The Top 10 Tight End Performances of 2014

The man at the top should come as no surprise, but which other tight ends had the biggest games in 2014?

2014 proved to be an interesting year for the tight end position group. Early-round fantasy football picks Julius Thomas and Jimmy Graham were unable to produce to their full potential due to injuries, leaving a finally-healthy Rob Gronkowski to wind up as the clear-cut option at the position.

However, in this series we are not as much concerned with season-long production as we are with the top single-game performances. At numberFire, we use an in-house metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), to measure the impact individual players have on their team's point totals. Target NEP, which will be how the top performances are ranked in this piece, shows how many expected points a receiver or tight end contributed to their team on all the passes directed their way.

Without further delay, here are the top single-game tight end performances from the 2014 season.

10. Coby Fleener, Week 13
Target NEP: 9.92
Receiving Yards: 127
Receiving Touchdowns: 2

In Week 13, the Colts laid waste to the Redskins' secondary to the tune of five passing touchdowns. Coby Fleener did his part to contribute to the aerial assault. His biggest play came on a deep-in route where he beat single coverage, broke a tackle from the help-safety, and scampered the rest of the way for a 73-yard score.

However, in a strong season from Fleener, this was not even his top performance based on Target NEP. More on that later...

9. Clay Harbor, Week 6
Target NEP: 9.93
Receiving Yards: 91
Receiving Touchdowns: 1

Clay Harbor has never managed a season of 300-plus receiving yards, but he had quite a game playing in Tennessee against the Titans in Week 6. He caught his only touchdown pass of the season and had a season-high 91 yards. Blake Bortles had his best game of the season against the middle-of-the-road Titans defense, and Harbor capitalized on his four targets to have a career day. Still, while Harbor’s performance was nice, it does not hold a candle to some of the big days that follow on this list.

8. Greg Olsen, Week 15
Target NEP: 9.93
Receiving Yards: 110
Receiving Touchdowns: 0

Interestingly enough, Greg Olsen’s Week 15 Target NEP was better than his Week 5 figure -- when he snagged 2 touchdowns -- and better than his 119-yard game in Week 10, too. With Cam Newton out with a back injury, Derek Anderson fed the veteran tight end the ball in a win against the Buccaneers.

Olsen had 6 receptions that led to a first down, and his 10 catches matched his season-high mark. This was the first year Olsen topped 1,000 receiving yards, and whether it was Newton or Anderson slinging him the rock, he was one of the more consistent contributors in the Panther’s offense.

Note: Harbor and Olsen actually tied in Target NEP, but Olsen was given the edge due to having a higher Reception NEP in his game.

7. Jason Witten, Week 16
Target NEP: 10.82
Receiving Yards: 90
Receiving Touchdowns: 1

Another year, another solid season of production from the dependable Jason Witten. Witten has not finished outside the top 12 tight ends since his rookie season in 2003, and his 10th-overall finish at the position this year was highlighted by a strong Week 16 game against the Colts. His Reception NEP exactly matched his Target NEP for the week, as he converted all seven of his targets into receptions. Four different Cowboys had at least one receiving touchdown on the week, and it was Witten who led the team in receptions, yards, and targets.

6. Coby Fleener, Week 11
Target NEP: 11.01
Receiving Yards: 144
Receiving Touchdowns: 0

Fleener had a pretty underrated campaign, as evidenced by his being the only player on this list to appear twice. His year was far from consistent, as he only finished in the top 10 amongst tight ends in Target NEP in five weeks, but he put together multiple elite performances.

In the Colts’ Week 11 loss at home against the Patriots, Fleener turned each of his seven targets into receptions and led the team in receiving yards. Much like his Week 13 contest, his performance was highlighted by a big play, as he burned Brandon Browner on a double move leading to a 45-yard reception.

5. Mychal Rivera, Week 14
Target NEP: 11.90
Receiving Yards: 109
Receiving Touchdowns: 1

Mychal Rivera had a strong sophomore season as the primary pass-catching tight end for the Raiders. He contributed in a major way to the Raiders’ surprising victory against the 49ers, as he caught each of the seven passes thrown his way. He crossed the century mark in terms of receiving yards for the first, and so far only, time in his career.

4. Luke Willson, Week 16
Target NEP: 13.37
Receiving Yards: 139
Receiving Touchdowns: 2

Not a name you would necessarily expect to pop up on this list, huh? Regardless, Luke Willson put together quite the game against a normally stout Arizona Cardinals defense who always struggles against the tight end.

He put together this production on only three targets, managing to haul in each one. His day was highlighted by a career-long 80-yard reception when he got lost behind the Cardinals secondary. All he had to do was catch a floater and use his straight-line speed to reach pay-dirt. Willson grabbed his second touchdown on a 20-yard pass early in the fourth quarter to cap off a memorable day for himself.

3. Julius Thomas, Week 1
Target NEP: 14.53
Receiving Yards: 104
Receiving Touchdowns: 3

It’s frightening to think just how dominant Thomas could have been had he not had his season marred by injury. He played 13 games, but he was playing hobbled in several of those. His ridiculous Week 1 showing kick-started what would become a a streak of nine touchdowns in five games to start off the season.

This game was only one of Thomas’ four multi-touchdown performances in 2014, but it was highlighted by a season-long 35-yard touchdown reception. When Thomas is healthy, his connection with Peyton Manning is something else, and no game showcases that better than this one.

2. Antonio Gates, Week 2
Target NEP: 15.95
Receiving Yards: 96
Receiving Touchdowns: 3

2014 was something of a renaissance season for Antonio Gates, as his 12 reception touchdowns marked his highest season total since 2004. In Week 2 of this season Gates recorded his first three-touchdown game since 2005, aiding the Chargers in their victory at home against the defending champion Seahawks.

Gates snagged each of his seven targets, burning the Seahawks for two red zone touchdowns and one more from 21 yards out. The 21-yarder was especially nasty as he reached out with one hand to haul in a diving touchdown catch between two defenders.

1. Rob Gronkowski, Week 8
Target NEP: 20.10
Receiving Yards: 149
Receiving Touchdowns: 3

It is only fitting that Gronkowski’s name is at the top of this list. Smack in the midst of a standout season came Gronk’s finest game, as he and Tom Brady absolutely dismantled the Chicago Bears’ defense.

Brady looked his way nine times with Gronkowski converting each of those targets into receptions. He had two touchdowns deep in the red zone and another that covered 46 yards. It was efficiency at its finest with the Bears’ linebackers, defensive backs, and safeties completely unable to stop Gronk. He added nearly three-touchdowns worth of points to his teams expected total on his targets, easily resulting in the strongest single-game tight end performance of the 2014 season.