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All-time NFL tight end rankings: How Patriots, Buccaneers great Rob Gronkowski stacks up after retiring

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Rob Gronkowski called it an NFL career on Tuesday (again), saying goodbye not only to the Buccaneers, but to football as well. Tom Brady will undoubtedly miss the tight end in 2022, as will the fans who have seen Gronk steals headlines on and off the pitch throughout his career. Where exactly does Gronkowski rank among the best players in his position?

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Let’s rank the top 10 TEs that have ever played the game and see where it fits in:

10. Mike Ditka

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Teams: Chicago Bears (1961-1966), Philadelphia Eagles (1967-1968), Dallas Cowboys (1969-1972)

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Before making history as a Bears coach, Ditka showed his resilience on the pitch. He never led his explosive Rookie of the Year campaign, in which he burst onto the scene with 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1961, but over six years on the team, he came to resemble Chicago’s trademark attitude. He also averaged more yards per catch than most other great TEs in NFL history, with 5,812 career effective receiving yards.

9. Jason Witten

Teams: Dallas Cowboys (2003-2017, 2019), Las Vegas Raiders (2020)



Although he was never the fastest or most dynamic in his position, Witten calmly and steadily rewrote the NFL record books as arguably the most reliable hitter in Cowboy history. A paragon of resilience, his influence faded a little towards the end of his career, but few players have ever been so consistent. Castle for the Hall of Fame, he was the fastest TE to reach 600 catches in a career and holds the record for most consecutive games played in a tight end with 235+ under his belt.

8. Ozzy Newsom

Teams: Cleveland Browns (1978–1990)

Before showing off his football IQ at NFL headquarters, where he led the Baltimore Ravens to two Super Bowl victories, Newsom was a complete TE player both on and off the field. Aside from his Man of the Year efforts and team mentality, he was still one of the top targets of the 1980s in his position. The holder of multiple Brown records, he played a couple of seasons for 1,000 yards and finished his career with 47 TD catches, the fifth most in franchise history, while showing resilience along the way.

7. John McKee

Teams: Baltimore Colts (1963-1971), San Diego Chargers (1972)

McKee will continue to be outperformed on the all-time charts as more TEs emerge as threats, but when it comes to unparalleled positional impact, he is right up there with the best of them all. A phenomenon of size and speed in his day, McKee not only missed just one game in his 10-year career, but became the second clean TE to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. In an era before today’s high-passing offenses, he had eight consecutive seasons of at least 400 receiving yards and caught TDs 38 times in his career.

6. Travis Kelsey

Teams: Kansas City Chiefs (2013–present)

He was lucky enough to play in the passing NFL, and not only that, but for one of the league’s most successful teams and coaches. But he has also proven time and time again to be the most reliable outing for MVP QB Patrick Mahomes. A paragon of durability and performance, he enters 2022 surpassing 80 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in six straight seasons, and his 70.8 career catch percentage proves how reliable his hands have been for the annual Super Bowl contender.

5. Shannon Sharp

Teams: Denver Broncos (1990-1999, 2002-2003), Baltimore Ravens (2000-2001)

Like a wide receiver playing tight end, Sharpe became the first player in his position to reach over 10,000 receiving yards in his career. He may also be closest to Gronkowski’s postseason resume thanks to three Super Bowl rings and a key role in each of those championships. Sharp was prolific until his retirement, recording at least 60 catches in nine of his last 10 NFL seasons, and he ranked among the top pass catchers in the league in his prime years, with three 1,000-yard rushing campaigns.

4. Antonio Gates

Teams: San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (2003-2018)

Antonio Gates.jpg


You can make it higher. While the eight-time pro bowler didn’t necessarily revolutionize the position or become an absolute Gronk-style match nightmare, he was about as consistent as they were. Out of just 20 games in 16 years, the former basketball player has been a safety valve on the Chargers’ offense for almost his entire career, throwing at least 60 passes nine times and leading all NFL titles with 116 career touchdowns. .

3. Kellen Winslow

Teams: San Diego Chargers (1979–1987)

If Gronk redefined the position of TE for his generation, then Winslow definite this is for him. While most of the players in his position were used as extra blockers, he turned into a real big threat to Chargers Hall of Famer Dan Fouts and posted numbers that were unprecedented for TE. Once called “the wide receiver in the body of an offensive lineman,” he played even fewer games than Gronk, but started 94 of his 109 outings, spending three seasons for 1,000 yards at a time when passing was far from what it is. today.

2. Rob Gronkowski

Teams: New England Patriots (2010–2018), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020–2021)

NFL: New England Patriots to Denver Broncos


This is not a novelty bias. In fact, at the height of his career, Gronkowski was arguably the most formidable TE to ever take the field. Not only was he 6ft 6in and weighing almost 270lbs, but he also played more physically. as well as speed than this frame would suggest, reimagining the receiving threat position even more in the 2010s, playing best when it mattered most and building a Hall of Fame resume with half as many games as some of his greatest colleagues of all time. Resilience has always been Gronk’s biggest hurdle. But even in nine injury-riddled years, he has become one of the best all-around players of his generation, with the best playoff stats of any TE and arguably the best-performing stat overall. TD averaging every 6.6 catches. His run may have been shorter, but it’s always been a treat, and his smooth reunion with Brady in Tampa helped bring the Bucks the Lombardi Trophy.

1. Tony Gonzalez

Teams: Kansas City Chiefs (1997-2008), Atlanta Falcons (2009-2013)

Tony Gonzalez.jpg


Nobody did it as well as Tony. long like Tony. The numbers alone don’t say anything, but you also don’t hit 1,300 catches and 15,000 yards by accident. Gonzalez may not have been enough just as much of a physical freak as Gronkowski when it comes to matches, but he was the definition of reliability—both in terms of durability and performance. He missed a total of two games in 17 seasons, which doesn’t mean he was just useful in addition to being available. His four seasons for 1,000 yards, 11 consecutive seasons with at least 70 catches, 16 consecutive seasons with at least 600 total yards, and 14 Pro Bowl tackles all prove his enduring dominance. A true touchdown threat in his 30s, Gonzalez remains the gold standard for his position.

Honorable mention

To be fair, the top 10 list does not represent some of the greatest tight ends of all time. If you’re listing the best to ever play this position, these guys also deserve credit:

  • Dave Kasper: Oakland Raiders (1974–1980), Houston Oilers (1980–1983), Minnesota Vikings (1983), Los Angeles Raiders (1984)
  • Jackie Smith: St. Louis Cardinals (1963-1977), Dallas Cowboys (1978)
  • Charlie Sanders: Detroit Lions (1968–1977)
  • Greg Olsen: Chicago Bears (2007-2010), Carolina Panthers (2011-2019), Seahawks (2020)
  • Todd Christensen: Dallas Cowboys (1978), New York Giants (1979), Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders (1979-1988)
  • Ben Coates: New England Patriots (1991–1999), Baltimore Ravens (2000)
  • Jerry Smith: Washington Redskins (1965-1977)
  • Keith Jackson: Philadelphia Eagles (1988–1991), Miami Dolphins (1992–1994), Green Bay Packers (1995–1996)
  • Dallas Clark: Indianapolis Colts (2003-2011), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012), Baltimore Ravens (2013)
  • Jimmy Graham: New Orleans Saints (2010-2014), Seattle Seahawks (2015-2017), Green Bay Packers (2018-2019), Chicago Bears (2020-2021)
  • Riley Odoms: Denver Broncos (1972-1983)


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