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Best Tight Ends of All Time

Best Tight Ends of All-Time: The Top 10 List

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper,

1. Kellen Winslow: In the interest of full disclosure, Winslow was at his best when I was a young kid watching Chargers games in the 80’s. So maybe I’m being sentimental with this pick, but it’s still hard to argue the placement of this thoroughbred tight end who was a dominant threat during the era of Air Coryell. With numerous other high-flying options for Fouts, Winslow still put up big numbers. And anyone who saw the epic 1982 playoff game against the Dolphins, where Winslow overcame numerous ailments to catch 13 balls, will never forget his performance. Winslow was one of the first truly big men who had the speed, skills, and coordination of a true-blue top-notch athlete.

2. John Mackey: Don’t get too hung up on the stats. He played at a time where there were no tight ends like Kellen Winslow and Tony Gonzalez. Mackey was heads and shoulders above most of his contemporaries and was really the first tight end to become his team’s clear go-to guy. He was a groundbreaking tight end, being one of the first deep threats at the position, as he averaged 15.8 yards per catch over his career. Along with blazing speed, Mackey also brought abundant toughness and smarts to the table.

3. Mike Ditka: When you think of Ditka, you might envision a gritty blocker who ate thunder and crapped lightning. The nail-spitting Ditka was indeed a gritty presence on the field, but also a very effective and fluid pass catcher. During a time where tight ends didn’t post big numbers, Ditka caught 12 touchdown passes and had over 1000 yards in his rookie season. He redefined the tight end position, providing a deadly combination of pass catching ability with a career full of big hits and blocks.

4. Tony Gonzalez: Excellence, longevity, and statistical dominance, Gonzalez is the signature tight end of his generation. A basketball star at Cal, Gonzalez chose football and when Canton comes calling, he’ll know it was the right decision. But he already knows it was the right move, as Gonzalez became ta top-flight player. Still going pretty well after 16 seasons, the 12-time Pro-Bowler is the statistical king of tight ends, with 1149 catches and well over 13000 yards with nearly 100 touchdowns.

5. Ozzie Newsome: Big, mean, graceful, and agile, Newsome served as a bridge between the old and new schools of tight ends. The 13-year Cleveland Browns standout caught 662 balls for nearly 8000 yards. “The Wizard of Oz” could really move and his hard-hitting style made defenders a little leery about challenging him.


6. Shannon Sharpe: Sometimes, a lot of time needs to expire before a player’s historical significance begins to crystalize. Sharpe, who retired only in 2003, still stands out as one of the best ever at this position. With over 10000 career passing yards, Sharpe’s stats looked like those of a wide receiver.

7. Jackie Smith: OK, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first--the TD pass he dropped in the Super Bowl was the play of Smith’s that is re-played the most. Characterizing him off of that miscue is a grave injustice, as Smith had an incredible career. Not to mention in that Super Bowl, Smith was already 38 and a 16-year vet. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but Smith could run like a deer. Smith was a 5-time Pro Bowl selection and starred with the Cardinals for 15 years.

8. Antonio Gates: Definitely one of the more athletic tight ends on this list, the basketball convert joined the Chargers as a relatively inexperienced football study, but he took to the tight end position like a duck to water and never looked back. Gates really opened up the San Diego passing game as a gigantic pass catcher who couldn’t be covered by linebackers very effectively. In 8 seasons, he is averaging nearly 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns a season.

9. Dave Casper: As the instrumental figure of plays that went down in history, namely “The Ghost to the Post” and the “Holy Roller,” Casper gets a lot of extra credit. His stats might not hold up to today’s concept of what a great tight end is, but you won’t find a more clutch player than Casper. He always played his best in the big games and playing for the Raiders in the 70’s, there were many of them. And while the blocking part of the tight end position is often overlooked, Casper was a master in that area.

10. Charlie Sanders: The Detroit Lions stalwart was a bit handcuffed statistically due to the era he played in, but there is no mistaking his greatness as an all-around tight end. In 10 years with the Lions, Sanders made 7 Pro Bowls and is a member of the NFL All-70’s team.

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