The Great Debate: The Greatest Tight End of All Time

Jordan LeeAnalyst IJuly 6, 2008

Welcome to the third installment of my Great Debate series. I have recently covered the quarterback and running back positions, and I continue with football as I examine the greatest to ever play at the tight-end position.

As the passing game has become the focal point of NFL offenses in recent years, we have seen the emergence of several elite pass-catching tight ends, putting up statistics rivaling those of the game's top receivers.

But receiving is not the only part that makes up the tight-end position, the best can also block at a high level, and that is what separates the best tight ends of all time from the ones that are merely big wide receivers.

In analysing the best tight ends of all time, I have narrowed the choices to five, they are as follows: Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Ozzie Newsome, Shannon Sharpe, and Kellen Winslow.


Antonio Gates TE, San Diego Chargers (2003-present)

Now, I admit this may be a bit premature for Gates, but the man is setting a record pace for receiving, and he is improving his blocking skills year by year. He is also a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame.

Gates burst onto the scene in 2003 as a former college basketball power forward who had not played football since high school. He has since gone on to take the NFL by storm, posing one of the toughest matchups for defensive coordinators to game-plan for.


Tony Gonzalez TE, Kansas City Chiefs (1997-present)

Gonzalez has been causing headaches for defensive coordinators for the past decade. He has been the primary receiving option for the Chiefs since the day he set foot in Arrowhead. Gonzo is on pace to hold every tight-end receiving record when he hangs them up.


Ozzie Newsome TE, Cleveland Browns (1978-1990)

The Browns selected Newsome 23rd overall, and he immediately produced for them. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, Ozzie Newsome was elected to the Pro Bowl three times and ranks third among tight ends in career receptions.


Shannon Sharpe TE, Denver Broncos (1990-2003)

Shannon Sharpe is renowned for his big mouth, but his play was even bigger, as he dominated and taunted defenses throughout the '90s. When he retired, he held every major, receiving record for tight ends.


Kellen Winslow TE, San Diego Chargers (1979-1987)

Kellen Winslow was the main weapon in what has been called by many as the greatest offense in the history of the NFL, Air Coryell. Winslow revolutionized the tight-end position, becoming one of the first tight ends to be the go-to player in an offense.


How They Compare (Career)

Gates (5 Years, 77 Games): 340 Rec for 4,362 yds. with a 12.8 avg. and 43 TD

Gonzalez (11 Years, 174 Games): 820 rec for 9,882 yds. 12.1 avg and 73 TD

Newsome(13 Years, 198 Games): 662 rec for 7,980 yds. 12.1 avg and 47 TD

Sharpe (14 Years, 204 Games): 815 rec for 10,060 yds 12.3 avg and 62 TD

Winslow (9 Years, 109 Games): 541 rec for 6,741 yds 12.5 avg and 45 TD


How They Compare (Season)

Gates: 68 rec for 872 yds with a 12.8 avg and 8.6 TD

Gonzalez: 74 rec for 898 yds with a 12.1 avg and 6.6 TD

Newsome: 51 rec for 614 yds with a 12.0 avg and 3.6 TD

Sharpe: 58 rec for 718 yds with a 12.4 avg and 4.4 TD

Winslow: 60 rec for 749 yds with a 12.5 avg and 5 TD


How They Compare (Game)

Gates: 4.4 rec for 56.6 yds with a 12.9 avg and 0.56 TD

Gonzalez: 4.7 rec for 56.7 yds with a 12.0 avg and 0.42 TD

Newsome: 3.3 rec for 40.0 yds with a 12.1 avg and 0.24 TD

Sharpe: 4 rec for 49 yds with a 12.3 avg and 0.30 TD

Winslow: 5 rec for 61.8 yds with a 12.4 avg and 0.41 TD



All of these players have played within the last 25 years, so there isn't as much of a era gap between them. When he retires, Tony Gonzalez should hold every major, tight-end record due to his longevity. Antonio Gates, meanwhile, dominates in yards per catch and touchdowns, and he should make a run at Gonzalez's records.

Kellen Winslow produces the most receptions and yards per game vs. the other four. It is unfortunate that Winslow played so much less than any of the other players (besides Gates), if he had played 170+ games like the other three, he could very well have posted records that would be difficult for any other tight end to overcome.

Winslow made up for his lack of his appearances by making the largest impact he could in every game he played in. He completely changed the way the tight-end position was viewed, and he was the forefather for today's elite tight ends. It is for this reason that I name him the greatest tight end of all time.


Verdict: Kellen Winslow