Monday, July 5, 2010

The Canon Review List-A-Mania: Top Ten Tight Ends in NFL History

The tight end is an important position in football. The ideal tight end must be able to block like a tackle and catch like a wide receiver. Because of that, your ideal tight end these days is about 6'4" and 250 lbs, with speed to burn. The men listed below have combined all the skills needed for the tight end position to become the best of all-time.

Honorable Mention:

Jason Witten - Witten has caught 523 passes and made six Pro Bowls and his seven year career. By the time he retires, Witten could very well end up amongst the top five greatest tight ends in NFL history, but for now, he gets an honorable mention.

Jackie Smith - Smith is a Hall of Fame tight end who combined great longevity (16 years) and has one of the highest yards per catch averages amongst tight ends (16.5). In 1967, Smith had one of the greatest years a tight end has ever had, catching 56 passes for 1,205 yards (21.5 ypc) and nine touchdowns. Ultimately, even though Smith was a heck of a player, I just felt he came up a little short.

Todd Christensen - From 1983-86, Chiristensen averaged 87 catches, 1,099 yards, and eight touchdowns. If he had one or two more years of that caliber, Christensen might be in the Hall of Fame.

10. Keith Jackson (playing career: 1988-1996) - Jackson played only eight years, but in those eight years Jackson made five Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL All-Pro team in his first three years (1988-90). In 1988, Jackson had the second best rookie season a tight end has ever had, as he caught 81 passes for 869 yards for the Philadelphia Eagles. Jackson's final act wasn't too bad either, catching 10 touchdowns for the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers in 1996.

9. Dave Casper (1974-1984) - A tackle during his days at Notre Dame, Casper complemented his excellent blocking with soft hands and the ability to get deep every once in a while. Casper was named to five Pro Bowl, and made the NFL All-Pro First Team for four straight years (1976-1979). Casper finished in the top ten in the league in receptions three seasons, and in five seasons finished in the top ten in receiving touchdowns. In 1984, Casper retired with 378 catches and 52 touchdowns, numbers which helped him get elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Casper was also one of two tight ends named to the NFL's All-1970s team, the other one being this man:

8. Charlie Sanders (1968-1977) - Perhaps the game's best tight end before Casper established himself, Sanders played in seven Pro Bowls and made the NFL's All-Pro first team for three consecutive years (1969-1971) in spite of playing for a Detroit Lions team that often missed the postseason. For his career, Sanders caught 336 passes and average over 14 yards per catch, not too shabby for a tight end. His 336 catches were the most in Lions History at the time of his retirement, and only two tight ends have exceeded his seven Pro Bowl appearances. In 2007, Sanders was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

7. Mike Ditka (1961-1972) - Ditka is perhaps known more for being the head coach of the Chicago Bears in the 1980s, but Ditka was also one heck of a tight end. In his rookie season of 1961, Ditka had the best rookie season a tight end has ever had, catching 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns. Ditka is largely credited as being the first big-time receiving threat from the tight end position, as before his arrival, the tight end was primarily utilized as a blocker. That's not to say Ditka couldn't block as well, as they didn't call him "Iron" Mike for nothing. In his first four years, Ditka finished in the top 10 in receptions each year, was named to the Pro Bowl each year, and twice was named NFL All-Pro. Ditka ended up being named to five Pro Bowls for his career, caught 427 passes and 43 touchdowns, and was a major part of two NFL Championship teams (1963 Chicago Bears and 1971 Dallas Cowboys). In 1988, Ditka was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the first tight end to receive that honor, and in 1994, Ditka was one of two tight ends named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team.

6. Antonio Gates (2003-) - Gates has only played seven years, but the former college basketball player has made a huge impact in his career thus far. A six-time Pro Bowler, Gates was the NFL First-Team All-Pro tight end from 2004-2006, and has caught 479 passes and 59 touchdowns for the San Diego Chargers. Gates was recently named to the All-NFL team for the 2000s. Gates has finished in the top ten for touchdown catches in four separate seasons, and at the age of 30, Gates should have at least a couple of top-notch seasons ahead of him. For now, Gates is number six, but he could move up all the way to the top.

5. John Mackey (1963-1972) - Often considered the prototype for the modern tight end, Mackey had such speed that he was utilized as a kick returner as a rookie for the Colts in 1963. An All-NFL 1960s selection, Mackey was selected to five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro first teams. Mackey averaged over 20 yards a catch in two different seasons, and for his career averaged an impressive 15.8 yards per catch. For his career, Mackey caught 331 passes and 38 touchdowns. In 1992, Mackey became the second tight end to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and College Football's annual award for best tight end is named after John Mackey.

4. Kellen Winslow (1979-1987) - Winslow didn't have the longest career, but he definitely made his presence felt during his career. Winslow played nine seasons, three of which were cut short due to injury. In six full seasons, Winslow was selected to play in five Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro three different seasons. In a four year stretch (1980-1983), Winslow finished no lower than third in the league in receptions, and led the NFL in catches in both 1980 and 1981. During that same stretch, Winslow finished in the top ten in receiving yards three different seasons and and receiving touchdowns in four seasons. For his career, Winslow caught 541 passes for 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns. His accomplishments were honored in 1994 when Winslow was named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, and in 1995 when he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

3. Ozzie Newsome (1978-1990) - Newsome wasn't named to as many Pro Bowls as Winslow, Ditka, et al, only making three during his career. However, I feel he more than makes up for that with his numbers and consistency. When Newsome retired, no tight end in history had caught more passes (662) or gained more yards (7,980) than Ozzie Newsome. Newsome was a first team All-Pro selection twice during his career, and was a second team selection five times. At one point, Newsome caught a pass in 150 straight games and remarkably never missed a game during his 13 year career. Newsome was named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1980s, and in 1999, Newsome was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2. Shannon Sharpe (1990-2003) Sharpe was a decent blocker at best, but was such a dominant receiver for a long time that he deserves to be in the conversation for best tight end ever. A member of three Super Bowl winning teams (Denver Broncos 1997-98, Baltimore Ravens, 2000), Sharpe caught 50 or more passes in 11 different seasons. Sharpe's 815 catches rank 21st in NFL history, and second amongst tight ends. His 10,060 yards and 62 touchdown catches also rank second amongst all tight ends. An eight time Pro Bowler and four time first-team All-Pro, Sharpe was named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1990s, and should be elected to the Hall of Fame in the next couple of years. Sharpe was a heck of a tight end, but he's not the best.

1.  Tony Gonzalez (1997-) The long-time Kansas City Chief and current Atlanta Falcon, Gonzalez has put up numbers unlike any other tight end in the history of the NFL. Gonzalez has more catches than any other tight end (999, 7th All-time), more receiving yards than any other tight end (11,807) and more touchdown catches than any other tight end (82). The ten-time Pro Bowler and five time All-Pro is still going strong, catching 83 passes and six touchdowns for the Falcons last year. The only tight end to catch more than 100 passes in a season (102 in 2004), Gonzalez has finished in the top ten in catches and in touchdown catches in four different seasons. Whenever he retires, Gonzalez should have a short wait before being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this post or any ideas for future posts, than send them to me either by leaving a comment or by e-mail at

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