NFC North struggles in ranking of tight ends

March, 29, 2011
3/29/11
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In compiling my list of the top 10 tight ends in the NFL, I found myself building around the four NFC North tight ends we've spent the better part of two years writing about. I didn't doubt that the Detroit Lions' Brandon Pettigrew would make the final cut after all of ESPN.com's power rankers got around to power ranking them, given his 71-catch performance in 2010, but I wondered how our other three tight ends would fare.

As it turned out, not too well.

Pettigrew took the No. 9 slot and Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley snuck into the No. 10 spot despite appearing on less than half of the ballots. I was the only voter to put Greg Olsen of the Chicago Bears and Visanthe Shiancoe of the Minnesota Vikings on my ballot.

In this case, I feel like neither a homer nor a power ranking manipulator, which I believe is a psychiatric condition outlined in most college-level textbooks. Instead, I feel like I was in was in a unique position to be able to judge these players in context. That's something I admittedly couldn't do with the two top 10 tight ends I left off my list, Kellen Winslow Jr. of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Marcedes Lewis of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

(But with each divisional blogger participating, it should all come out in the wash, right?)

I voted for Olsen because we're only one year removed from him being the top receiving option in the Bears' offense. He caught 60 passes, including eight touchdowns, in 2009. It's true that his numbers dipped significantly in 2010, but context is important: His 41 receptions were the most ever for a tight end in a Mike Martz offense, which traditionally relegates tight ends to blockers. Even San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who finished No. 4 overall in this balloting, managed 31 catches in his one season under Martz (2008).

That should count for something. (In Olsen's case, it put him No. 15 in our expanded balloting.)

As with Olsen, there is no arguing that Shiancoe's production slipped in 2010. Most notably, his touchdowns dropped from 11 to two. But I would argue that his 47 receptions last season were just as impressive, if not more, than his 56 in 2009, when you consider the rag-tag quarterback situation the Vikings found themselves in for the better part of 2010. That should count for something, and for Shiancoe it put him at No. 17.

Finley, meanwhile, no doubt would have ranked higher had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 last season. It's probably an accomplishment to rank in the top 10 considering he has missed 14 games over the past two seasons due to injury.

For the record, here is how I voted:
  1. Jason Witten
  2. Antonio Gates
  3. Vernon Davis
  4. Dallas Clark
  5. Tony Gonzalez
  6. Chris Cooley
  7. Jermichael Finley
  8. Brandon Pettigrew
  9. Greg Olsen
  10. Visanthe Shiancoe

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