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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top 10 Tight Ends in NFL History: Where do Kelce and Gronk Rank?

Top 10 Tight Ends in NFL History: Where do Kelce and Gronk Rank?

The position's finest
Publish Date: 02/18/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

We have seen the Golden Age of Tight Ends with the Rise of Tony Gonzalez, Gronk, and Travis Kelce over the last twenty-five years. Which one is the greatest? We will take a look at that today, and we will also look back at some old-time greats who opened the door for the great Tight Ends of today.

 

Criteria

The Criteria are simple: we are looking for guys who can stretch the field, run great routes, catch the ball and block; you have to be able to block to be at the top of this list. A good Tight End is a quarterback’s security blanket, and sometimes that same Tight End can be your deep target to stretch the field.

 

10) Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

Witten will no doubt become part of the Hall of Fame one day.

Due to his retirement and two-year comeback to the league, he will be there soon.

Witten was one of the greatest pass-catchers ever and forever helped to alter how people saw tight ends as an asset to any team.

His outstanding career included making 11 Pro Bowl appearances, catching 110 passes in one season and exceeding 1,000 yards recieveing four times.

Witten was only missing one thing: a Super Bowl ring.

  • 2 Time All Pro
  • 11 Tome Pro Bowler
  • NFL Man of the Year
  • Bart Starr Award
Video: Every Jason Witten Touchdown | Jason Witten Highlights

Every Jason Witten Touchdown | Jason Witten Highlights

9) Mike Ditka, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys

Ditka posted 56 catches for 1,076 yards (19.2 ypc) and 12 TDs as a rookie. The first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame also caught a TD from Roger Staubach in Super Bowl VI. Check out the top sports betting sites for betting on the NFL.

Ditka was chosen in the first round of both the NFL and AFL draft in 1961 from Pittsburgh.

He became one of the most beloved Bears ever and ultimately earned induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

  • 2 Time World Champion
  • NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year 1961
  • 2 Time All pro
  • 5 Time Pro Bowler
  • NFL 75th Anniversary Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Video: Iron Mike - Mike Ditka Career Highlights

Iron Mike – Mike Ditka Career Highlights

8) Shannon Sharpe, Broncos (1990-99, 2002-03), Ravens (’00-01)

There’s plenty for Shannon to brag about after a career that included back-to-back Super Bowl wins playing with the Broncos’ John Elway and a third Super Bowl ring in four seasons as the Ravens’ go-to guy — a role that led to the longest TD reception in playoff history, a 96-yard score in the 2000 AFC title game.

Sharpe doesn’t get enough recognition for his incredible play on the field, consistently stretching the sidelines and breaking down defenses with ease.

The seventh-rounder had an incredible career, making the Hall of Fame and winning three Super Bowls.

Sharpe was honored with selection to eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams.

He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark three times and enjoyed two strong seasons after an outstanding two-year run at Baltimore. Sharpe was involved in one of the greatest upsets in NFL playoff history!

  • NFL All-Decade Team 1980s
  • Hall of Fame, Class of 2011
  • 4 Time All-Pro
  • 8 Time Pro Bowler
  • 3 Time Super Bowl Champion
Video: How Good Was Shannon Sharpe Actually?

How Good Was Shannon Sharpe Actually?

7) Kellen Winslow, Chargers, San Diego Chargers

One of the original downfield threats from the tight end spot, the 6’5”, 250-pounder led the entire NFL in receptions in 1980 and ’81.

The No. 13 pick out of Missouri posted three of the more impressive seasons ever — with 89 catches for 1,290 yards (14.5 ypc) and nine TDs in 1980, 88 catches for 1,075 yards and 10 TDs in 1981, and 88 catches for 1,172 yards and eight TDs in 1983. I rate him this low because, let’s face it, he was not a great pass-blocking TE.

Hall-of-Famer Lawrence made five Pro Bowl appearances and revolutionized his position’s potential.

Winslow caught 89 passes during his second year, then added another 88 receptions the next season.

He scored ten touchdowns in 1981 and amassed over 1,000 yards three times during his nine-season career.

  • 1980s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 75th Anniversary Team
  • NFL 100the Anniversary Team
  • 2 Time NFL Reception Leader
  • Hall of Fame, Class of 1995
  • 3 Time All-Pro
  • 5 Time Pro Bowler
Video: Kellen Winslow Sr. Ultimate NFL Career Highlights

Kellen Winslow Sr. Ultimate NFL Career Highlights

6) Ozzie Newsome, Cleveland Browns

Newsome connected the old and new worlds for NFL tight ends. The Alabama first-rounder earned three Pro Bowl selections and an All-Pro honor.

What set Newsome apart was his longevity and dependability.

He entered the NFL in 1978 and continued his tenure until 1990.

Newsome played all 16 games during his final year and closed his Hall-of-Fame career with nearly 8,000 receiving yards.

He became one of only a select few tight ends to break the 1,000-yard mark twice.

  • 1980s All-Decade Team
  • 1978 All-Rookie Team
  • 3 Time All Pro
  • 4 Time Pro Bowler
Video: The Wizard Of Ozz - Ozzie Newsome Career Highlights

The Wizard Of Ozz – Ozzie Newsome Career Highlights

5) John Mackey, Baltimore Colts

Mackey established himself as an elite receiving tight end; he was one of the first modern-day tight ends and helped change the game for the players that followed.

Mackey was selected to five Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams and a Super Bowl championship during his stellar career.

Drafted in 1963 as a second-round pick by the Baltimore Colts, the Syracuse native quickly proved himself as a star rookie who only continued to develop into an even greater player over time.

Mackey amassed over 600 receiving yards over five seasons and over 5,000 total in his 10-year career. Remember the game was very different back then and the rules were more on the defensive side.

A big-play threat who revolutionized the position, Mackey supporters can make a strong case that he is the best ever.

  • NFL 50th Anniversary Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary Team
  • Hall of Fame, Class of 1992
  • 3 Time All-Pto
  • 5 Time Pro Bowler
  • 1960s All-Decade Team
Video: NFL - 1963 To 1972 - NFL Films - The Men Who Played The Game - Baltimore Colts TE John Mackey

NFL – 1963 To 1972 – NFL Films – The Men Who Played The Game – Baltimore Colts TE John Mackey

4) Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

Gates was so dominant it’s easy to make the case that he is the greatest tight end in NFL history.

He only amassed over 1,000 receiving yards over two seasons.

But during his 16-year football career, this former college basketball player went from undrafted to becoming one of the game’s greatest stories.

Gates was an iconic reciever with the Chargers, earning eight Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro teams.

His next career step should have been entering the Hall of Fame.

  • 4 Time All Pro
  • 8 Time Pro Bowler
  • 2000s All-Decade Team
Video: Antonio Gates Career Highlights ᴴᴰ

Antonio Gates Career Highlights ᴴᴰ

3) Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

The Big Chief could eventually come out on top.

Kelce has built upon the foundation laid by previous tight ends to become a consistent presence in the NFL.

Kelce has flourished under Andy Reid as part of an elite offensive line and his relationship with Patrick Mahomes, turning him from an unpredictable third-round draft pick into an assured Hall-of-Famer.

He recently surpassed 11,000 yards faster than any other tight end in NFL history and is on pace to surpass Tony Gonzalez for all-time yards.

Kelce faces two key questions as his career unfolds: for how long and at what level will he continue playing. How does the Kansas City Chiefs dynasty rank all time?

He already holds three Super Bowl rings and plans on returning in 2024 in an effort to help the Chiefs secure an unprecedented three-peat.

  • 3 Time Super Bowl Champion
  • 4 Time All Pro
  • 9 Time Pro Bowler
  • 2010s All-Decade Team
Video: Travis Kelce's Top Plays of the 2023 Season

Travis Kelce’s Top Plays of the 2023 Season

2) Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs (1997-2008), Falcons (’09-13)

His numbers as a tight end are impressive, and he was the standard for Tight Ends when Gronk and Kelce showed up.

Gonzalez was drafted first overall in 1997, then earned 14 Pro Bowl selections and 6 All-Pro selections before earning induction into the Hall of Fame.

Like Kelce, he also began his career with the Chiefs.

Gonzalez caught 102 balls in 2004 and broke the 1,000-yard mark four times. Gonzalez was a solid blocker and one of the greatest pass catchers in NFL history.

  • 6-time first-team All-Pro
  • 14 Time Pro Bowler
  • 1,325 catches for 15,127 yards (11.5 ypc) and 111 TDs
  • NFL Receptions Leader 2004
  • NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Video:

“Tony” Gonzalez Career Highlights

1) Rob Gronkowski

When he got older he could still make plays catching the ball but look at the Patriots win over the Super Bowl, a lot of that win was because of Gronk’s ability to get dirty and block.

Kelce outpaces Gronkowski in terms of yards gained, but Gronk still leads in touchdowns scored.

Gronkowski was known for being big, fast and powerful – an expert at blocking and receiving.

Gronkowski won four Super Bowls and participated in 22 postseason contests.

His career playoff statistics (98 catches, 1,389 yards and 15 touchdowns) represent a dream season for NFL wide receivers.

  • 4 Time Super Bowl Champion
  • Comeback Player of the Year 2014
  • 4 Time All Pro
  • 5 Time Pro Bowler
  • TD Receiving Leader 2011
  • 2010s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Video: Rob Gronkowski's Best Plays with the Buccaneers | Highlights

Rob Gronkowski’s Best Plays with the Buccaneers | Highlights

Honorable Mentions

Dave Casper, Raiders and Oilers

After recording just nine combined catches in his first two seasons, Casper became one of Kenny Stabler’s favorite targets on the classic Raiders dynasty that defined the franchise.Best known for the “Ghost to the post” TD catch in the 77 Playoffs that led to a tying FG and game-winning TD catch over the Baltimore Colts will be remembered forever.

Jackie Smith, Cardinals and Cowboys

Way too many people remember Smith for his critical dropped TD pass in Super Bowl XIII; Smith was a great player. He spent most of his time in anonymity in St.Louis.

Jerry Smith, Washington Redskins

Smith, like Sanders, was a big-time playmaker at the tight end position and was a huge factor in the success of Coach George Allen’s “Over the Hill gang”.

Charlie Sanders, Detroit Lions

One of the first big-time pass-catching tight ends was also a solid blocker and one of the greatest players in Detroit Lions history. Is Charlie Sanders an all-time top 10 Detroit Lion?

 

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