Who is the greatest tight end in NFL history?

A second-round selection by the Baltimore Colts in 1963, John Mackey made the seam route a staple for the tight end position. He stretched the field, twice averaging better than 20 yards per catch in a season.

Tony Gonzalez is now eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and looms as the first-ever first-ballot selection at tight end. The shortest wait of any of the eight tight ends already enshrined was three years by both Shannon Sharpe and Kellen Winslow.

Is Gonzalez worthy of first-ballot selection? Is he the greatest tight end in NFL history? That’s the subject of our Talk of Fame Network poll this week – who’s the best tight end in NFL history? We offer our listeners and readers worthy five candidates:

Mike Ditka. Voted to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. The fifth overall pick of the 1961 draft by the Chicago Bears, Ditka caught 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns to capture NFL Rookie of the Year honors. It was the only 1,000-yard season in his 12-year career and also his only season in double-digits in touchdowns. He went to the Pro Bowl the first five seasons of his career and caught a career-best 75 passes in 1964. Ditka 2on an NFL championship in 1963 with Chicago and a Super Bowl championship in 1972 with Dallas. Ditka played six seasons with the Bears, two with the Eagles and four with the Cowboys.

Tony Gonzalez. Ranks second in NFL history in career receptions behind Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice with 1,325. Gonzalez also holds the tight-end record for career receiving yards with 15,127, which ranks sixth all-time. His 111 receiving touchdowns rank seventh all-time. Gonzalez was the 14th overall of the 1997 draft by the Kansas City Chiefs who became a five-time first-team all-pro and played in 14 Pro Bowls. He became the first tight end in history with a 100 catches in a single season in 2004 when he led the NFL with 102. Gonzalez played 17 seasons, the first 12 with the Chiefs and the last five with the Falcons.

Rob Gronkowski. A second-round draft pick in 2010, Gronkowski has gone to five Pro Bowls in his first eight seasons and helped the New England Patriots win two Super Bowls. He has scored double-digits in touchdowns five times in his career and has 77 career scores. Only two tight ends in history have more career touchdowns, Antonio Gates and Gonzalez. Gonzalez set NFL tight-end records with his 17 touchdowns and 1,326 yards in 2011 – the last time he has been able to play an entire 16-game season.

John Mackey. Voted the best tight end in the NFL’s first half century. A second-round selection by the Baltimore Colts in 1963, Mackey made the seam route a staple for the tight end position. He stretched the field, twice averaging better than 20 yards per catch in a season. He scored touchdowns on catches of 89, 68, 62, 61, 54 and 52 yards in his career. Mackey went to five Pro Bowls and was a first-team all-pro three times in his 10-year career. His best seasons were 55 catches in 1967 and 829 yards and nine touchdowns in 1966.

Kellen Winslow. Voted to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. A five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time first-team all-pro, Winslow led the NFL in receiving in back-to-back seasons in 1980-81. He caught 89 passes for 1,290 yards and nine touchdowns in 1980 and 88 passes for 1,085 yards and 10 TDs in 1981. Winslow had one other 1,000-yard season, catching 88 passes for 1,172 yards and eight scores in 1983. The 13th overall pick of the 1979 draft by the San Diego Chargers. Winslow suffered a devastating knee injury in 1984 but returned to the field midway through the 1985 season and went to his final Pro Bowl in his final year in 1987.

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