In the history of football, no position has come longer in terms of respect than tight end. For the longest time, the tight end was just another blocker. Fast forward to today’s game and tight ends and some of the most impactful players on an offense. In fact, there are teams that will spend high draft picks on the right tight end without even considering a wide receiver or running back. As a way to celebrate how far the position has come, let’s take a look at highest-drafted tight ends in the 21st century.
Eric Ebron, 10th Overall, 2014
It’s a little easy to forget that Ebron was a big deal coming out of North Carolina. Physically, he looked like a tall wide receiver who could also line up as a tight end, which is why the Lions jumped to draft him in the top-10. However, Ebron has never quite fulfilled that promise.
There’s only one season in which he’s been his team’s regular starter, which is a little disappointing. To be fair, he was outstanding in 2018, catching 13 touchdown passes for the Colts. But he’s fallen off since then and may have missed his chance to become one of the elite tight ends in the league.
T.J. Hockenson, 8th Overall, 2019
The jury is still out on Hockenson two years into his career, but he’s shown plenty of promise. The Lions took him eighth overall partly out of need but also because he came from a college program at Iowa that’s accustomed to producing great tight ends.
Hockenson is one of the top tight ends when it comes to having a balanced skillset. He’s a good blocker and has the hands to be a productive pass-catcher, especially in the red zone.
Kellen Winslow Jr., 6th Overall, 2004
As the son of a Hall of Famer, there were massive expectations for Winslow coming out of college. At the time he was drafted 6th overall, he was the highest-drafted tight end in more than three decades. Injuries held him back early in his career, and then Winslow’s ego and brashness got him into a little trouble.
He ended up making one Pro Bowl, doing so in the only season that he had over 1,000 yards receiving. But Winslow never had more than five touchdowns in a season and never fully lived up to his enormous potential.
Vernon Davis, 6th Overall, 2006
Coming out of Maryland, Davis looked like a can’t-miss prospect, which is why the 49ers were eager to draft him sixth overall. It took him a few years to get going, but in his fourth pro season, Davis had over 900 receiving yards and led the league with 13 receiving touchdowns.
That kicked off a run of five straight seasons where Davis was outstanding and among the best tight ends in the league, going to two Pro Bowls. Things understandably slowed down for Davis late in his career. However, he spent 14 years in the NFL, showing incredible longevity for a tight end.
Kyle Pitts, 4th Overall, 2021
In 2021, the Falcons made Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history. The fact that three quarterbacks were the only players selected ahead of him tells you everything you need to know about his potential in the NFL.
After a standout career at Florida, he has a chance to be one of the most versatile pass-catching tight ends the game has ever seen. Of course, only time will tell if Pitts can live up to the billing as the highest-drafted tight end in league history.