Last year, the tight end position exploded and many of these guys will get early round consideration this year. And they should.
1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans
Not Gronk? With all due respect to the life-loving (and now well-paid) tight end in New England, Graham is on a team with fewer big-play threats. He's emerging as one of the better red zone threats in the league, and Drew Brees is as consistent as they come.
2. Aaron Hernandez, New England
Not Gronk? Again? There are a few reasons, other than his new contract, that I like Hernandez more than Gronk this year. First, teams will know where Gronk is on every play; the same cannot be said for Hernandez, who could be split out or even line up in the backfield. And secondly, the Patriots rarely do what you expect... and most people will expect Gronk to get the ball this year.
3. Rob Gronkowski, New England
90 catches? 17 touchdowns? Those are ridiculous numbers for a receiver, much less a tight end. I wouldn't bet on him getting as many clean catches this year, especially in the red zone. The Pats addition of Brandon Lloyd gives Tom Brady another legit option outside, and there will be a circle around Gronk on every opponent's scouting report all season.
4. Vernon Davis, San Francisco
There are some real concerns that he won't get as many looks with the Niners adding Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, but Davis gets open and makes plays. If we learned anything from the Niners' incredible playoff run, it was that he can make something happen even when everyone in the stadium knows he's going to get the ball.
5. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay
If he's healthy, he's just as talented on an equally-explosive offense as the guys we've already listed (more than San Francisco). If the Packers struggle to stop people this year, they'll need to beat people with points and Finley's a big target.
6. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta
The emergence of Julio Jones should help Gonzalez, who is probably in his final season, to put up another big season. Remember: he's had at least 70 catches every year since 2002, and has 29 touchdowns in the last four years.
7. Greg Olsen, Carolina
Am I still drinking the same kool-aid that Bears fans consummed by the gallon when Olsen was drafted out of Miami? Perhaps. But his 45 receptions ranked third on the Panthers last year, and Olsen could play a key part in Cam Newton taking the next step as an NFL quarterback. Olsen's a strong play this year at tight end.
8. Antonio Gates, San Diego
Gates has missed nine games in the last two years, and the Chargers don't have a strong compliment of outside weapons this year. It's hard to bet against a guy that's had fewer than 7 touchdowns only once in his career (2003 - his rookie year), but he needs to be on the field to help your team.
9. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit
He's been at or near the top of the leaderboard in targets at the position over the last two years and figures to continue seeing the ball when teams double Calvin Johnson. His 83 catches quietly ranked third among tight ends behind only Graham and Gronk last year.
10. Jason Witten, Dallas*
We don't know what his health will be this season, but even at full strength I think there will be some guys available 3-4 rounds later that will get you the same 750 yards and 4-6 touchdowns this year.
11. Jared Cook, Tennessee
12. Fred Davis, Washington
13. Owen Daniels, Houston
14. Martellus Bennett, NY Giants
15. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati
16. Brent Celek, Philadelphia
17. Jacob Tamme, Denver
Looking for a late-round starter, pick: Jared Cook.
He fits the big, athletic profile of tight ends that have had break-out seasons recently, and he could be a favorite target for young Jake Locker in Tennessee.
Looking for a wild card with potential, pick: Jermaine Gresham
He's got a ton of athletic ability, but the Bengals don't seem to know how to get him involved. If teams start paying too much attention to AJ Green, Gresham might force his way into some biggest numbers this year.