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Top Five Tight Ends in NFL History

There have been some transcendent talents at the tight end position over the year in the National Football League. 

From the stars of the 1970s and 1980s like John Mackey and Kellen Winslow to mega-stars of the 21st century like Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, tight ends have been starring at the highest level of pro football as long as most can remeber. 

Let's take a look at our top five tight ends in NFL history.

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. Antonio Gates (San Diego 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.

4. Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs)

Kelce is the perfect blend of size and agility and has revolutionized the position during his 11 years in Kansas City, particularly since 2018 with Patrick Mahomes as his quarterback.

The two-time Super Bowl champ has a record seven-straight 1,000+ yard seasons and could top this list by the time his career is over.

5. 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.

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