October 13, 2023 8:00am

The NFL's Tight Ends

The University of Iowa has earned a well-deserved nickname of “Tight End U.”

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

The University of Iowa has earned a well-deserved nickname of “Tight End U.”

There have been 14 Hawkeye tight ends drafted into the NFL and five have been to Pro Bowls. So Tight End U became the subject of this week’s NFL Power Poll. We asked our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters who the best tight end ever to come out of Iowa was and we offered up the five Pro Bowlers as options: current NFLers T.J. Hockenson (Detroit) and George Kittle (San Francisco) and past NFLers Dallas Clark (Indianapolis), Marv Cook (New England) and Jim Gibbons (Detroit).

Kittle was the runaway winner with 124 of the 174 votes cast. Clark was next with 46, followed by Cook with two and both Gibbons and Hockenson with one apiece.

“When healthy, Kittle is one of the league's premier tight ends,” said Hall of Fame voter Ira Kaufman of JoeBucsFan.com “Five times, he has been named one of the NFL's Top 50 players in voting by his peers. He is a very good blocker and he has averaged 63 receiving yards per game in his career, along with a 72 percent catch ratio. He remains a very difficult matchup for 49er opponents.”

Kittle has gone to the Pro Bowl in four of his first six NFL seasons. His 1,377 yards receiving in 2018 rank second all-time for his position. He has had two 80-catch seasons and snared a career-best 11 touchdown passes in 2022.

“Kittle is terrific,” said Bruce Castleberry, the sports editor of the Boston Herald. “But it’s hard to be the top dog when Travis Kelce is in the league.”

Clark and Hockenson both won the Mackey Award at Iowa as the best tight end in college football. Gibbons went to three Pro Bowls, Cook and Hockenson two apiece and Clark one. But Clark became only the second tight end in NFL history with a 100-catch season in 2009. He also is the only tight end in this group with a Super Bowl ring.

“It is becoming clear that tight end is a key position on offense for most teams,” said Hall of Fame voter Barry Wilner. “There was a time when drafting a tight end in the first round was considered a reach. Now, everyone wants a Tony Gonzalez/Antonio Gates/Dallas Clark kind of player. Clark's longevity and big-play skills -- plus his ability to pick up first downs -- rank him (for now) above the other Iowa tight ends in the NFL. Kittle could change that through the years.”

Gibbons paved the way for Hawkeyes at the position when he became a sixth-round draft pick of the Lions in 1958. He went on to play 11 seasons back when tight ends were asked to do more blocking than catching and still caught 20 TD passes. One of them was memorable in a 1960 game.

“One of the great plays in NFL history that has been forgotten -- even though (author George) Plimpton wrote about it in Paper Lion,” said former Hall of Fame voter Vito Stellino. “The Colts and Lions were two of the best teams in league. (Johnny) Unitas threw a pass to Lenny Moore, who made a diving catch in the end zone with 13 seconds left for a two-point (Baltimore) lead. The Lions take over at the 35 after the kickoff with only 10 seconds left. (Earl) Morrall threw a 15-yard pass to Gibbons over middle and he runs for TD to win and help cost the Colts a third straight title.”

Speaking of the Lions, they were the subject of our second question this week. The big game in the NFL this weekend pits the Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – two teams atop their divisions with just one loss apiece. So who wins?

Even though the Buccaneers have the home field, the Lions were the overwhelming choice, receiving 155 of the 176 votes cast.

“I am a believer in (coach) Dan Campbell and Detroit Lions,” said Hall of Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson. “Barry Sanders and Mel Farr rejoice.”

The Lions are 4-1, the Bucs 3-1. Detroit ranks sixth in the NFL in both offense and defense and only three teams have scored more points than Detroit’s 148 this season.

“The Detroit Lions are for real and part of a trio (along with Philadelphia and San Francisco) that has separated themselves from the rest of the conference,” said Wayne Larrivee, the radio voice of the Green Bay Packers.

Added D. Orlando Ledbetter, of the Atlanta Constitution-Journal: “Dan Campbell and (GM) Brad Holmes have done an excellent job with the Lions. I believe the way they have built the team will lead to sustained success.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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