When Tony Gonzalez threw his name into the 1997 NFL draft,football experts were already salivating about how good he could be. At 6’5”and weighing around 250 pounds, the former small forward for the CaliforniaGolden Bears had the kind of athleticism that had never been seen before at thetight end position.
And Gonzalez didn’t disappoint either. Gonzalez has caughtat least 70 passes in 12 of the 15 seasons he has played in the league and ontop of all that, he has only missed two games his entire career.
What’s most amazing about Gonzalez though is that he stillcontinues to produce. This guy caught 80 passes with the Atlanta Falcons in his15th
year in the league! That’s really impressive when you considerthat he is no longer as explosive as he used to be.
In his younger days as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs,Gonzalez was able to get separation with ease. He was Rob Gronkowski before RobGronkowski with his ability to over-power safeties and out-run linebackers.Gonzalez was that high-jumping tight end who snatched balls out of the air likerebounds before Jimmy Graham came along.
And ever since Gonzalez started his assault on the recordbooks, teams have been looking for that next tight end made in the Gonzalezmold. There have been some very good pass-catching tight ends over the yearsbut none as potentially dominant as recent phenoms Gronkowski and Graham have shownthey can be.
In only their second seasons in the league, Gronkowskicaught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns while Graham led all tightends with 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. Gronkowski wasn’t asbig of a surprise after flashing his playmaking ability with ten touchdownreceptions as a rookie. Graham wasn’t as productive in his rookie season butshowed the Saints enough that they allowed Jeremy Shockey to leave via freeagency before the 2011 season started.
Before those two burst on the scene, Antonio Gates seemed tofit the mold precisely. Like Graham and Gonzalez, Gates was a former basketballplayer who was able to get his skills to translate to the gridiron. Gates hascaught a lot of passes during his nine-year career but his body has started tobreak down on him more. He has missed nine games over the past two seasons withan assortment of injuries.
Jason Witten is another tight end that has been veryproductive during his nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He has over 90receptions in three different seasons and has caught less than 60 passes onlyonce in his career: his rookie season. The only knock on Witten is that he hasn’tbeen as productive in the endzone as some of these other tight ends we have mentioned.
There are other guys around the league with the hands, sizeand speed to put up Gonzalez-type numbers but for some reason they have failedto produce. While it’s easy to have big numbers when you have a quarterback likeDrew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo throwing to you, you have toremember some of the quarterbacks Gonzalez had to work with in Kansas City.
Remember any of these guys: Elvis Grbac, Rich Gannon, TrentGreen, Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, or Tyler Thigpen? Sure some of those namesmay sound familiar but the only way you know all six guys is if you are a die-hardChief’s fan or you worked in the Chiefs’ organization all those years.
Despite all of the quarterback shuffling that occurred inKansas City over the years, Gonzalez continued to put up prolific numbers. Hehas set the bar so high that it may take a while before we see another tightend approach his numbers.
Although this has become a passing league with tight endsplaying a more prominent role in the offense, it’s still doubtful if a memberof this new crop of athletic tight ends will eclipse Gonzalez’s Hall-of-Famenumbers. Sure records are meant to be broken and no record stands forever butit doesn’t help that Gonzalez has played so well for so long. Even worse hethinks he can play a couple more seasons so he definitely isn’t trying to makethat feat any easier for the tight ends that will succeed him. Also check out these stories: Will teams copy the Patriots' two tight end set next year? John Elway hedging his bets at quarterback Randy Moss hasn’t learned from T.O.’s dilemma Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and also writes for both The Penalty Flag and Outside The Redzone. He can be contacted at RHall_TPFB@Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist
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