This was a tough assignment.
Of all the position groups, tight end may be the most difficult to evaluate looking back at over 40 years of Seahawks history. Unlike other positions, there was no clear-cut top dawg. It’s not for lack of trying - Seattle has invested first and second round picks, pulled off high profile trades, and handed out fat free-agent deals trying to upgrade the tight end spot.
In the end, the more quiet and consistent player who spent his entire career in Seattle won out over the big-name, flashy star. But filling out the rest of the list was just as challenging. Here's my final ranking for the top five Seahawk tight ends in franchise history.
5. John Carlson
Seahawks Tenure: 2008-2010
Career Stats: 137 reception, 1,519 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns
Carlson was selected with the 38th overall in the 2008 draft after a solid Notre Dame career and an outstanding scouting combine. His overall package of size, speed, receiving, and blocking skills appeared to make him the perfect tight end for coach Mike Holmgren’s west coast offense, while his choir-boy persona was a breath of fresh air after the failed Jerramy Stevens experiment (spoiler alert: you won’t find Stevens on this list).
Carlson’s finest moment is forgotten by many as his two-touchdown game in the 2010 wild card playoff win over New Orleans was overshadowed by Marshawn Lynch’s legendary “Beast Quake” run. He also produced over 1,200 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns during his first two seasons in Seattle. Ultimately, his inability to stay healthy for extended stretches kept Carlson from fulfilling his promise and finishing higher on this list, as he lasted just three seasons with the Seahawks and was out of football completely by 2014.
4. Zach Miller
Seahawks Tenure: 2011-2014
Career Stats: 102 receptions, 1,092 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns
Miller wasn’t the first tight end to be aggressively acquired only to be used improperly during the Pete Carroll era, but more on that a little later. Keep reading.
Like Carlson, injuries kept Miller from having a more successful Seattle career. The former Arizona State star was given a lucrative $34 million deal in free agency to lure him away from Oakland after he racked up 226 catches for over 2,700 yards during his first four years in the NFL as a Raider. As a Seahawk, however, Miller produced fewer than half those numbers playing in a run-heavy offense and became known more for his outstanding blocking skills, helping Marshawn Lynch rush for over 1,200 yards in four consecutive seasons.
As a receiving threat, Miller showed how prolific he could be in Seattle’s 2012 playoff loss to Atlanta, hauling in 8 receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown, but there weren’t many other games like that for him. He would retire two years later after the Seahawks released him due to a failed physical.
3. Christian Fauria
Seahawks tenure: 1995-2001
Career stats: 166 receptions, 1,683 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Well before Fauria went on to collect two Super Bowl rings as a member of the New England Patriots, he was making a name for himself as the most outstanding tight end we had seen to that point in Seattle. A second round pick in 1995, the UCLA product posted a career-best 37 catches in 1998 and he also served as a valuable presence in the blocking department, helping open up holes for Chris Warren, Ricky Watters, and Alexander in seven seasons with the team.
While a consistent receiving presence over his final four seasons, Seattle never utilized Fauria to his full potential in the red zone, as he hauled in only seven touchdowns as a Seahawk while suffering from subpar quarterback play at times. He scored that many times in 2002 alone, his first season with the Patriots. If he would've had such numbers in Seattle, he may be ranked higher on this list.
2. Jimmy Graham
Seahawks tenure: 2015-2917
Career stats: 170 receptions, 2,048 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns
One of the most polarizing Seahawks of all time, Graham actually warranted consideration for the top spot on this list. For all the hand-wringing about the team's inability to utilize his massive frame and athletic gifts, coupled with their stubborn insistence on trying to make him an effective blocker, Graham still put up better numbers than any tight end in the history of the Seattle franchise and was selected to two Pro Bowls.
Much was expected of Graham after the Seahawks sent a first-round draft pick and starting center Max Unger to New Orleans to acquire him during the 2015 offseason. The 6-foot-7 inch perennial All-Pro was seen as one of the league’s elite players after catching 51 touchdowns from Drew Brees during his Saints career. But Seattle chose to use him much differently than New Orleans coach Sean Payton, trying to force him into a more traditional in-line role. Quarterback Russell Wilson struggled to develop chemistry with Graham, particularly in the red zone. The duo finally figured that part of it out during Graham’s final season in Seattle when he caught 10 touchdowns during the 2017 campaign. But when he wasn’t scoring touchdowns that year, he was dropping passes or giving poor effort in his half-hearted attempts to block, leading Seattle to let him walk as a free agent.
1. Itula Mili
Seahawks tenure: 1998-2006
Career stats: 164 receptions, 1,743 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns
Though his receiving numbers aren't anything spectacular and he only caught 40-plus passes twice in his career, Mili could be considered one of the best all-time draft steals in Seahawks history. After an All-American career at BYU, the prolific pass-catcher lasted until the sixth round because he was recovering from ACL surgery and Seattle was rewarded for taking a late-round flyer on Mili as he went on to become the best overall tight end to ever play in Seattle.
Graham obviously had far superior numbers as a receiver, as he's one of the best receiving tight ends in NFL history. However, Mili is the only player on this list who played his entire career in Seattle and he offered far superior run blocking skills, playing a key role in running back Shaun Alexander's rise to stardom. Between 2001 and 2004, Alexander rushed for over 5,600 yards and scored 60 rushing touchdowns running behind one of the best offensive lines in football that was only further aided by the presence of the 260-pound blocking tight end. Additionally, Mili had a few solid seasons as a receiving option as well. His best season came in 2003 when he caught 46 passes for 492 yards and four touchdowns, helping the Seahawks win 10 games and return to the playoffs.
In a shorter period of time, Graham had all the flashy statistics to be first on this list. But Mili was the superior Seahawk who played on some very good teams, making him the easy choice for the top spot in what has been one of the leanest position groups in team history.