Travis Kelce is closing in on becoming the best pass catching tight in NFL history.
The Kansas City Chiefs star has become synonymous with the position, founding ‘Tight End University’ for aspiring players along with George Kittle and Greg Olsen.
Tony Gonzalez still stands tall in the NFL record book with huge numbers
Tony Gonzalez still stands tall in the NFL record book with huge numbersCredit: Getty
But who is the greatest of all time?
With Kelce recently becoming the fastest tight end to eclipse 11,000 receiving yards, it’s time to look back at the greatest names since football began.
The explosion of the passing game in the NFL has significantly changed the way that tight ends are valued and employed.
Legends such as Kellen Winslow, John Mackey and Mike Ditka can’t touch Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten when it comes to receiving yards.
But tight ends are also more valuable and diverse than ever. Here, talkSPORT.com ranks the best ever using touchdowns and yards as its main metrics.
10. Mike Ditka (5,812 receiving yards, 43 touchdowns)
Mike Ditka was a famous Chicago head coach but first was a talented Bears tight endCredit: Getty
One of the most famous tight ends of all time was a throwback during his playing days.
Ditka was drafted during the first round in the NFL and AFL in 1961 out of Pittsburgh.
He became one of the most popular Bears in franchise history and eventually became a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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The five-time Pro Bowler later evolved into a legendary head coach for fierce Chicago teams and twice won Coach of the Year.
Ditka was strong, fast and dependable.
But in a sign of how much the game has changed, he only recorded more than 1,000 receiving yards once and that was in 1961 as a rookie.
9. John Mackey (5,236 yards, 38 TDs)
Mackey, receiving a pass from Baltimore Colts QB Johnny Unitas, was widely considered to be ahead of the curve as a TECredit: Getty
Mackey was ahead of the curve as a receiving tight end.
The Hall of Famer made five Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams and was a Super Bowl champion.
Drafted in the second round in 1963 by the Baltimore Colts, the Syracuse product starred as a rookie and only improved.
Mackey collected more than 600 receiving yards in five seasons and finished with more than 5,000 yards during his 10-year career.
8. Ozzie Newsome (7,980 yards, 47 TDs)
Ozzie Newsome was a dependable target and helped change the tight end positionCredit: Getty
Newsome helped bridge the gap between the old and new world for NFL tight ends.
The first-rounder out of Alabama made three Pro Bowls and earned one All-Pro selection.
What separated Newsome was his longevity and dependability.
He entered the NFL in 1978 and lasted until 1990.
Newsome played in all 16 games during his final year and ended his Hall of Fame career with almost 8,000 receiving yards.
He broke the 1,000-yard barrier twice, which was a rarity for tight ends.
7. Kellen Winslow (6,741 yards, 45 TDs)
Kellen Winslow, 80, opened the field and approached 100 catches in a seasonCredit: Getty
Winslow was the No. 13 overall pick in 1979 and should have been drafted higher.
The Hall of Famer made five Pro Bowls and helped forever change the possibilities of his position.
Winslow caught 89 passes in his second year, then had 88 receptions a season later.
He also grabbed 10 TDs in 1981 and collected more than 1,000 yards three times during his nine-season span.
6. Shannon Sharpe (10,060 yards, 62 TDs)
Shannon Sharpe was tough to cover and bring down, breaking the 10,000-yard barrierCredit: Getty
Sharpe doesn’t get enough credit for how good he was on the field.
It’s hard to imagine Kelce without Sharpe, who stretched the sidelines and consistently punished defenses.
The seventh rounder had a dream career, making the Hall of Fame and winning three Super Bowls.
Sharpe was also selected to eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams.
He broke the 1,000-yard mark three times and had two strong seasons back in Denver after an impressive two-year run with Baltimore.
5. Jason Witten (13,046 yards, 74 TDs)
Jason Witten running down the field after a catch was a regular sight for the CowboysCredit: Getty
Witten will surely be in the Hall of Fame one day.
But the longtime Dallas Cowboy will have to wait a little longer than normal because of his 2018 retirement and two-year return to the league.
Witten is one of the greatest pass-catching tight ends in history and changed the overall outlook of the position.
He made 11 Pro Bowls, caught 110 passes in a single season, and broke the 1,000-yard mark four times.
All that was missing for Witten was a Super Bowl ring.
4. Travis Kelce (11,076 yards, 74 TDs)
Travis Kelce keeps rising in the record book and could end up as the best in historyCredit: Getty
The big Chief might eventually be on top of this list.
Kelce has built off the foundation of previous tight ends to become a weekly force in the NFL.
Paired with Patrick Mahomes and working under head coach Andy Reid, Kelce has gone from a questionable third-round pick to future Hall of Famer.
He just sprinted to 11,000 yards faster than any other tight end in NFL history and is on pace to pass Tony Gonzalez for the all-time mark.
The biggest question for Kelce right now is how long he’ll keep playing and how high he’ll reach.
3. Rob Gronkowski (9,286 yards, 92 TDs)
Rob Gronkowski had a special connection with Tom Brady and was an elite tight endCredit: Getty
Kelce tops Gronkowski in yards but Gronk still has a big edge in TDs.
The super-tough tight end is still associated with the New England Patriots’ glory days under Tom Brady and Belichick.
Gronkowski was big, fast and powerful, excelling at blocking and receiving.
The separating factor for Gronk is his success in the playoffs.
Gronkowski won four Super Bowls and played in 22 postseason games.
His career playoff numbers (98 catches, 1,389 yards, 15 TDs) are a dream season for NFL wide receivers.
2. Antonio Gates (11,841 yards, 116 TDs)
Antonio Gates was a dangerous tight end who helped pave the way to KelceCredit: Getty
Gates was so good it’s easy to argue he’s the best tight end in NFL history.
He only collected more than 1,000 receiving yards in two seasons.
But the former college basketball player went from undrafted to one of football’s best stories during a 16-year career.
Gates was a TD machine with the Chargers, made eight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams.
His next career step is the Hall of Fame.
1. Tony Gonzalez (15,127 yards, 111 TDs)
Gonzalez put up wide receiver numbers while redefining the tight end positionCredit: Getty
Before Kelce there was Gonzalez.
His numbers are unbelievable for a tight end and Mahomes’ favorite target will have to play several more years if he wants to pass the greatest tight end in NFL history.
Gonzalez was a first-round pick in 1997, then made 14 Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams before entering the Hall of Fame.
He also started his career with the Chiefs, like Kelce.
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Gonzalez caught 102 balls in 2004 and broke the 1,000-yard mark four times.
Every tight end is trying to reach the bar that Gonzalez set.