The future of the New York Giants’ tight end position is uncertain to say the least. There are a few candidates on the current roster that can take over the position in 2012, but most are unproven and questionable as long-term solutions.
New York brought in ex-Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett through free agency. Bennett appears to be the incumbent starter, but the Giants signed him to only a one-year deal in case he is unable to shed the draft-bust label. If Bennett does not work out, the Giants’ fourth round draft choice, Adrien Robinson, will have a chance to take over the role. While Robinson has tremendous upside, he is very raw and untested as a receiving threat.
Bennett and Robinson join veteran tight ends Bear Pascoe, whose versatility allows him to step in at fullback in a pinch, and Travis Beckum, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in Super Bowl XLVI. Both players are heading into their fourth season with the Giants, and neither has proven to have the talent needed to become an elite pass-catching tight end.
Jake Ballard looked promising in 2011 with 38 catches for 601 yards and four touchdowns. However, after a torn ACL (also suffered in Super Bowl XLVI), the Giants waived Ballard, hoping he would go unclaimed so that they could stash him on injured reserve for the future. Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots quickly sniffed out the Giants’ plans and snagged Ballard, despite having the top tight end duo in the league, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
The tight end position is easily one of the Giants’ biggest question marks heading into training camp. At a time when monster tight ends like Gronkowski and New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham are dominating the league, New York is without a legitimate, proven threat.
The uncertainty may be nerve-racking for some fans. So, to alleviate any stress you may be feeling, I’ve decided to compile a list of the top five tight ends to ever wear Giants’ blue. Kick your shoes off, sit back and enjoy the list and forget about the Giants’ current tight end conundrum.
Kevin Boss (Honorable Mention)
Kevin Boss does not crack this list’s top five, but his contributions from 2007-2010 are worth noting.
Boss was the Giants’ fifth round draft choice out of Western Oregon in 2007. For most of his rookie season, he backed up Jeremy Shockey. But with Shockey injured during New York’s ’07 playoff run, Boss emerged as a reliable receiving option.
Boss returned as the starter in 2008, catching a career-high six touchdowns. Over the next few seasons, Boss became one of quarterback Eli Manning’s favorite targets, especially in the red zone (or as head coach Tom Coughlin likes to call it, the “green zone”). Of Boss’s 119 grabs with the Giants, 18 of them went for touchdowns.
Boss’s tenure in New York was cut short during the 2011 offseason when the Oakland Raiders offered him a contract that the Giants could not match. After just four quick seasons with the team, Giants fans can only wonder what Boss would have amounted to had he stayed in New York.
No. 5 Howard Cross
His receiving stats are not going to blow you away, but Howard Cross certainly belongs on this list.
Cross, who is currently the sideline reporter for the New York Giants Radio Network, is the definition of a lifelong Giant. After being drafted in the sixth round out of Alabama, he logged 13 seasons from 1989 to 2001 with New York.
Cross was the only player to bridge the gap from the ’91 Giants, who defeated the Buffalo Bills to become Super Bowl champions, to the ’00 Giants, who appeared in the Super Bowl but ultimately fell to the Baltimore Ravens. His 207 career games are the most in team history.
Cross is the only tight end to make this list without exemplary pass-catching ability. While he was most valuable in the running game thanks to his blocking ability, he did have one season (1993) with five touchdown grabs.
No. 4 Bob Tucker
Bob Tucker was an incredible talent, but he had the disadvantage of playing in an era that Giants fans would rather forget.
Tucker was the Giants starting tight end from 1970 until he was traded to the Minnesota Vikings in the middle of the 1977 season. During Tucker’s time in New York, the Giants compiled a terrible win-loss record of 35-67. Many of Tuckers’ accomplishments are overlooked or forgotten simply because the team was just so bad.
Despite his team’s woes, Tucker managed to become the Giants’ all-time receiving yards leader for tight ends. And despite having the third most receptions out of any player—and the most among tight ends—in the NFL during the 1970s, Tucker was never selected to the Pro Bowl. Also, Tucker is the Giants' all-time receiving yardage leader among tight ends. He is truly one of the most underrated players in league history.
No. 3 Aaron Thomas
Aaron Thomas, a sturdy tight end from the 1960s, is another one of New York’s forgotten all-time greats.
Thomas, who was drafted by San Francisco in the fourth round of the 1961 NFL Draft, played in an era when the passing game was still evolving. The NFL had recently shifted to the two-platoon system, and specialized tight ends, who had exceptional receiving skills but would have struggled on defense, were beginning to find their niche in the game.
The Giants acquired Thomas three games into the 1962 season, and he spent the next eight years in New York. Over that time, Thomas reeled in 35 touchdown passes, which remains the most by a Giants tight end to this day.
Thomas averaged an amazing 17.2 yards per catch throughout his career with the Giants. In 1964, Thomas was selected to his first and only Pro Bowl, but his best season came in 1967 when he totaled 51 receptions for 877 yards and nine touchdowns.
No. 2 Jeremy Shockey
Jeremy Shockey was one of the toughest tight ends to ever suit up for the New York Giants.
As a rookie in 2002, Shockey burst onto the NFL scene. The Giants first round pick out of the University of Miami had an immediate impact for his new team, earning a Pro Bowl and an All-Pro selection in his first season as a professional.
Shockey was one of the most dominant tight ends of the early 2000s. His reputation as a tough-runner and reliable receiving target got him to the Pro Bowl in four of his first five seasons in the league.
When Eli Manning was drafted in 2004, Shockey quickly became one of the young quarterback’s favorite options. Shockey hauled in 20 of his 27 touchdowns as a Giant in only three seasons (2004-06).
Eventually, nagging injuries got the best of Shockey’s career in New York—he was never able to appear in all 16 games in any of his six seasons with the Giants. While Shockey remained a reliable pass-catcher, his toughness and attitude started to go downhill late in his Giants’ career.
Shockey fractured his leg 14 games into the 2007 season, and his team went on to win the Super Bowl without his services. At that point, it was obvious that Shockey and the Giants needed to go their separate ways.
It’s a shame that Shockey ended his career with the Giants on such a sour note. Fans tend to remember him for his poor sportsmanship and bad attitude rather than his franchise leading—for a tight end—371 receptions.
No. 1 Mark Bavaro
While Jeremy Shockey was one of the toughest tight ends to ever play for the Giants, Mark Bavaro was easily the toughest.
While many remember the Giants of the 1980s by their incredible defense and four-man linebacking crew spearheaded by Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, Bavaro was equally iconic during the Bill Parcells era.
Drafted out of Notre Dame in the fourth round of the 1985 NFL Draft, Bavaro saw immediate playing time as a rookie, starting all 16 games. But it was not until the following season when Bavaro really broke out.
In 1986, Bavaro was a pivotal part of the team’s 14-2 regular season campaign. With 66 catches, he became the first and only Giants tight end to break 1,000 receiving yards. The Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that season, and Bavaro earned his first All-Pro selection.
Bavaro followed up his impressive 1986 season with a second straight All-Pro performance in 1987. His receptions (55) and yardage (867) dipped, but Bavaro managed to snag a career-high eight touchdown catches.
Bavaro was the only Giants tight end to be selected as an NFL All-Pro twice, and he was a key member of both the 1986 and 1990 Super Bowl-winning squads, which is why he tops this list.