winslow was a productive player with the Buccaneers after that, signing the biggest contract in NFL history for a tight end at the time (average of $6 million a season).
Winslow never lived up to his father’s Hall of Fame career and had a series of serious off-the-field issues since his retirement. He finished with 469 catches for 5,236 yards and 25 touchdowns.
8. T.J. Hockenson
Already traded from the Lions, Hockenson is one of the top tight ends in the league at his position. A two-time Pro Bowl selection in his first four years in the league, Hockenson has 246 catches for 2,587 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career.
Hockenson had his best season in 2022, racking up 86 catches for 914 yards and six touchdowns between the Lions and Vikings. He was traded to Minnesota last season.
9. Evan Engram
- Draft selection: No. 23 overall, New York Giants (2017)
- Career: New York Giants (2017-2021), Jacksonville Jaguars (2022-present)
Engram was a productive tight end in the slot with the Giants, even if his career in New York was labeled a disappointment (although he did make a Pro Bowl). He got a second chance in Jacksonville and finished with 73 catches for 766 yards and four touchdowns — the most receptions and receiving yards by a tight end in a season in Jaguars history.
Engram has 335 catches for 3,594 yards and 20 touchdowns in his six seasons.
10. Kyle Pitts
- Draft selection: No. 4 overall, Atlanta Falcons (2021)
- Career: Atlanta Falcons (2021-present)
The only top-five selection at tight end this century, Pitts lived up to the status by having an incredible rookie season. Pitts joined Mike Ditka (1,076 yards in 1961) as the only rookie tight ends to record at least 1,000 receiving yards in NFL history, finishing with 68 catches for 1,026 yards and a touchdown (already the Falcons’ single-season record for tight ends in receiving yards).
Pitts already has a Pro Bowl on his resume, and while injuries derailed his sophomore season in the NFL, he already is one of the game’s top receiving tight ends.
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