November 3, 2023 11:00am

The NFL's Tight Ends

The Greatest Tight End in NFL history

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

Apparently the latest is not necessarily the greatest.

Travis Kelce is putting up crazy numbers at the tight end position for the Kansas City Chiefs. He holds a handful of NFL records for his position, including career 100-yard games and 1,000-yard seasons. He also set the league record for receiving yards in a season with 1,416 in 2020. He owns two Super Bowl rings and was named to the NFL’s 2010s all-decade team.

But in our NFL Power Poll this week, we asked our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters who they considered the greatest tight end in NFL history and gave them five options – the five tight ends selected to the NFL’s 100th anniversary team plus Kelce.

Kelce finished third in the voting with 36 of the 179 votes cast. Rob Gronkowski won going away with 62 votes, followed by Tony Gonzalez with 38, Kelce, Kellen Winslow with 17, John Mackey with 14 and Mike Ditka with 12. All except Gronkowski and Kelce are in the Hall of Fame.

The task of selecting just one was a difficult one.

“It's impossible to compare tight ends of today with the tight ends of decades ago because the nature of the position has changed so much,” said Les East, a columnist for “Ditka was the best when tight ends were used more as blockers than pass receivers, though he was excellent at both. Kelce has consistently been the most difficult pass-catching tight end to cover.”

But there were passionate arguments made for several of the candidates.

“Gronkowski was a throwback to the days when tight ends were required to block as well as go downfield,” said Hall-of-Fame voter Ita Kaufman of “His size/speed combo proved to be an instant mismatch in the passing attack and he was a willing, effective blocker who keyed some effective ground games in New England and Tampa. He also played with a passion and joy that proved infectious with teammates.”

But apparently he wasn’t the only throwback.

“Tony Gonzalez was the best because not only did he put up eye-popping numbers as a receiver, he also was a top-notch blocker,” said Chris Tomasson of the Denver Gazette. “No tight end has played at such a high level while utilizing both those skills.”

But one tight end was every bit as dominant a blocker as Kelce has been as a receiver.

“John Mackey always seemed to be the standard for TEs back in the day when the NFL was more of a running league,” said Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson of the Dallas Cowboys. “The standard has changed as the game has evolved into more of a passing league.”

Pearson wasn’t the only Hall-of-Fame receiver to weigh in with a differing opinion.

“Winslow completed Air Coryell which changed the way teams looked at their tight ends,” said Hall-of-Fame wideout James Lofton. “John Mackey and Mike Ditka were great players in a run-first league but Kellen Winslow was the first of the next wave. A knee injury cut short his most productive football but his talent is what teams still search for.”

But Nick Pugliese, the sports editor of the Pal Beach Post, found a unique reason for his choice.

“Today's tight ends have become major weapons in the top offenses and Kelce is the best of the best,” he said. “He edges Gronk thanks to two words: Taylor Swift.”

In our second question, we asked out panel to pick the winner of the biggest game on this weekend’s NFL slate – Miami vs, Kansas City in Frankfurt, Germany. Even though the Dolphins have the NFL’s top-rated offense, the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs won handily with 107 of the votes. Miami got the other 72.

“I will take the Chiefs,” said former Hall of Fame voter Vito Stellino, “because it’s difficult to pick against (Patrick) Mahomes.”

But the Dolphins had their supporters.

“I’ll take Miami over KC simply because I assume their travel time overseas is a few hours less,” Pearson said. “Also, why the NFL continues to take their game so far away from home fans amazes me… How about playing a game in St. Louis, Oakland or San Diego?”

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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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