Time for Round 4 of the G.O.A.T. series (here's the WR, RB, and QB lists respectively), and this time around we're looking at the tight end position. Prepare to see a lot of names you recognize this time around because the position has become entirely different in recent history.
In fact, some of the greatest tight ends to ever play are playing right now.
But enough hype, let's get to the list:
10. Jason Witten
Stats/Records: 52.1 Receiving yards per game (150th), 229 Games Started (T-25th), 10.8 Yards per Touch (65th), 68 Touchdowns (112th), 12,448 Receiving yards (21st)
Awards: 10× Pro Bowler (2004–2010, 2012–2014), 2× First-team All-Pro (2007, 2010), 2× Second-team All-Pro (2008, 2012), and Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2012)
Championships: ... Let's not talk about it... It hurts too much.
Since I apparently love putting players from my favorite team at the ten spot, let's go ahead and add Witten to the list with Michael Irvin. This might be the most controversial entry given the previous sentence, but Witten does legitimately belong here. It was a four-way race for the ten spot, but the numbers favor Witten too much, mostly due to longevity, but that is part of being great.
9. Ozzie Newsome
Stats/Records: 41.8 Receiving yards per game (Not top 250), 191 Games started (T-121st), 662 Receptions (53rd), 47 Touchdowns (Not top 250), 7,980 Receiving yards (98th)
Awards: 3× Pro Bowler (1981, 1984, 1985), 2× First-team All-Pro (1979, 1984), 4× Second-team All-Pro (1980, 1981, 1983, 1985), NFL Hall of Fame and NFL 1980s All-Decade Team
Championships: None as a player at the professional level.
Ozzie Newsome was on a different physical level in the 1980's, hence his place on this list. There are currently eight tight ends in the Hall of Fame, and Newsome is one of the better ones. The numbers aren't quite what some the other members on this list are, but in his era, he was nearly unstoppable.
8. Antonio Gates
Stats/Records: 52.3 Receiving yards per game (147th), 189 Games Started (T-129th), 12.4 Yards per Touch (T-51st), 114 Touchdowns (13th), 11,508 Receiving yards (30th), and NFL TE Record for Touchdowns (114)
Awards: 8× Pro Bowler (2004–2011), 3× First-team All-Pro (2004–2006), 2× Second-team All-Pro (2009, 2010), and NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
Championships: None at the professional level
Gates has simply done more with less, which is why he ranks at number eight on this list. He and Jason Witten have both been playing for 15 seasons, and while Witten has more yards, Gates has him beat in every other way. Witten and Gates can be easily compared head-to-head since their careers perfectly overlap, and Gates beats him out, then the Newsome versus Gates debate is next, with Gates going over due to longevity.
7. Rob Gronkowski
Stats/Records: 70.4 Receiving yards per game (23rd), 89 Games Started (Not Top 250 All Time), 464 Receptions (T-164th), 77 Touchdowns (T-69th(He might retire to make that permanent)), 7,178 Receiving yards (124th), and pretty much every single season TE record
Awards: 5× Pro Bowler (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017), 5× First-team All-Pro (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017), and NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2014)
Championships: Four AFC Championships & Two Super Bowls (XLIX and LI)[As of 1/23/2018]
Gronk is just physically superior to everyone else. He is bigger and stronger than most of the people on this list, which has made him the dominant force in the NFL at the tight end position. While his ability gives him the potential to the Greatest of All-Time, Gronk just can't stay healthy, which makes it hard to move him too high on the list (similar to Rodgers or Megatron on their lists).
6. Shannon Sharpe
Stats/Records: 49.3 Receiving yards per game (T-187th), 169 Games Started (T-258th), 12.3 Yards per Touch (T-54th), 62 Touchdowns (T-152nd), 10,060 Receiving yards (45th), and NFL Record for most receiving yards in a game by a TE (214)
Awards: 8× Pro Bowler (1992–1998, 2001), 4× First-team All-Pro (1993, 1996–1998), Second-team All-Pro (1995), NFL Hall of Fame, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, and Denver Broncos 50th Anniversary Team
Championships: Three AFC Championships and Three Super Bowls (XXXII, XXXIII, and XXXV)
Shannon Sharpe, aka "Mr. Milds & Yak," was a big play waiting to happen. Ozzie Newsome (#9) referred to him as "a threat," which sums up Shannon Sharpe pretty well. Sharpe followed in the footsteps of his big brother, and became one of the greats, but he was not quite the dominant force that the other guys were.
5. Dave Casper
Stats/Records: 35.5 Receiving yards per game (Not Top 250 All-Time), 101 Games Started (Not Top 250 All Time), 378 Receptions (Not Top 250 All-Time), 53 Touchdowns (T-221st), and 5,216 Receiving yards (124th)
Awards: 5× Pro Bowler (1976–1980), 5× First-team All-Pro (1976–1980), NFL Hall of Fame, and NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
Championships: One AFC Championship and One Super Bowl (XI)
"The Ghost" earns the number five place on this list almost entirely because of his legendary moments. Sharpe was always a threat for a big play, but Casper was a threat for a legendary play, such as "Ghost to the Post" and "The Holy Roller."
"The Ghost" would haunt the dreams of his opponents because it is one thing to be afraid of being on the losing end of a game, but it is a new level of fear when you have to worry about being on the losing end of a historical moment (hi, Baltimore Colts and LA Chargers).
4. Mike Ditka
Stats/Records: 36.8 Receiving yards per game (Not Top 250 All-Time), 98 Games Started (Not Top 250 All Time), 427 Receptions (T-203rd), 43 Touchdowns (Not Top 250 All-Time), and 5,812 Receiving yards (203rd)
Awards: 5× Pro Bowler (1961–1965), 5× First-team All-Pro (1961–1965), NFL Rookie of the Year (1961), NFL Hall of Fame, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and Chicago Bears No. 89 retired
Championships: One NFC Championship, One NFL Championship (1963) and One Super Bowl (VI) [As a player in the NFL (he had more championships as a coach)]
"Iron Mike" Ditka was tough as nails (iron nails), which led to him being not only a great receiver but a great blocker as well. Ditka started his career on an amazing note, and continued through his career in Chicago, but took a step back in Philadelphia and Dallas. Still, Ditka was the first TE to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, which pretty much sums up his career as a pioneer of the position.
3. Kellen Winslow Sr.
Stats/Records: 61.8 Receiving yards per game (T-55th), 94 Games Started (Not Top 250 All Time), 541 Receptions (T-112th), 45 Touchdowns (Not Top 250 All-Time), and 6,741 Receiving yards (150th)
Awards: 5× Pro Bowler (1980–1983, 1987), 3× First-team All-Pro (1980–1982), Second-team All-Pro (1987), NFL Hall of Fame, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, and San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame
Championships: None at the professional level
Kellen Winslow was a game-changer at the TE position, and he was the pioneer of the modern TE that is more of a receiver who can play the line or the slot. Kellen Winslow really earned his place ahead of Ditka on this list because of one game, "The Epic in Miami." I'll let you read about the game on your own, but to summarize, Winslow had one of the greatest single man efforts in the history of the NFL, which is definitely worthy of being third on this list.
2. John Mackey
Stats/Records: 37.7 Receiving yards per game (Not Top 250 All-Time), 34 Games Started (Not Top 250 All Time), 331 Receptions (Not Top 250 All-Time), 38 Touchdowns (Not Top 250 All-Time), and 5,236 Receiving yards (203rd)
Awards: 5× Pro Bowler (1963, 1965–1968), 3× All-Pro (1966–1968), NFL Hall of Fame, NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, and Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor
Championships: One AFC Championship, One NFL Championship (1968), and One Super Bowl (V)
The third part of the tight end trinity from the 1960's and 1970's, Mackey was the most athletic of the bunch (Ditka was the muscle and Casper was the play-maker). The big reason why Mackey does not quite have the numbers that his trinity partners had was because of an early retirement for Mackey after injuries overcame him. While Mackey played, however, he was nearly unstoppable including a 75-yard touchdown in Super Bowl V and breaking a ridiculous amount of tackles.
1. Tony Gonzalez
Stats/Records: 56.0 Receiving yards per game (T-98th), 254 Games Started (8th), 11.4 Yards per Touch (T-61st), 111 Touchdowns (16th), 15,127 Receiving yards (6th), and NFL Records for receiving yards (15,127) and receptions (1,325) by a TE
Awards: 14× Pro Bowler (1999–2008, 2010–2013), 6× First-team All-Pro (1999–2001, 2003, 2008, 2012), 4× Second-team All-Pro (2002, 2004, 2006, 2007), and NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
Championships: None at the professional level
Tony G was simply the culmination of the evolution at the TE position. Gonzalez was a basketball player before deciding to exclusively play TE, which made him bigger and stronger than everyone else, plus he was athletic enough to play well versus everyone's defense he went against. Ditka started the trend that led to Winslow, and Winslow stated the trend that gave us Tony G, and Gonzalez became the blueprint for the modern TE, but the blueprint is still the G.O.A.T.
All data was pulled from profootballreference.com, NFL.com, and Profootballhof.com