In the era of a pass-happy NFL, people forgot the value of an overall tight end, the type to make plays and blocks equally well.
If you look at the history of the NFL, the tight end position goes unheralded and under regarded. Yet, for offenses to thrive against faster defenses, a true tight end becomes an invaluable asset that prolongs drives and provides another pair of blocking hands. Granted, many who watch today’s game are enthralled with the speed and athleticism. However, many tight ends eschew blocking for compiling video game numbers. Regardless of the modern offense, if tight ends appear on a roster, blocking should be a prerequisite, with one exception.
People know him for his loudness on sports television. Yet, if you peer below the surface, you will see a play, blessed with extraordinary traits, that worked himself into an excellent blocker. Paired with excellent receiving skills and an ability to find open areas, beating defenders, Sharpe opened the outside for his wideouts, and holes in the run game. More importantly, Sharpe played at a high level later in his career. Twenty-seven of his sixty-two career touchdowns occurred after the age of twenty-nine. Additionally, Sharped hauled in nearly two-thirds of his passes during a fourteen-year career that featured four All-Pro nods and three Super Bowl victories.
The mere fact that Gates never played college football and dominated with his athleticism earns a spot on this list. First, the elephant in the room: Gates could not efficiently block, at all. However, only fools would ignore the prodigious stats. Originally signed as an afterthought, the former Kent State basketball player, tallied 955 catches, 11841 yards, and 116 touchdowns during his career. Over those sixteen seasons, Gates functioned as a combination security blanket and red zone threat for Philip Rivers. When the Chargers couldn’t field capable wideouts, Gates served as the focal point of the entire offense.
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The first tight end to blend blocking prowess and speed. Mackey gained acclaim and respect for his ability to beat defenders down the seam. He scored on screens, posts, and flies. The first tight end not only uses the entire route tree but perfected it. As the first big-play deep threat as a tight end, the Colts used Mackey in various ways. From returning kickoffs with a 30.1-yard average to forcing safeties to cover him, as he was too fast for linebackers of the day. During his ten-year career, Mackey averaged 15.8 yards a catch, hauling in thirty-eight touchdowns. In addition, he tacked on two championships and three All-Pro nods.
Six years before Antonio Gates revolutionized the tight end position, Gonzalez set the standard for the modern tight end. While Gates showed a visible disdain for blocking, Gonzalez knew the run game would open the middle for him. From Priest Holmes to Michael Turner, Gonzalez worked hard on his craft. As a result, for fifteen consecutive seasons, Gonzalez caught sixty or more passes. Finishing with 111 touchdowns and 15127 yards ranks sixth all-time, Gonzalez became more than just a basketball player that changed sports. In fact, while he did use body control and shielding to win, the ability to run crisp routes stands out.
No other player on this list personifies the axiom of ” could play in any era” better. Blessed with 4-3 defensive end size, but quick feet, Gronkowski immediately became a dominant force with the Patriots. While we can discuss numbers in a minute, focus on the blocking first. Loving to punish defenders, Gronkowski locked on, and kept an excellent base, driving would-be tacklers away from the play. Gronk became the first position player to ” throw people out the club”, with the ability to clear a defender far outside of the play. Now, to the main reason why Gronkowski stands miles ahead of everyone on this list. Getting open down the seam is the appetizer, breaking tackles and carrying defenders is the entree. Catching ninety-two regular season touchdowns pale in comparison to the ten postseason ones. When the Patriots needed a big play, Tom Brady found Gronk. If Belichick needed him to stay in to block, they found Gronk. No tight end on this list possesses the skill, strength, and speed mixed with blocking acumen like Rob Gronkowski.