Gronk the Great tosses his cleats

Image Courtesy of: USA TODAY Sports

Storied NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski has taken his last spike of the ball in the end zone. The 29-year-old All-Star has four career, 1,000-yard receiving seasons, tying a league record with Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. As Witten took off for a year and returned to the game, “Gronk” could do the same. He was a four-time, first team All Pro, five-time Pro bowler and has three Super Bowl rings. Let’s look where he ranks among the best tight ends.

5. Kellen Winslow – San Diego Chargers

Winslow undeniably defined the position of tight end despite the fact he and Gronk’s careers mirror one another. Both played nine years in some of the best offenses, while Gronk’s numbers are slightly ahead of Kellen’s. Winslow was the first Tight End who was a true deep threat for Chargers’ Hall of Fame QB Dan Fouts. While other teams used them as blockers, Winslow was downfield catching touchdown passes.

4. Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers

The 8 time Pro bowler has been as consistent as they come. Durability is the name to his game he has only missed 20 games in 16 years. As a former basketball player he has a rare skill he incorporated in his game as he boxed out other players like he was going for a rebound.  Gates has been the safety valve for Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers and the Chargers offense for most of his career. He has 60 passes or more in nine different times and leading all NFL tight ends with 116 career touchdown catches.

3. Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots

At his peak, Gronkowski was the most fearsome tight end to ever take the field. The only weakness in his game was durability. In nine years, he became the TE generation’s best all-around player. Gronk did his TD spike at a 6.6-catches-to-TD clip. His run may have been short, but it was among the best. He’s one of the better blocking tight ends the game has seen. While Gronk’s peak was short, it was dominant.

2. Shannon Sharpe – Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens

Speed, quickness and one hell of a trash talker is how analysts recall Sharpe. A wide receiver playing tight end, he became the first player at his position to post more than 10,000 career-receiving yards. In the postseason, Sharpe really shined. He earned three Super Bowl rings and played a pivotal role in each contest. Sharpe was productive until his retirement, ranking among the league’s top pass catchers in his prime with three, 1,000-yard campaigns. He paved the way for the big-play tight ends we see today.

1. Tony Gonzalez – Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons

No one did it as well as Tony for as long as Tony. He has 1,300 catches and 15,000 yards He wasn’t a freak of nature, yet all he did was get open. In 17 seasons, he missed a grand total of two games and 14 Pro Bowl selections, all proof of his sustained dominance. Gonzalez was a touchdown waiting to happen well into his 30’s. He’s even more impressive when you consider he played with average QBs for many years while everyone else on this list played with some of the best the game’s ever seen.

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