When Tony Gonzalez reeled in his 100th career touchdown catch Sunday, the feat was notable for several reasons, one of the biggest being how inevitable it seemed.
Gonzalez has been dominating the NFL from the tight end position for more than a decade now, and it makes sense that he’d not only cross the 100-touchdown barrier but also put himself alongside just five others on the list of the NFL’s career touchdown leaders.
But what makes Gonzalez’s accomplishment especially remarkable is how he’s done it. The other five names above him on the career touchdowns list are all wide receivers, and Gonzalez has done all his catching from the tight end spot, where he’s not necessarily the primary option and often needs to multitask with some timely blocking.
Gonzalez’s gaudy numbers mark the reign of the tight end, with his career perhaps the finest among a wave of stellar tight ends who have worked their way into the game over the past decade. While the NFL has made good use of tight ends here and there throughout the years, the rise of the passing game made the occasional great in the 1980s and ’90s open the way for huge statistic-producers in the last few years.
Gonzalez holds a stash of records, but even his big numbers are quickly being challenged by the next generation.
Jimmy Graham was on the move again this Sunday, leading the high-powered Saints offense over the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons. Graham hauled in two touchdowns and 146 yards’ worth of passes in that 31-27 victory, numbers that are almost standard fare considering he’s racked up 2,199 yards, 175 receptions and 23 touchdowns in just 2 1/2 years in the league.
Graham’s AFC counterpart is one that New England Patriots fans know well: Rob Gronkowski. Also in the league for just 2 1/2 years, Gronkowski has compiled 35 touchdowns and 2,484 yards on 178 catches, including this week’s beautiful diving touchdown grab to help the Patriots to a 37-31 win over Buffalo. With teammate Aaron Hernandez, a fellow tight end, Gronkowski has had plenty of people thinking New England has the best tight end duo in history — if not two of the best individual tight ends of all time.
While Graham and Gronkowski are impressive, though, they still have a ways to go before they can dent Gonzalez’s numbers. And even Gonzalez, who has led the way for the latest generation, will still hear arguments of other great tight ends in NFL history, including versions from earlier years who were just as vicious blockers as they were efficient pass-catchers.
So, giving the current youngsters who are revolutionizing the tight end position a bit of a breather, who are the best tight ends in the history of the league? It’s quite the competition.
Click here to see the Top 10 tight ends in NFL history>>
Photo via Facebook/Tony Gonzalez