25 Greatest Tight Ends in NFL History

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The Falcons' Tony Gonzalez has established himself as the best tight end of all-time.

<p> The 25 Greatest Tight Ends in NFL History, including Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Shannon Sharpe, Antonio Gates, Ozzie Newsome, Dave Casper, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Jackie Smith, Charlie Sanders, Jerry Smith, Ben Coates, Todd Christiensen, Keith Jackson, Jay Novacek, Brent Jones, Mark Bavaro, Riley Odoms, Raymond Chester, Dallas Clark, Steve Jordan, Billy Joe Dupree and Heath Miller.</p>

Few positions in football have evolved as much as the tight end — which has morphed from that of old school glorified sixth offensive lineman to modern giant slot receiver. Keeping that role reversal in mind, we rank the 25 greatest tight ends in NFL history.


1. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs (1997-2008), Falcons (’09-12)
6-time first-team All-Pro
13-time Pro Bowler
1,242 catches for 14,268 yards (11.5 ypc) and 103 TDs

The No. 13 overall pick out of Cal played basketball for the Golden Bears and then used his 6’5”, 250-pound frame to ball about as hard as any pass-catcher this side of Jerry Rice during a sure-fire Hall of Fame career. Gonzalez currently ranks second in all-time receptions, sixth in all-time receiving TDs and seventh in all-time receiving yards — all of which rank first among tight ends.

Regardless of whether the soon-to-be 37-year-old retires following a painful loss in the NFC Championship Game, Gonzalez has already established himself as the greatest to ever play the tight end position.


2. Kellen Winslow, Chargers (1979-87)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1995
3-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
541 catches for 6,741 yards (12.5 ypc) and 45 TDs

Winslow teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Charlie Joiner to form the nucleus of the dynamic “Air Coryell” passing attack. 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. Plus, Winslow sired Kellen Winslow II, a full-time “soldier” and part-time tight end who was drafted No. 6 overall in 2004.


3. Mike Ditka, Bears (1961-66), Eagles (’67-68), Cowboys (’69-72)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1988
2-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl VI champion (Cowboys)
427 catches for 5,812 yards (13.6 ypc) and 43 TDs

The No. 5 overall pick out of Pitt exploded onto the scene like only Hurricane Ditka can, posting 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.


4. John Mackey, Colts (1963-71), Chargers (’72)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1992
3-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
331 catches for 5,236 yards (15.8 ypc) and 38 TDs
19 rushes for 127 yards (6.7 ypc)

Many on this list were winners of the John Mackey Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top collegiate tight end. A big-play threat who revolutionized the position, Mackey supporters can make a strong case that he is the best ever.


5. Shannon Sharpe, Broncos (1990-99, 2002-03), Ravens (’00-01)
Hall of Fame, Class of 2011
4-time first-team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXXII champion (Broncos)
Super Bowl XXXIII champion (Broncos)
Super Bowl XXXV champion (Ravens)
815 catches for 10,060 yards (12.3 ypc) and 62 TDs

Sterling Sharpe’s lesser-known little brother was a seventh-round pick (No. 192 overall) out of Savannah State who worked his way to the top of the tight end mountain — and now he won’t stop talking about it.

But 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.


6. Antonio Gates, Chargers (2003-12)
3-time first-team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowler
642 catches for 8,321 yards (13.0 ypc) and 83 TDs

Another former basketball player, Gates went undrafted out of Kent State before posting up overmatched defenders with a rare blend of size (6’4”, 255), power and agility. A series of foot injuries have stunted Gates’ career, but not before he was to redefine the parameters within which the position is played.


7. Ozzie Newsome, Browns (1978-90)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1999
1-time first-team All-Pro
3-time Pro Bowler
662 catches for 7,980 yards (12.1 ypc) and 47 TDs

Before becoming the front office architect of the Baltimore Ravens, Newsome was one of the greatest Cleveland Browns and most impressive tight ends in history.


8. Dave Casper, Raiders (1974-80, ’84), Oilers (’81-83), Vikings (’83)
Hall of Fame, Class of 2002
4-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XI champion (Raiders)
Super Bowl XV champion (Raiders)
378 catches for 5,216 yards (13.8 ypc) and 52 TDs

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.


9. Jason Witten, Cowboys (2003-12)
2-time first-team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowler
806 catches for 8,948 yards (11.1 ypc) and 44 TDs

Four 1,000-yard seasons have put Witten in rarified air among tight ends. And the star on the helmet won’t hurt when it comes time to voting for the Hall of Fame.


10. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots (2010-12)
1-time first-team All-Pro
2-time Pro Bowler
187 catches for 2,663 yards (14.2 ypc) and 38 TDs

The “Gronk” posted the single greatest season ever by a tight end, with 90 catches for 1,327 yards (14.7 ypc) and 17 TDs in 2011. A 6’6”, 265-pound freak show on and off the field, the 23-year-old is the new Frankenstein monster prototype for NFL tight ends.



11. Jackie Smith, Cardinals (1963-77), Cowboys (’78)
Hall of Fame, Class of 1994
5-time Pro Bowler
480 catches for 7,918 yards (16.5 ypc) and 40 TDs
38 carries for 327 yards (8.6 ypc) and three TDs


12. Charlie Sanders, Lions (1968-77)
Hall of Fame, Class of 2007
3-time first-team All-Pro
7-time Pro Bowler
336 catches for 4,817 yards (14.3 ypc) and 31 TDs


13. Jerry Smith, Redskins (1965-77)
1-time first-team All-Pro
2-time Pro Bowler
421 catches for 5,496 yards (13.1 ypc) and 60 TDs


14. Ben Coates, Patriots (1991-99), Ravens (2000)
2-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
499 catches for 5,555 yards (11.1 ypc) and 50 TDs


15. Todd Christensen, Giants (1979), Raiders (’80-88)
2-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
461 catches for 5,872 yards (12.7 ypc) and 41 TDs


16. Keith Jackson, Eagles (1988-91), Dolphins (’92-94), Packers (’95-96)
3-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
441 catches for 5,283 yards (12.0 ypc) and 49 TDs


17. Jay Novacek, Cardinals (1985-89), Cowboys (’90-95)
1-time first-team All-Pro
5-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXVII champion (Cowboys)
Super Bowl XXVIII champion (Cowboys)
Super Bowl XXX champion (Cowboys)
422 catches for 4,630 yards (11.0 ypc) and 30 TDs


18. Brent Jones, 49ers (1987-97)
4-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXIII champion (49ers)
Super Bowl XXIV champion (49ers)
Super Bowl XXIX champion (49ers)
417 catches for 5,195 yards (12.5 ypc) and 33 TDs


19. Mark Bavaro, Giants (1985-90), Browns (’92), Eagles (’93-94)
2-time first-team All-Pro
2-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXI champion (Giants)
Super Bowl XXV champion (Giants)
351 catches for 4,733 yards (13.5 ypc) and 39 TDs


20. Riley Odoms, Broncos (1972-83)
2-time first-team All-Pro
4-time Pro Bowler
396 catches for 5,755 yards (14.5 ypc) and 41 TDs
25 carries for 211 yards (8.4 ypc) and two TDs


21. Raymond Chester, Raiders (1970-72, ’78-81), Colts (’73-77)
4-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XV champion (Raiders)
364 catches for 5,013 yards (13.8 ypc) and 48 TDs


22. Dallas Clark, Colts (2003-11), Buccaneers (’12)
1-time first-team All-Pro
1-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XLI champion (Colts)
474 catches for 5,322 yards (11.2 ypc) and 50 TDs


23. Steve Jordan, Vikings (1982-94)
3-time first-team All-Pro
6-time Pro Bowler
498 catches for 6,307 yards (12.7 ypc) and 28 TDs


24. Billy Joe Dupree, Cowboys (1973-83)
3-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XII champion (Cowboys)
267 catches for 3,656 yards (13.4 ypc) and 41 TDs
26 rushes for 178 yards and one TD


25. Heath Miller, Steelers (2005-12)
2-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XL champion (Steelers)
Super Bowl XLIII champion (Steelers)
408 catches for 4,680 yards (11.5 ypc) and 39 TDs

Miscellaneous: 

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