Five Best Tight Ends in NFL History

Unlike some of the other positions I have recently written about, naming the five best tight ends in NFL history wasn’t nearly as complicated – or as time consuming. However, I must admit, that selections three through five on my “Best Tight End in NFL history” list, were tricky calls that were predicated on the play of some of the more recent tight ends to play in the NFL.

Having said that, here it is, my compilation of the five best tight ends in NFL history.

Kellen Winslow
The majority of players, coaches and fans of the NFL, since its inception, recognizes Winslow as the best tight end in NFL history. Like several others, Winslow was responsible for revolutionizing the tight end position forever.

The San Diego Chargers selected Winslow with the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 1979 NFL draft and the 6-5, 250-pound tight end played for the team 1979 to 1987.

Although Winslow played in five Pro Bowls, his career was shortened by a series of devastating knee injuries. However, he still managed to amass 541 receptions for 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns in just nine National Football League seasons.

Winslow, a consensus All-Pro in 1980, 1981, 1982, had his most memorable performance in 1981 in the Chargers 41-38 overtime playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins when he caught 13 passes for 166 yards and blocked a field goal with four seconds to play to send the game into overtime.

That game has been voted as the best game in NFL history by several football-related media – and it is a game I remember watching myself, being the lifelong Dolphin fan that I am.

I maintain, until this day, that Winslow’s performance that day may be the singular best postseason performance by any individual in NFL history. His statistics may not rival some of the others in this list, but when it comes to picking the best five tight ends in NFL history, I firmly believe that Winslow is at the head of the class.

Shannon Sharpe
I know Shannon Sharpe was a wondeful tight end and the career leader in receptions and receiving yards for tight ends, but I just couldn’t bring myself to rank him above Winslow. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that Sharpe is one of the best tight ends to ever play the game – and as a 7th round draft draft pick – one of the best draft picks of all-time as well.
Sharpe played in 8 Pro Bowls (1992-1998, 2001) and amassed over 1,000 receiving yards in 3 different seasons. He finished his 14 year career with 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns in 204 games and is the NFL’s all-time receptions and yardage leader for a tight-end.

Sharpe, who played 12 of his 14 seasons with the Denver Broncos, helped Denver to two consecutive Super Bowls and make the game-breaking play in leading the Baltimore Ravens to the 2000 Super Bowl title.

No matter where I have Sharpe ranked, there is no doubt that he is one of the best tight ends in NFL history.

Ozzie Newsome
I know a lot of people think Newsome is the best tight end of all-time because of both, his statistics – and his longevity, and I have absolutely no problem with that even though I have him ranked number three on my list.

At any rate, “The Wizard of Oz” was one of the best players to play in the NFL at any position. Throughout his 13-season, 198-game NFL career with the Cleveland Browns from 1978 to 1990, Newsome was a true team leader in every respect, and one of only five players in Browns history to play in parts of three decades.

Newsome amassed 662 receptions for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns throughout his career and was ranked as the fourth leading receiver in NFL history at the time of his retirement.

Newsome earned all-pro honors in his second season and again in 1984 and was a Pro Bowl choice following the 1981, 1984 and 1985 seasons. He was a vital component in the potent offense that took the Cleveland Browns to three AFC championship match-ups against the Denver Broncos in a four-year stretch between 1986 and 1989. Newsome also played in 198 consecutive games and caught at least one pass in 150 consecutive games, the second longest streak in NFL history at the time.

Newsome may be number three on my best tight end list, but he remains number one in the hearts of millions.

Tony Gonzalez
I really feel like I’m giving Gonzalez a raw deal by ranking him fourth on this list. By the time Gonzalez is through playing though, he should be at least number two or three – if he isn’t already.

His athleticism is nearly unparalleled, not to mention his catching ability, which can rival that of nearly any wide receiver, past or present, to ever play in the NFL.

I know Gonzalez has had the benefit of playing in one of the best offensive systems in the league, but I firmly believe that there isn’t a tight end in NFL history that Gonzalez isn’t the equal to – and that includes Winslow.

This may seem like a premature selection right now, but I can guarantee that when Gonzalez’s playing days are over, he will be recognized as the first of the new breed of tight ends that are currently setting the league on fire with the usual size of a tight end but displaying the grace, speed and catching ability of a wide receiver.

Gonzalez has more receptions (648), receiving yards (7,810) and TD catches (56) than any other active tight end and is quickly approaching Shannon Sharpe’s career statistics as the all-time leading tight end in NFL history. His 102 receptions in 2004 is the highest seasonal total ever amassed by an NFL tight end.

Dave Casper
I know my brother George, a lifelong Raiders fan is going to love this selection.

The Oakland Raiders selected Casper, one of my favorite players as well, in the second round of the 1974 draft and when he earned the starter’s role two season’s later, his Hall of Fame career was really set in motion. He quickly established himself as a dominant player, finishing the season with an impressive 53 catches for 691 yards and 10 touchdowns. His outstanding play that season gave the Raiders’ offense a blend of pass catching and blocking that culminated in a 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.

Nicknamed “The Ghost” by his teammates, Casper was not only a great receiver and blocker, but also one of the game’s best clutch performers. Two of pro football’s most memorable plays involved the sure-handed tight end.

In the 1977 AFC playoff game between the Raiders and the Baltimore Colts, Casper’s 10-yard touchdown reception ended the double-overtime affair. “Ghost to the Post,” the game is called in reference to Casper’s 42-yard reception route that set up the tying field goal at the end of regulation. The next season, Casper again pulled his team from certain defeat, on a play that would forever be remembered as “The Holy Roller.”

Casper was named All-Pro and All-AFC four times and was selected to play in four Pro Bowls and finished his career with 378 receptions for 5,216 yards and 52 touchdowns, which may sound like modest numbers until you think of the impact Casper’s receptions had on the games he played in. Once again, there may not have been a better postseason tight end in NFL history and that, is enough to make Casper number five on my list of the best tight ends in NFL history.

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