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NFL - US Sports: Greatest tight ends in history

This second time, Rob Gronkowski's retirement from football feels like it has more permanency than when he first walked away from the game at the age of 29 in 2019.

Back then, he admitted he was run down physically and mentally and "not in a good place", but this time he sounds like he has nothing left to prove or achieve in the game.

A golden Hall of Fame jacket surely awaits the four-time Super Bowl champion in the not-too-distant future, but where does Gronk rank among the all-time greats of the tight end position?

1. Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City Chiefs & Atlanta Falcons)

The former college basketball player brought durability, athleticism, and superb hand-eye coordination to the tight end position for 17 years as a pro, hardly missing a game for the Chiefs and Falcons.
Aside from amassing the most career receptions and yards of any tight end, he ranked second on the list for the most receptions in the NFL when he retired in 2013, trailing only the incomparable Jerry Rice, and still stands at third all-time nine years later.

Gonzalez, one of only 13 players ever to have caught over 1,000 NFL passes, hauled in at least 70 receptions for almost every season he spent in the league after his second year and scored five or more touchdowns in 14 seasons.

He was elected to the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team in 2010 and earned one of the five tight end spots in the league's 100th Anniversary All-Time Team nine years later.

2. Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots & Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Gronkowski was also honored with a place on that 100th-anniversary team and it's easy to see why after the career he's just called time on.

In his 11 NFL seasons, Gronk hauled in 621 catches for 9,286 yards and 92 TDs. That puts him on pace for around 960 total catches by the end of year 17 had been able to enjoy the longevity of Gonzalez.

He was a physical freak and his four Super Bowl rings separate him from Gonzalez here. But although the former Chiefs star was never anything like as big a factor as Gronk in the postseason, the ex-Patriots star benefitted from working with the greatest coach/QB combination of the modern era in New England - and again with Tom Brady in Tampa.

Gonzalez, despite playing on inferior teams to Gronk and catching balls from QBs that couldn't live with Brady, would still have been over 400 catches up on the five-time Pro Bowler had he lasted as long in the league.

It may be a team sport, but this is an individual ranking and that's why Gonzalez beats Gronk out to number one. 

3. Kellen Winslow (San Diego Chargers)

From a different era in which blocking skills were emphasized more than getting open and making catches, Winslow still stood out as a wide receiver in an offensive lineman's body.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection finished as the NFL's receptions leader twice and made it onto the league's 1980s All-Decade Team, the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

In a playoff game against the Dolphins that became known as The Epic in Miami, Winslow caught a then-playoff record 13 passes for 166 yards and a TD, while also blocking a field goal with seconds to go and thus sending the game to overtime in one of the greatest single-player efforts in NFL history.

4. Shannon Sharpe (Denver Broncos & Baltimore Ravens)

Sharpe, who appeared as if he'd been carved in stone, was a dominant tight end for a decade and a mismatch nightmare for opposing coaches.

His body of work closely resembles Gronkowski's postseason resume thanks to three Super Bowl rings and a pivotal role in each of those championship runs.

Productive until his retirement like the leading two on this list, Sharpe recorded at least 60 catches in nine of his final 10 NFL seasons and also ranked among the league's top pass-catchers during his peak years with three 1,000-yard campaigns.

5. Antonio Gates (San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers)

Like Gonzalez, Gates was a former college basketball star who used his ball skills and incredible physical traits to rewrite the record books for 16 years with the Chargers.

Accurate route running, the timing of his releases, and soft hands brought him 116 receiving touchdowns in total, together with eight Pro Bowl nominations and a spot on the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.

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