(Kellen Winslow photo courtesy of the San Diego Chargers)
Talk of Fame Network
The Hall of Fame has never held the tight-end position in high regard. There are only eight of them enshrined in Canton — and most endured lengthy waits for their busts.
There has never been a first-ballot Hall of Famer at the tight-end position. There’s never been a second-ballot Hall of Famer, either. Mike Ditka was voted to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team at tight end but still had to wait 12 years before he was elected in his second trip to the finals. John Mackey, who was voted to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team and may have been the most complete tight end the game has ever seen, had to wait 15 years before he was elected in his fifth trip to the finals.
So we at the Talk of Fame Network are going to toss a little love in their direction in this week’s poll. We’re shining the spotlight on six of the greatest tight ends of all time, and we want our listeners and reader to tell us who was the best ever. So who’s your choice? Here are your options:
Mike Ditka. One of two tight ends named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. Ditka became the fifth overall pick of the 1961 NFL draft _ the highest a tight end has ever been drafted. And Ditka was worth the expense. He arrived at a time when tight ends were blockers first. Anything they provided in the passing game was considered a bonus. And Ditka provided quite a bit. He caught 56 passes and became the first tight end in history with a 1,000-yard season on his way to NFL Rookie-of-the-Year honors. He caught 427 passes in his 12-year career for 5,812 yards. He won an NFL championship as a player (1963 Bears) as an assistant coach (1971 Cowboys) and head coach (1985 Bears).
(Mike Ditka photo courtesy of the Chicago Bears)
Tony Gonzalez. Named to the 2000s NFL all-decade team. A tight end with wide receiver production, Gonzalez caught 1,325 career passes in his 17 seasons. That puts him second on the all-time receiving list, regardless of position, to Jerry Rice. He also ranks fifth all-time with his 15,127 yards, and his 111 career touchdowns are a record for a tight end. Gonzalez was a first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997 and was voted to 14 Pro Bowls in his career.
John Mackey. Named the tight end on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team. Also selected to the 1960s NFL all-decade team along with Ditka. Mackey was a second-round pick in 1963 who would go on to play in five Pro Bowls in his 10-year career and win a Super Bowl with the 1970 Colts. Another of the block-first tight ends, Mackey caught 331 career passes for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns. He became one of the first tight ends to excel running the seam route, averaging 15.8 yards per catch. He caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in a Super Bowl.
(John Mackey photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)
Shannon Sharpe. Named to the 1990s NFL all-decade team. A seventh-round draft pick by Denver in 1990, the Broncos converted him from wide receiver to tight end. He retired after the 2003 season as the all-time leading receiver at tight end with 815 career catches, although he has since been passed on the list by Gonzalez and Jason Witten. Sharpe went to eight Pro Bowls in his 14-year career and won three Super Bowls, two with the Denver Broncos and one with the Baltimore Ravens. He was the leading receiver on Denver’s championship team in 1997 and Baltimore’s in 2000.
(Shannon Sharpe photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)
Kellen Winslow. One of two tight ends named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. Also a member of the 1980s NFL all-decade team. The Chargers made Winslow the 13th overall pick of the 1979 draft, and although he didn’t play long (just nine seasons), he played well. He went to five Pro Bowls and won back-to-back NFL receiving titles in 1980 and 1981. His career was shortened by knee injuries but not before he caught 541 passes for 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns. His best game came in the playoffs against Miami when he set a playoff record with 16 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown. He also blocked a field goal.
Jason Witten. The only tight end on this list still active, Witten ranks ninth on the all-time receiving list with 1,064 catches. If he catches 35 passes over the final seven games of this season, he will vault all the way up to fifth on the all-time list. Witten holds the NFL single-season record for tight ends with his 110 catches in 2012 and has had four 1,000-yard seasons. He also has been voted to 10 Pro Bowls. A third-round pick by the Cowboys in 2003, Witten is the all-time leading receiver in franchise history. And he’s not done yet — not at 34 years of age.
(Jason Witten photos cover courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)