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Ranking the AFC West: Tight ends

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After the strong group of wide receivers in the division made it a tough call, the tight end position is far easier to organize. There is absolutely no wiggle room in this order as far as I see it and the range is vast. From elite to pathetic in four teams.

1. ChiefsTravis Kelce

This is a complete no-brainer pick. Kelce is an absolute beast of a tight end. He was a Pro Bowler in 2015 and an All Pro in 2016, leading all NFL tight ends with 1125 receiving yards and was second in receiving in the AFC West at any position behind only Amari Cooper (1153). Thus Kelce landed at the 26 spot in the NFL Top 100. Kelce has twice led the Chiefs in receiving. He’s the first to do that since Tony Gonzalez in 2008.

2. ChargersAntonio Gates/Hunter Henry

Gates is slowing near the end of a Hall of Fame career and it looks like he’s making a smooth baton pass to his successor. The two of them almost evenly split the tight end stat sheet last season. Gates started 9 games, catching 53 passes for 548 yards and 7 touchdowns. Henry started 10 games (yes there was some overlap) catching 36 passes for 478 yards and 8 touchdowns. That’s 89 catches for 1026 yards and 15 touchdowns between them.

Gates is now 36 years old, and though his numbers have gone down each of the past three seasons, the 8-time Pro Bowler has still been among the better tight ends in the league. Henry looks to have a bright future ahead of him and it appears the Chargers won’t miss a beat at the tight end position.

3. Raiders -- Jared Cook

You can’t entirely judge Cook on his 2016 season total. Due to injury, most of his 377 yards were gained in the final seven games of the season. And his postseason numbers were even more impressive, catching 18 passes for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns. One of those catches he made won he and Aaron Rodgers an ESPY award for best play.

Cook has been consistently pretty good in his career, but not ‘great’. He is typically good for around 600 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. The 9-year NFL veteran is an upgrade to Clive Walford who the Raiders are still not sure will pan out despite loads of potential when they made him their third round pick out of Miami two years ago.

4. BroncosVirgil Green/Jeff Heuerman/AJ Derby

When Julius Thomas left as a free agent following the 2014 season, the Broncos were hoping Green would step up as his replacement. That didn’t happen. Owen Daniels ended up stepping up in their 2015 Super Bowl season, but that was his swan song.

It was all on Green last season and he put up just 22 catches for 237 yards. And that led all Broncos’ tight ends. Derby was next with 16 catches for 160 yards, then Heuerman with a grand total of 9 catches for 141 yards. They had a total of one touchdown between them (Green).

The Broncos were able to get Michigan Mackey Award winner, Jake Butt, in the fifth round because of the torn ACL and nerve damage he suffered in the Orange Bowl last December. Recovery and rehab could be a long process which will cost him at least a significant portion of this season if not the entire season.

Also see AFC West ranking for: Quarterbacks, Running backs, Wide receivers, Offensive tackles, Guards