As we continue our rankings of the position groups in the NFC North, we arrive now at the tight ends.
As with the other positional rankings, we will base this list off the depth charts for each team available on ESPN, and for this position group specifically, we will only look at the top two tight ends. Third-string tight ends and beyond typically don’t make enough of an impact on the team to warrant inclusion in rankings.
One housekeeping note that people may question, even though the Green Bay Packers drafted two exciting tight ends on Day 2 of the draft, only one will be discussed here because the ESPN depth chart lists the other as the third option. I think that will change by September, but I am sticking with the depth chart as-is for this article.
Primary Tight Ends: Brock Wright and Sam LaPorta
After trading TJ Hockenson last season, the Lions were left with a bare cupboard in the tight end room, hence spending their first 2023 second-round draft pick on a highly regarded tight end prospect, Sam LaPorta from Iowa.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding LaPorta, and his resume coming out of college certainly gives Travis Kelce-like vibes, but expectations need to be reasonable. Tight end is a notoriously difficult position to make the college-to-NFL leap, second only to quarterback.
The Lions are placing a lot of pressure on LaPorta’s shoulders; it remains to be seen if he can live up to expectations.
Wright is entering his third year in the NFL (all with Detroit) but has just 30 receptions for 333 yards thus far in his career. He’s almost as big of an unknown as LaPorta, although with six touchdowns on 41 total targets, I think it’s fair to say he’s something of a red zone target for quarterback Jared Goff.
Primary Tight Ends: TJ Hockenson and Josh Oliver
Hockenson was electric in 2022, racking up over 900 yards and six touchdowns between seven games in Detroit and 10 with Minnesota. He’s been a steady contributor on offense every year since he’s been drafted, and joining an offense that includes Justin Jefferson seems to have unlocked a new level to his game. It will be interesting to see what he can do now with a full offseason of work with his new team.
Oliver is new to the Vikings, signing a three-year deal this offseason. Drafted by Jacksonville in 2019, then spending 2021 and 2022 with the Ravens, he is not expected to contribute much in Minnesota unless Hockensen is hurt. Since 2019, Oliver has recorded just 26 receptions, 230 yards, and two touchdowns.
Green Bay Packers
Primary Tight Ends: Luke Musgrave and Josiah Deguara
Much like Detroit, the Green Bay Packers lost their best tight end and will now be turning to a collection of rookies and unproven veterans. Musgrave is an exciting but inexperienced prospect at tight end. He’s got the athleticism, speed, and route running to cause problems for defenses, but as mentioned above, tight end is notoriously difficult to adjust from college to the NFL, especially ones as inexperienced as Musgrave.
Deguara was drafted by Green Bay in 2020 and has caught just 39 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns since then. What his impact on the offense will be is almost as big of a question mark as Musgrave’s.
Primary Tight Ends: Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan
Kmet had what many call a breakout season in 2022, recording 50 catches for 544 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns, even with a historically low-volume passing offense. He’s proven to have excellent chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields, especially in the critical red zone.
With a likely massive uptick in passing volume and his natural abilities, Kmet has the goods to finish 2023 as a Top 10 tight end in the NFL and a long-term extension with the Chicago Bears.
Tonyan is a new acquisition for Chicago and a vital addition. Since joining the NFL as a Green Bay Packer in 2018, he’s caught 137 passes for over 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns. And that’s with missing half of the 2021 season with an injury. He brings a wealth of experience and production to his new team and will likely be an invaluable member of an offense that wants to employ two tight ends as much as possible.
Bears have best TE room in NFC North
The Vikings are a popular pick for the best tight ends in the division, thanks to the addition of Hockenson. He is indeed the best tight end in the division, but looking past him reveals glaring holes in theVikings’ tight end room.
Chicago, meanwhile, has two tight ends who could be considered starters on most teams, so the Bears get the nod as the best tight end room in the division, with Minnesota finishing second.
Detroit and Green Bay are in a dead heat for third place in the NFC North tight end rankings. Both teams are relying heavily on unproven veterans and rookies; exciting rookies, but rookies nonetheless.
Since I have to declare a winner, I will give Detroit a slight edge, given their superior quarterback situation, leaving Green Bay with the division’s last-place tight end group.