In ranking the 10 best NFL tight ends of all time it's important to note how the player defined the position for his respective era, both as a pass catcher and a blocker. An often overlooked but integral part of an offense, these are the NFL's elite.
- John Mackey, Baltimore Colts, 1963-1973. At 6'2", 224 lbs., John Mackey was one of the NFL's first big pass catching tight ends. He used size and speed to be a threat as a receiver and solid blocker. Elected to NFL Hall of Fame in 1992, Mackey retired with 331 receptions, 5,236 yards, 38 TDs. In 1965-66 seasons, Mackey racked up 90 receptions for 1,643 yards and 16 TDs.
- Mike Ditka, Chicago Bears/Dallas Cowboys, 1961-1972. Iron Mike Ditka was the definition of the word tough. In his rookie year, Ditka had 56 catches for 1,076 yards and 12 TDs. He set a record for tight ends in 1964 when he hauled in 75 catches for 897 yards and 5 TDs in just 14 games. Ditka finished his career with 427 receptions, 5,812 yards and 43 TDs and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.
- Shannon Sharpe, Denver Broncos/Baltimore Ravens, 1990-2003. A workout warrior with an ability to get open, Shannon Sharpe is one of the most gifted tight ends to play in the NFL. He amassed 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 62 TDs making him the most productive tight end in the NFL not currently playing. Between 1996-97 seasons he had 152 catches for 2,146 yards and 13 TDs.
- Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City Chiefs/Atlanta Falcons 1997-present. Likely the best tight end in his era. At 6'5", 243 lbs., Tony Gonzalez is capable of breaking a play deep and making catches over the middle. He is one reception away from a 1,000 career and has more than 11,800 yards receiving and 82 TDs. He's topped 90 receptions three times in his career and amassed four 1,000-yard seasons.
- Ozzie Newsome, Cleveland Browns, 1978-1990. For 13 seasons, Ozzie Newsome was the most dangerous weapon in the Browns offense. A deep threat and a consistent leader, Newsome totaled more than 660 receptions for nearly 8,000 yards and 47 TDs in his career. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.
- Kellen Winslow, San Diego Chargers, 1979-1987. Kellen Winslow redefined the tight end position using his size (6'5", 251 lbs.) and speed. Over his 9-year career, Winslow amassed 6,741 yards and 45 TDs and 541 receptions. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995, Winslow is best known for his 13-catch effort against the Miami Dolphins in the 1981 AFC playoff game, which the Chargers won 41-38.
- Dave Casper, Oakland Raiders, 1974-1984. Known as "the Ghost," Dave Casper was a Raider fan's delight and a secondary's nightmare. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002. In 8 seasons with the Raiders, he is most famously known for his performance in the 1977 AFC Divisional playoff game against the Colts where he caught a 42-yard pass known as "the Ghost to the Post."
- Jackie Smith, St. Louis Cardinals 1963-1978. When he retired in 1978, Jackie Smith was the all-time leading receiver for tight ends with 480 receptions for 7,918 yards and 40 TDs. A strong runner and fierce blocker, at 6'4", 235 lbs., Smith was a fixture of the Cardinals offense. He had one catch in 45 games between 1967-1970. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994.
- Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers, 2003-present. Though only in the league for 8 seasons, Antonio Gates is among the top tight ends in the NFL due to his production and ability to get in the end zone. Gates has nearly 480 receptions for 6,223 yards and 59 TDs for the Chargers and is one of the team's primary targets. He is a 6-time Pro Bowler and a 3-time All-Pro.
- Mark Bavaro, New York Giants, 1985-1994. Reliable and tough describe what Mark Bavaro was as a tight end for the Giants for nearly a decade. Bavaro caught 345 passes for 4,733 yards and 39 TDs in his career and was a 2-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro.
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