Top 10 Tight Ends of All Time – What Are The Greatest TE?

top-10-nfl-tight-ends

25 minutes

Last Updated: August 25, 2023

Scott Kostov

Making a list of the top 10 tight ends of all time is hard. Almost as hard as trying to make money without our NFL American Football betting tips. But we’re here to break down the numbers and careers of the greatest tight ends of all time.

The tight end position in the modern NFL holds immense value on the offensive side of the field. But it wasn’t always like that. As time has gone on, so has their role expanded. So much so, that they’ve become an integral piece in the highest-scoring NFL games of all time.

That’s why in this article, we’ll be taking a look at the top tight ends throughout NFL history. How they dominated and revolutionized the role throughout the decades, and who is most deserving to be crowned the greatest TE of all time.

Top 10 Tight Ends Of All Time NFL

As time has gone by, the criteria for the best tight ends of all-time have also changed. If you asked anyone a few decades ago who are the top 10 tight ends of all time, you would get different answers. The role that once served only as an additional blocker has now morphed into a reliable endzone threat and a key offensive cog.

If you’re just getting into NFL live betting, this kind of information will help you greatly. Knowing who are the top 10 tight ends of all time and how the game works is what makes the NFL one of the most profitable sports to bet on. So let’s jump right into it.

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10. Kellen Winslow Sr

  • Career Stats: Games Played (109), Total Career Receptions (541) Total Yards Received(6741), Total Touchdowns (45),
  • NFL Teams: San Diego Chargers (1979–1987)
  • Accolades: 5× Pro Bowl selection (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1987), 3× First-Team All-Pro selection (1980, 1981, 1982), 2× Second-Team All-Pro selection (1983, 1987), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1983), NFL Man of the Year (1984), Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1995), NFL 1980s All-Decade Team

We’re kicking off this list of the top 10 tight ends of all time with a player who solidified the TE role as a position that can carry games. Leading the NFL in receptions twice automatically puts you in the upper echelon of the greatest tight ends of all time.

Kellen Winslow Sr. entered the NFL as the 13th pick in the 1979 NFL Draft, and he spent his entire career with the San Diego Chargers. Unfortunately, his career was short-lived, lasting just 8 years. And this is probably the main reason he finds himself in this position in our NFL tight end rankings.

A knee injury ended his rookie season prematurely, but what followed suit was nothing short of spectacular. As a part of the infamous Air Coryell offense, Winslow led the NFL in receptions in 1980 and 1981 by running wide receiver-type routes. In his first full year in 1980, he set a new single-season receiving yardage record for his position with 1290 yards. 

This was accompanied by a then-record 89 catches, which blew the previous record holder who also finds himself on this list, out of the water. His versatility is what enabled all of this, as his route-running ability and a knack for acrobatic catches made him a prime target on every snap.

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The Epic in Miami

He was just the second tight end ever to lead the league in receptions in back-to-back seasons, while finishing top 10 in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns on multiple occasions. His 61.8 yards per game still rank third all-time among tight ends, behind two entries on this list that are considered the top tight ends of our generation.

This short-lived but consistent excellence is why Kellen Winslow Sr became a five-time Pro Bowler with multiple All-Pro nods. In just 109 games, he totaled 541 receptions, 6,741 receiving yards, and 45 touchdowns, which was enough to cement his spot in history.

But what the numbers fail to show is his legacy as one of the top 10 tight ends of all time. Apart from being the first TE to run receiver routes, he was also a role model for a winning mindset. In a playoff game against the Miami Dolphins in 1981, known as The Epic in Miami, Winslow made history. 

He caught a playoff-record 13 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. In one of the greatest single-player efforts in NFL history, Winslow also blocked a field goal with seconds remaining to send the game to overtime. More importantly, he did all of this by fighting through excruciating pain.

Kellen Winslow Sr received treatment for a pinched nerve in his shoulder, dehydration, severe cramps, and received three stitches in his lower lip after the game. By the end of the game, his body had gone through so much, he had to be carried off the field by his teammates. If that dedication is not deserving of recognition as one of the greatest TE of all time, I don’t know what is.

09. John Mackey

  • Career Stats: Games Played (139), Total Career Receptions (331) Total Yards Received(5236), Total Touchdowns (38),
  • NFL Teams: Baltimore Colts (1963–1971), San Diego Chargers (1972)
  • Accolades: 5× Pro Bowl selection (1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968), 3× First-Team All-Pro selection (1966, 1967, 1969), 2× Second-Team All-Pro selection (1965, 1968), NFL Championship (1968), Super Bowl V champion with the Baltimore Colts, Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1992), NFL 1960s All-Decade Team

At number 9, we have a true trailblazer for his era. Many of the top tight ends from this period focused on being an extension of the offensive line. But that didn’t apply to one of the greatest tight ends of all time, both at the collegiate and NFL level.

John Mackey came into the NFL as a second-round draft pick in 1963, being an elusive runner who could break tackles and lay down ferocious blocks from day one. But unlike the top tight ends of the time, John Mackey was a threat to take it to the endzone on any play. For context, six of his nine touchdowns in 1966 were catches for  51, 57, 64, 79, 83, and 89 yards. Talk about a big play threat!

John Mackey racked up 5,236 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns on 331 receptions during his tenure in the NFL. While these numbers seem laughable compared to the modern best NFL tight ends, no TE was comparable to Mackey at the time.

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Founder of NFLPA John Mackey Award

Mackey was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992 after becoming an NFL Super Bowl 5 champion with multiple All-Pro nods and as a five-time Pro Bowler. This made him just the second TE to earn this distinction at the time. As a testament to his impact on the game, the award given to the best tight end in college football is named after him. 

Playing for the NFL coach with the most wins in Don Shula certainly helped his career. But it’s not like John Mackey wasn’t a different breed of top tight ends unseen till then. 

After all, this man’s career was the original highlight reel. If he wasn’t running over 10 defenders on his way to the endzone, he was making hero plays left and right. His signature 75-yard touchdown in Super Bowl 5 when the pass from Johnny Unitas bounced off two players before Mackey made the catch is still one of the best plays of all time courtesy of the best TE in the NFL at the time.

08. Ozzie Newsome

  • Career Stats: Games Played (198), Total Career Receptions (662) Total Yards Received(7980), Total Touchdowns (47),
  • NFL Teams: Cleveland Browns (1978–1990)
  • Accolades: 3× Pro Bowl selection (1981, 1984, 1985), 3× First-Team All-Pro selection (1979, 1984, 1985), 2× Second-Team All-Pro selection (1983, 1986), Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor, Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1999)

When talking about the greatest TE of all time, it’s imperative to mention Ozzie Newsome, in our Tight End rankings list. Often referred to as “The Wizard of Oz”, the Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end etched his name in NFL history books both as a player and as an executive.

The 23rd pick in the 1978 NFL Draft would go on to have a fruitful 12-year career with the Cleveland Browns, in which he forever altered the perception of the tight end position and etched his name among the top 10 tight ends of all time.

His remarkable talent was evident from the get-go, as he earned the Browns’ Offensive Player of the Year award in his rookie year, the first time that had happened in 25 years.

Newsome would quickly establish himself as one of the best tight ends NFL had to offer. He earned three Pro Bowl selections (1981, 1984, and 1985) and two First-Team All-Pro honors (1984 and 1986).

These were well deserved as Newsome made a significant contribution in redefining the tight end position at the time. In an era when tight ends were primarily used as blockers and rarely featured in the passing game, Newsome showcased his skills as a versatile receiver. 

His combination of speed, soft hands, and football IQ made for some of the best route-running we had seen from the position up to that point, completely revolutionizing the role.

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The Wizard of Oz

The impact was evident as he amassed 7,980 receiving yards and 47 touchdowns on 662 receptions during his playing career spanning 3 decades. Apart from breaking the mold, he also broke records. Newsome became the Browns franchise record holder for most receiving yards in a game with 191. This record stood for 29 years until Josh Gordon recorded 237 and 261 yards in back-to-back games during the 2013 NFL season.

Despite his continued excellence, Newsome could never lead the Cleveland Browns to a Super Bowl championship. The Browns made the playoffs seven times during Newsome’s career but fell short in three AFC Championship games in four of those seasons. Each loss came at the hands of John Elway and the Denver Broncos, accompanied by another top TE in NFL history on this list.

After his retirement in 1991, Ozzie Newsome became a member of the Cleveland Browns front office. He helped lead the franchise through its transition and rebranding to Baltimore as the Ravens and was the first African-American GM in the NFL. And he learned from his mistakes quite well, signing one of greatest tight ends of all time that beat him multiple times, to help Baltimore win Super Bowl 35.

07. Mike Ditka

  • Career Stats: Games Played (158), Total Career Receptions (427) Total Yards Received(5812), Total Touchdowns (43),
  • NFL Teams: Chicago Bears (1961–1966), Philadelphia Eagles (1967–1968), Dallas Cowboys (1969–1972)
  • Accolades: 5× Pro Bowl selection (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965), 3× First-Team All-Pro selection (1961, 1963, 1964), NFL Rookie of the Year (1961), NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, Chicago Bears No. 89 retired

At number 7 on this Tight Ends rankings list we have NFL royalty. Apart from being the Chicago Bears best TE all time, Mike Ditka has influenced multiple generations of NFL fans in every way possible.

If you’re not old enough to remember him revolutionizing the TE role prior to the Super Bowl era, he probably coached your favorite team growing up. Or you have grown accustomed to his voice on the airways with a long and memorable casting career.

The fifth pick in the 1961 NFL Draft signed with the Chicago Bears and made an immediate impact. 58 receptions for 1,076 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns from the TE role were unheard of at the time. And it’s the main reason he was the UPI NFL Rookie of the Year in 1961.

His ability to line up on the line of scrimmage, run routes, and make tough catches on top of being a premier blocker, made him a vital asset to his team’s offense from day one. And it’s one of the main reasons he’s on this list of top 10 tight ends of all time.

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Iron Mike

Ditka’s versatility was rewarded with five Pro Bowl selections (1961-1965) and earned him First-Team All-Pro honors twice (1963 and 1964). He would earn All-Pro honors 3 more times during his career and he also finished top ten in receptions, yards, and touchdowns in multiple seasons.

His continued excellence and becoming an NFL champion with the 1963 Bears and 1971 Cowboys more than warranted his admission to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. But in true “Iron Mike”’s relentless style, he would go on to dominate as an assistant coach and a head coach, winning Super Bowls in both roles. Whichever way you put it, Mike Ditka is one of the greatest tight ends of all time NFL has ever seen.

06. Jason Witten

  • Career Stats: Games Played (271), Total Career Receptions (1228) Total Yards Received(13 046), Total Touchdowns (74),
  • NFL Teams: Dallas Cowboys (2003–2017, 2019), Las Vegas Raiders (2020)
  • Accolades: 11× Pro Bowl selection (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017), 2× First-Team All-Pro selection (2007, 2010), Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2012), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2013), NFL record for most receptions by a tight end in a single season (110 in 2012), Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor

The best ability in a rough sport like the NFL is reliability. And nobody on this list embodied this like Jason Witten. He has the most games played on this list and his consistency is what made him the greatest TE of all time to put on a Dallas Cowboys jersey.

Jason Witten came into the NFL as a third-round draft pick during the 2003 NFL draft. Despite being projected to go much higher up, teams had questions about his ripe age. Entering the league at 20 years old, he fell into the lap of the Dallas Cowboys, much like undrafted free agent Tony Romo.

The two would go on to develop a long and fruitful connection that saw the Cowboys make the playoffs 6 times during their stint and claim 4 divisional titles. Witten made the NFL All-Rookie Team by starting 7 of the 15 games he played in. The one he missed was due to a broken jaw, from which he bounced back the following week. This was the first and only game he missed in his entire career.

top-10-TE-NFL-witten

Ironman

In the following 2004 campaign, Jason Witten was already amongst the top tight ends in the league with 980 yards and six touchdown catches to his name. He reached the 1,000-yard mark four times, with 2007 being his best season with 1,145 yards and seven touchdowns.

His precise route-running, soft hands, and outstanding blocking ability combined with Ironman durability made him an irreplaceable cog in the Dallas Cowboys offense for 16 years. 

Over the course of his 17-year career, Witten amassed 13,046 receiving yards and 74 touchdowns on 1,228 receptions in 271 games. He caught 71.4% of the passes he was targeted on and served as a great fail-safe option for multiple Cowboys QBs. This warranted 11 Pro Bowl recognitions (2004-2010, 2012-2014, and 2017) and two First-Team All-Pro nods (2007 and 2010). By the time he put down the helmet for good, he ranked second all-time for receptions and receiving yards by a tight end.

Despite his best efforts, the reason Witten isn’t higher up on this tight end rankings is his lack of post-season success. But that didn’t stop him from breaking a few NFL records along the way. He still holds the record for most receptions in a single game by a tight end, which is 18. And his 271 games are the most career NFL games played by anyone at the position. Which is enough for us to consider him as one of the greatest tight ends of all time.

Top 5 Greatest Tight Ends of All Time

Making the top 5 TE in NFL history is a great achievement. Heck, even being considered among the greatest tight ends of all time is an exceptional honor. Some of these are still active players, which is a great tip before you start betting.

05. Shannon Sharpe

  • Career Stats: Games Played (204), Total Career Receptions (815) Total Yards Received(1060), Total Touchdowns (62),
  • NFL Teams: Denver Broncos (1990–1999, 2002–2003), Baltimore Ravens (2000–2001)
  • Accolades: 8× Pro Bowl selection (1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001), 4× First-Team All-Pro selection (1993, 1996, 1997, 1998), NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, 3× Super Bowl champion (Super Bowl XXXII, XXXIII with the Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XXXV with the Baltimore Ravens), Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2011), Denver Broncos Ring of Fame, Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor

At number 5 on our top 10 tight ends of all time list, we have a familiar face. Younger generations might have been introduced to Uncle Shay Shay on the small screens alongside Skip Bayles on FS1. But those who are more experienced know very well that Shannon Sharpe rose to the top on the field.

Shannon Sharpe was a 7th-round pick in the 1990 NFL Draft and faced adversity from the get-go. Sharpe was too big for the wide receiver position and too small for the tight ends slot according to his measurements. Scouts and coaches were worried about his physicality. But all the double teams he drew sure proved them wrong.

top-10-tight-ends-NFL-sharpe

Uncle Shay Shay

As someone with a rough upbringing, doubts served as extra motivation, and it’s what made him the first true superstar at the position and one of the top tight ends to ever lace them up. After two disappointing years as a wideout, Sharpe quickly became John Elway’s favorite target and a key offensive weapon for the Denver Broncos. Sharpe was faster than anyone at the tight end position, knew and could run all of the routes in the play call and frankly was willing to outmuscle everyone in order to win.

This approach earned him eight Pro Bowl selections (1992-1998, 2001) and four First-Team All-Pro honors (1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998). But most importantly, it made him a 3 time NFL Super Bowl champion. He helped Elway and the Broncos become back-to-back Super Bowl champions in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. 

After this, he was recruited by Ozzie Newsome to join the Baltimore Ravens and help them win the NFL title in 2000. He retired in 2003 as the all-time leader among tight ends in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns and the greatest TE of all time. Those records have since been broken, but his 10,060 receiving yards and 62 touchdowns on 815 receptions were game-changing at the time. 

He became the first tight end to break the 10,000 receiving yards barrier, proving that tight ends can be a vocal point in an offense. Sharpe also holds the record for the longest touchdown catch in NFL playoff history. 

This 96-yard catch in the 2000 AFC Championship game en route to his third Super Bowl ring is still the Ravens’ longest offensive play in team history. Recognized for his production, perseverance, and revolutionary role in the position, Sharpe was admitted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.  

04. Antonio Gates

  • Career Stats: Games Played (236), Total Career Receptions (955) Total Yards Received(11 841), Total Touchdowns (116),
  • NFL Teams: San Diego Chargers (2003–2017), Los Angeles Chargers (2017–2018)
  • Accolades: 8× Pro Bowl selection (2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013),3× First-Team All-Pro selection (2004, 2006, 2009), NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, Holds the NFL record for most career touchdown receptions by a tight end, San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame, Los Angeles Chargers Hall of Fame

Much like Shannon Sharpe, Antonio Gates played basketball before going to the NFL. But unlike Sharpe, Gates wasn’t a 2 sport star. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t played football since middle school. But just like Shannon Sharpe, going undrafted wasn’t going to stop Gates from becoming the San Diego Chargers best te all time.

At 6 feet 4 inches, Antonio Gates lacked the metrics necessary to be an NBA player. He might not have been one of the tallest basketball players, but he towered over NFL defenses just fine. He was well-equipped to be a potent end zone target worthy of top 10 tight ends recognition. So it’s unlikely you will find a tight end on the shortest NFL players list. His size, jumping ability, and agility made him impossible to cover. Something the San Diego Chargers immediately noticed, signing the undrafted free agent after his first tryout.

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Every Sunday Gates are open

Gates showed some flashes of excellence during his rookie year, despite being buried on the depth chart of a team with a 4-12 record. But after that, there was no holding him back. Gates finished his second season in the NFL with 81 receptions for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns, breaking the NFL single-season record for touchdown receptions by a tight end. His contributions earned him the first of eight straight Pro Bowl selections (2004-2011) and three First-Team All-Pro honors (2004, 2005, and 2006).

Antonio Gates played his entire 16-year career dawning the Chargers jersey. In it, he posted 11,841 receiving yards on 955 receptions, good for third all time at his position. These numbers resulted in seven postseason runs and an AFC Championship Game appearance for the Chargers. Gates broke the 1,000-yard benchmark just 2 times during his career but he retired as the NFL all-time receiving touchdowns leader at the tight end position with 116. That number still ranks him 7th all-time across all receiving roles. 

Gates had an incredible career catching passes from Phillip Rivers, but there’s a reason why the latter isn’t a part of the NFL QB with most Super Bowl wins list. Despite a noticeable lack of postseason success, Antonio Gates is still one of the greatest tight ends of all time. His record-breaking proficiency, exceptional longevity, and determination to go from an undrafted free agent to an NFL legend, make him a first-ballot NFL Hall of Fame candidate.

03. Travis Kelce

  • Career Stats: Games Played (144), Total Career Receptions (814) Total Yards Received(10 344), Total Touchdowns (69),
  • NFL Teams: Kansas City Chiefs (2013- present)
  • Accolades: 2× Super Bowl champion (LIV, LVII), 4× First-team All-Pro (2016, 2018, 2020, 2022), 3× Second-team All-Pro (2017, 2019, 2021), 8× Pro Bowl (2015–2022), NFL 2010s All-Decade Team

As of August 2023, prior to the 2023 NFL season, these are the numbers Travis Kelce has accumulated. These alone warrant inclusion on the top 10 tight ends of all time list. But if he continues his current production making him one of the best tight ends NFL right now, he could probably reach the top.

Travis Kelce was drafted in the third round during the 2013 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. And a decade later, he still dawning the same jersey. He just happens to own a lot more records and hardware. Kelce only played a single snap with the special teams before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for his entire rookie season.

The two years that followed saw Kelce rise to the upper echelon of top tight ends in the NFL. But everything that has followed since has been nothing short of spectacular. An NFL record of 7 consecutive seasons with 1,000+ receiving yards by a tight end. In 2020, Kelce set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end, with 1,416. He also holds the NFL Tight End record for most 100-reception seasons, which is currently 3. 

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Kelce and Mahomes

His blend of size at 6 ft 5 in, exceptional athleticism, and route-running prowess have enabled him to excel as both a traditional tight end and a slot receiver. He’s been Mahomes’s safety net ever since they paired, making one of the youngest QBs to win a Super Bowl MVP. His immense catch radius has served as a pressure valve for the young QB numerous times. 

But beyond that, Kelce’s impact on the game is most notable in his playmaking ability. His knack for gaining yards after the catch, breaking tackles, and creating explosive plays elevates him to one of the greatest tight ends of all time. His agility in the open field keeps defenses on their edge as slower players can’t cover him downfield, while smaller defenders have no shot of tackling him.

Kelce’s efforts have been well documented with 8× Pro Bowl appearances to his name (2015–2022). He also has 4× NFL All Pro First-team placements (2016, 2018, 2020, 2022) and another 3× for the Second-team (2017, 2019, 2021). But most importantly, pairing him up with Patrick Mahomes has resulted in 2 Super Bowl Wins.

Travis Kelce currently serves as the role model for anyone in his position and will probably go down as the greatest TE of all time, if his health holds up. So far, excluding his first season, he’s always been able to help his team. Giving us a lot of hope to see him top this list of top 10 tight ends of all time, by the time he hands up the cleats.

02. Tony Gonzalez

  • Career Stats: Games Played (270), Total Career Receptions (1325) Total Yards Received(15 127), Total Touchdowns (111),
  • NFL Teams: Kansas City Chiefs (1997–2008), Atlanta Falcons (2009–2013)
  • Accolades: 14× Pro Bowl selection (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), 6× First-Team All-Pro selection (1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008), 4× Second-Team All-Pro selection (2000, 2006, 2010, 2012), NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, NFL records for most career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions by a tight end, Atlanta Falcons Ring of Honor, Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame, Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2019)

The trend of basketball players becoming the greatest tight ends of all time stops here. Coming out of the University of California as a two sport athlete, the Kansas City Chiefs decided to make Tony Gonzalez the 13th pick in the 1997 NFL draft. 

Widely recognized as the gold standard for tight end NFL players, Tony Gonzalez’s storied 17 year NFL career was missing only 1 thing. NFL postseason success and production. That’s why he’s number 2 on our top tight ends list, just below the greatest TE of all time. 

The first two years of his career were marked by a steady increase in responsibility and production before recording a career-high 11 touchdown receptions and earning his first Pro Bowl selection during his third season. He collected a total of 14 Pro Bowl appearances during his career, the most for a tight end and second-most in NFL history. Those were in addition to 10 All Pro selections, 6 of which were for the first team.

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Sure Hands

After 12 years with the Kansas City Chiefs, Gonzalez was traded to the Atlanta Falcons in April of 2009, where he spent another 5 seasons. In total, Gonzalez retired with 15,127 receiving yards and 1,325 receptions, both of which are the most of any TE ever. He was the leading tight end touchdown receiver until Antonio Gates passed him. 

He’s also third all-time in receptions, trailing only HOF wide receivers like Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald. Ranking sixth all-time in receiving yards and eighth all-time in receiving touchdowns makes him one of the most prolific pass catchers in NFL history regardless of position.

The Sure Hands moniker came up because you could always depend on Tony Gonzalez. Over his career, he appeared in 270 of 272 regular season games and lost only two fumbles on 1,327 touches, which is obscene to think about in a 17 year career.

The only thing missing from Tony Gonzalez’s resume is post-season success. But that shouldn’t downplay his greatness. His consistent and proficient production has set lofty standards for anyone trying to be among the top tight ends in the NFL. That’s why his body of work will always save him a spot amongst the top 10 tight ends of all time.

Who is The  Greatest Tight End Ever?

In such a long list of top tight ends throughout the extensive NFL history, only one player deserves to be crowned the greatest TE of all time. Competition is fierce, and some of the active players on this list might leap him on future top 10 tight ends of all time lists. But right now, there is only one player worthy of the best TE all time title.

01. Rob Gronkowski

  • Career Stats: Games Played (143), Total Career Receptions (621) Total Yards Received(9286), Total Touchdowns (92),
  • NFL Teams: New England Patriots (2010–2018), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020–2021)
  • Accolades: 4× Super Bowl champion (XLIX, LI, LIII, LV), 4× First-team All-Pro (2011, 2014, 2015, 2017), 5× Pro Bowl selection (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2014), NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, New England Patriots All-2010s Team, New England Patriots All-Dynasty Team

The n1 spot on our list is reserved for the greatest TE of all time. You could make an argument for a lot of top tight ends here, but Gronk checks all of the boxes. The 6’6″ 268-pound force of nature imposed his will on defenders en route to three Super Bowl titles and multiple receiving records. 

Robert Gronkowski entered the NFL as a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft courtesy of the New England Patriots. Despite missing the previous year in college with a back injury, Gronk played his entire rookie season, helping the Patriots to a 14-2 record. His 10 touchdown receptions are the most a rookie tight end has ever gotten, landing him on the All-Rookie team.

But what followed suit would spell doom for the rest of the league, as Gronk was completely unleashed. With his towering stature and imposing physicality, Gronk became an immovable blocker in the NE Patriots running game. His blend of size, speed, and catching ability gave him a massive catch radius that made dealing with him in the endzone an impossible mission. And he also had Tom Brady throwing him the ball.

The following year in 2011, Gronk became the only tight end in NFL history to lead the league in touchdown receptions. 

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Gronk

He caught 17 balls in the endzone that year, which was a single-season record for the TE position as well. Those came from a then record-breaking 1,327 receiving yards, which would be later on surpassed by Kelce in 2020.

Gronk is also the first tight end to have 3 seasons with 10 or more touchdowns and at least 1,000 receiving yards. He did this in the aforementioned 2011 season, and in 2014-15. His 7-year tenure with the Patriots was probably the highest peak from a tight end we have ever seen. Gronk earned five Pro Bowl selections (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017) and four First-Team All-Pro honors (2011, 2014, 2015, and 2017), during that time, to go along with 3 Super Bowl rings.

That’s right. The thing that separates Gronk from everyone on this list isn’t his charismatic persona or dominating physical presence. It’s his postseason credentials, and how he impacted championship teams from the TE position. His 1,379 yards and 15 receiving TDs in the postseason were an NFL record until Travis Kelce surpassed him this year. 

Robert Gronkowski retired after the 2018 season but the NE Patriots still owned his rights. Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following spring and he wanted Gronk by his side. Bill Belichek obliged, reuniting the deadliest duo in NFL history.

Gronk played 2 more seasons with Brady and the Buccaneers in which he had a decreased load but still maintained efficiency. He even won his fourth NFL Super Bowl ring, further exacerbating the gap between him and the rest of the top 10 tight ends of all time on this list. Gronk passed the eye test, owns multiple records, and has enough hardware for us to hail him as the greatest TE of all time. 

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