Who’s the best tight end not in the Hall of Fame?

(Jay Novacek photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)
(Ben Coates photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)

Talk of Fame Network

Tight end is one of the most under-represented positions in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are eight of them enshrined – only one of whom has played in the last 25 years.

That would be Shannon Sharpe, who retired after the 2003 season as the all-time leading receiver at the position. He also won two Super Bowls with two different franchises. But it still took him three trips to the finals to achieve his induction. John Mackey was selected the best tight end in the first 50 years of the NFL, and it still took him eight years to gain enshrinement

There is no shortage of worthy candidates at the position. And that’s the subject of this week’s poll at the Talk of Fame Network – who’s the best tight end not enshrined in the Hall of Fame? Here are your options:

Fred Arbanas. The tight end on the AFL all-decade team. Arbanas played nine seasons with the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs and went to five AFL all-star games. He caught 198 passes for 3,101 yards, averaging 15.7 yards per reception, and scored 34 touchdowns. He helped the Chiefs win three AFL titles and one Super Bowl. Arbanas was a second-round pick of the NFL St. Louis Cardinals in 1961 but opted to sign with the upstart league.


(Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)

Todd Christensen. A two-time NFL receiving champion (1983 and 1986). Christensen became a second-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 1978 who knocked around with three teams (Cowboys, Giants and Raiders) before moving to tight end in 1981. In eight seasons there Christensen caught 461 passes for 5,872 yards with 41 touchdowns. He also went to five Pro Bowls and played on two Super Bowl champions.

Ben Coates. A member of the 1990s’ NFL all-decade team. Coates played 10 seasons — the first nine with New England and the final year with the Baltimore Ravens, winning a Super Bowl. Coates caught 499 passes for 5,555 yards with 50 touchdowns. He went to five Pro Bowls and was selected to New England’s 50th anniversary team.

Ron Kramer. One of three tight ends selected to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team but the only one not yet enshrined in Canton. Fellow golden-anniversary selections Mackey and Mike Ditka already have busts in the Hall of Fame. Kramer played 10 seasons, the first seven with the Green Bay Packers and the last three with his hometown Detroit Lions. He was one of the best blocking tight ends of his era, a key figure in success of Green Bay’s vaunted rushing attack. He caught 229 career passes with 16 touchdowns.

Jay Novacek. One of the success stories of Plan B free agency. Novacek left the Phoenix Cardinals for the Cowboys in free agency in 1990 and became a favorite receiver of Troy Aikman on Dallas teams that would win three Super Bowls in Novacek’s first six seasons. He caught 422 passes in his 11 seasons for 4,630 yards and 30 touchdowns. He went to five Pro Bowls and was named the tight end on the Super Bowl’s 50th anniversary team.

Pete Retzlaff. One of the game’s original tight ends. Retzlaff began his career as a halfback in the 1950s before moving out to wide receiver and finally back in to tight end in 1963. He went to five Pro Bowls in his 11 seasons, including three at the tight end position. He led the NFL in receiving as a wide receiver in 1958 with his 56 receptions but had his best season as a tight end in 1965 with 66 catches for 1,190 yards (18.0-yard average) and 10 touchdowns. His jersey number 44 has been retired by the Eagles.

NFL Historical Imagery

(Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)

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  1. Sports Fan
    March 9, 2016

    Talk Of Fame
    On the Bio noted for each TE
    should you note Todd Christensen is a 2x Super Bowl Champion?
    You did for the other individuals

  2. bachslunch
    March 9, 2016

    Jerry Smith definitely belongs in the conversation here. He was better than Arbanas, for one.

  3. Rasputin
    March 9, 2016

    Novacek is absolutely underrated, mostly because of his early years with the Cardinals where he was misused when he was used at all. He had the speed of a collegiate conference track champion and probably even better hands than Michael Irvin, routinely catching passes in traffic with defenders all over him. He was the most productive pass catching TE in the NFL over the first half of the 1990s, but unfortunately injury ended his career early right before the ephochal explosion in passing stat inflation in the second half of the decade. That’s led some to believe TEs who got to play in that period like Shannon Sharpe and Ben Coates were better. They weren’t.

  4. Rich Quodomine
    March 14, 2016

    I’m going to go with Christiansen, though I give props to Coates (who was awesome) and Novacek (and I hate giving credit to Cowboys). Christiansen was one of the guys I first remembered disliking (My Dad *hates* the Raiders) and remembering just how good he was during the 80s. He and Ozzie Newsome broke it big for tight ends. In an era where people were not pass happy (though the Raiders threw it deep a lot), Christiansen was every bit the weapon a guy like Cliff Branch was, along with being a solid blocker and a great, heady player. I am frankly surprised he isn’t in already.

    I can’t speak to Retzlaff, Arnabas or Kramer – before my time.

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