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Best NFL Tight Ends of All Time: Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce Headline Top 10

Who are the best NFL tight ends of all time? We offer our top 10, which includes legends such as Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Mike Ditka.

Of all the all-time NFL positional debates, none are more difficult than ranking the greatest tight ends.

The way the position is played in today’s NFL differs wildly from the way it was played even 15 years ago, let alone in the 1960s.

What makes an all-time great tight end? Do you need great receiving numbers to qualify, or is being an elite blocker enough?

An ideal tight end would be great in both areas, but the reality is that many tight ends aren’t asked to play the position that way.

So, this was a difficult list to make. But we powered through and ranked the 10 best NFL tight ends of all time, along with five honorable mentions.

10 Best NFL Tight Ends of All Time

Honorable mentions: Jason Witten, Charlie Sanders, Jackie Smith, Greg Olsen, Russ Francis

10) Dave Casper

The best tight end of the 1970s, Dave Casper narrowly edged Witten and Sanders for the final spot on this list.

Strong and athletic with long arms and big hands, Casper was a top-notch blocker who also excelled as a pass catcher. He topped 700 receiving yards three times, including an 852-yard campaign for the Oakland Raiders in 1978.

Casper’s Hall of Fame career included five Pro Bowl nods, four first-team All-Pro selections, and two Super Bowl titles.

9) John Mackey

Some old-time football fans would argue that John Mackey should be higher on this list, and they might be right. After all, it’s “The John Mackey Award” that’s given annually to college football’s best tight end.

In any case, Mackey was one of the best players of his era. He was a great blocker who revolutionized how tight ends were used in the receiving game. Mackey was also remarkably durable, missing just one game during his 10 seasons, nine of which were for the Baltimore Colts.

The Hall of Famer earned five Pro Bowl nods, three first-team All-Pro selections, and won two championships (one Super Bowl title and one NFL title). Mackey finished his career with 331 catches for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns.

8) Ozzie Newsome

One of the best tight ends of the 1980s, Ozzie Newsome was a prolific pass catcher and solid blocker. He eclipsed 900 receiving yards three times for the Cleveland Browns, including two campaigns of over 1,000 yards. He could do it all.

Newsome was also renowned for his high football IQ. It’s no wonder that he went on to enjoy a long, successful career as an NFL executive, including a 17-year run as general manager of the Ravens. He currently serves as Baltimore’s executive vice president of player personnel.

7) Mike Ditka

A true NFL legend, Mike Ditka is one of the greatest tight ends in football history.

A ferocious blocker, Ditka also was a dangerous weapon in the passing game. As a Chicago Bears rookie in 1961, he caught 56 balls for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns, which still stands as the single-season TD record for rookie tight ends.

Ditka finished his career with five Pro Bowl nods, two First-Team All-Pro selections, and one Super Bowl title. He later won another Super Bowl as the Bears’ head coach.

6) Shannon Sharpe

This is where things get tough.

Shannon Sharpe was a decent blocker, but he’s best known as a dangerous offensive weapon who’s partly responsible for how tight ends are used in today’s NFL. Sharpe was dynamic as a receiver, finishing his career with 815 catches for 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns.

As a three-time Super Bowl champion with eight Pro Bowl nods on his résumé, Sharpe earned the right to spew the hot takes that have made him a polarizing TV personality.

5) Antonio Gates

One of the most valuable players in fantasy football history, Antonio Gates is also one of the all-time great tight ends in the real world.

His 955 receptions rank 17th among all players and third among tight ends. His 11,841 yards also rank third on the tight end leaderboard, with his 116 touchdowns ranking first.

Was Gates a great blocker? No. But he more than made up for it as a receiver across his 16 seasons with the Chargers.

Gates, an eight-time Pro Bowler, was denied entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2024, his first year on the ballot. But he’ll get in eventually.

4) Kellen Winslow

How about the AFC West? The top five on this list include two Chargers and two Chiefs, with the bottom five including Raiders and Broncos legends.

Anyway, Kellen Winslow (Sr., not Jr.), is one of the best NFL tight ends of all time. He didn’t enjoy the longest career, but Winslow was a monster during his nine seasons in San Diego.

From 1980-87, he averaged 810.7 receiving yards and 5.4 touchdowns per season. His size and athleticism made him a matchup nightmare.

Winslow’s Hall of Fame résumé includes five Pro Bowl selections and three first-team All-Pro nods.

3) Tony Gonzalez

This is where a lot of people are going to get upset.

Many believe Tony Gonzalez deserves the No. 1 spot. His combination of longevity and production is unmatched at the position, and he developed into a competent blocker. Gonzalez ranks first among all tight ends in starts (254), catches (1,325), and yards (15,127) while ranking second in TDs.

But these lists are subjective, and the eye test is a factor. Gonzalez is an absolute legend, but you can’t watch the top two players on this list and believe they’re worse than Gonzalez.

Regardless, Gonzalez is a 14-time Pro Bowler and a deserving Hall of Famer. And there’s no shame in being the third-best tight end of all time.

2) Travis Kelce

Sorry, Swifties.

Travis Kelce is the most difficult player to evaluate on this list. He really is a receiver — and an incredible one at that — masquerading as a tight end. Not only is he a subpar blocker, but his actual usage rate as a blocker is dwarfed by others on this list, including the player in the No. 1 spot.

Nevertheless, Kelce occasionally is used as a traditional tight end, and he’s classified as a tight end. So, he obviously needs to be on here.

And, yeah, he’s really good. If Kelce plays another two seasons, he likely will finish in the top three among tight ends in catches, yards, and touchdowns. He also could bolster his all-time tight end playoff TD record, which currently stands at 19.

The three-time Super Bowl champion probably will go down as the greatest receiving tight end of all time.

Kelce is a legend and a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. But he is not the best NFL tight end of all time.

1) Rob Gronkowski

The only reason this is a debate is due to Rob Gronkowski’s durability. Banged up throughout his career, Gronkowski appeared in just 143 games, well behind Jason Witten’s all-time mark of 271. In fact, Gronkowski doesn’t even rank in the top 70.

So, his case for the No. 1 spot isn’t airtight, depending on how you weigh different factors.

However, when Gronkowski was on the field, he was the best tight in NFL history, and by a wide margin. He’s one of the best blocking tight ends of all time and arguably the most dangerous pass-catching tight end in history. You won’t find a single NFL defender who’d prefer matching up against Gronkowski over Kelce.

Gronkowski averaged 74 catches, 1,104 yards, and 11 touchdowns per 17 games, numbers that rival Kelce’s despite his greater blocking responsibilities. Missing one full season (retired) and 34 games didn’t prevent Gronkowski from ranking sixth among tight ends in yards (9,286) and third in TDs (92).

His case is strengthened by four Super Bowl titles, four first-team All-Pro selections, the single-season tight end record for touchdowns (17), and ranking second in tight end playoff TDs (15).

If Kelce maintains his current level for another season or two, he might force his way into the top spot due to sheer production. But right now, the honor still goes to Gronkowski.