By Brian Kalchik @BrianKalchik on June 24, 2014
This season, the NFL will be without one of its greatest players for the first time since 1997. Former Kansas City and Atlanta TE Tony Gonzalez decided to call it quits after 17 NFL seasons where he set numerous records at the tight end position. With his retirement, now is the perfect time to determine his place among the 10 greatest tight ends of all time.
While the stats won't dictate Mark Bavaro's place among the top tight ends of all time, his impact on the Giants was tremendous. On a team that rarely passed, Bavaro was the main receiver for coach Bill Parcells and QB Phil Simms. Bavaro led his team to two Super Bowl titles and came up big in the postseason. He had 30 receptions for 366 yards and three touchdowns, including a touchdown in Super Bowl 21.
Jason Witten might be the best Cowboys tight end in terms of statistics, but the best tight end in franchise history is still Jay Novacek. While Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin got all the credit on offense, Novacek was a valuable asset for the Cowboys. Novacek's teams went 11-2 in the postseason, and he had 62 playoff receptions for 645 yards. He also has two Super Bowl touchdowns.
After recording just nine combined catches in his first two seasons, Dave Casper became one of Ken Stabler’s favorite targets on the 1970s Raiders. Casper was a clutch tight end who repeatedly came up big in the postseason. In the 1977 playoffs, Casper had three touchdowns to defeat the Colts and two against Denver in the AFC Championship game. He also had a touchdown in Super Bowl 11.
Before becoming the front office architect of the Baltimore Ravens, Newsome was one of the greatest Cleveland Browns players and one of the best tight ends in history. Newsome made three Pro Bowls, had two 1,000-yard receiving seasons and his teams made the AFC Championship game three times.
Antonio Gates went undrafted out of Kent State and proceeded to become one of the best tight ends ever. Gates had one of the greatest seasons by a tight end in NFL history in 2004 with 13 touchdowns. Ge has made eight Pro Bowls, was a First-Team All-Pro three times and has three 10-plus touchdown seasons.
Shannon Sharpe was a loudmouth during his career, but after back-to-back Super Bowl wins in Denver and a third Super Bowl ring in Baltimore, he talked the talk and walked the walk. Sharpe was the main receiving threat for John Elway's only two Super Bowl wins, and in his first season with the Ravens, Sharpe was the focal point of the offense on another championship team. He retired as the all-time leader in yards and touchdowns for a TE.
After a 17-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons, Tony Gonzalez retired as the NFL's all-time leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns for a TE. Gonzalez had four 1,000-yard receiving seasons for a tight end, led the NFL in receptions in 2004 and helped both teams reach the postseason.
The tight end position is not what it is now without Kellen Winslow. His contributions in the 1980s helped pave the way for tight ends to be more than just blockers. He teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Charlie Joiner to form the nucleus of the dynamic “Air Coryell” passing attack. He led the NFL in receptions twice, had three 1,000-yard seasons and helped the Chargers reach the postseason for four straight seasons from 1979-82.
On his way to becoming the first tight end elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, "Iron" Mike Ditka became one of the best and toughest players in NFL history. As a rookie in 1961, Ditka had 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns. Ditka also spent four seasons with the Cowboys, where he caught a touchdown in Super Bowl VI.
John Mackey is the greatest tight end in NFL history and it isn't even close. A big-play threat who revolutionized the position, Mackey's contributions helped the Colts reach three NFC/NFL Championship games, including Super Bowls III and V. In Super Bowl V, he had a 75-yard touchdown that helped the Colts win their first Super Bowl championship.
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