Travis Kelce ranks among the greatest tight ends in NFL history


Travis Kelce might finish his career as the greatest tight end of all time. His quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, believes he already is. 

"Travis, I mean, it’s Travis, greatest tight end of all time," Mahomes said in November after a three-touchdown game from Kelce.

Mahomes might be biased, but even those who aren't throwing Kelce the ball must admit that he is in the GOAT conversation for tight ends. Even other tight ends who are in the conversation admit it:

The 33-year-old Kelce is coming off what was arguably the best season of his career, leading all NFL tight ends in each major category with 1,338 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns on 110 receptions, which was just six away from Zach Ertz’s single-season record at the position. Kelce’s production carried over into the playoffs, as he set an NFL postseason single-game record for tight ends with 14 catches in the Chiefs' divisional round win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He's now one victory away from winning a second Super Bowl, which could solidify his position as the greatest tight end of all time. 

Here's a look at the best to ever play the position in the NFL: 

Who is the greatest tight end in NFL history?

Travis Kelce - Kansas City Chiefs (2013-present)

Kelce just completed his seventh consecutive 1,000-plus yard season, extending his NFL record for 1,000-yard seasons by a tight end. With 10,344 career receiving yards in 144 games, he is just the fifth tight end in league history to eclipse 10,000 yards. The four-time All-Pro, a third-round pick in the 2013 draft, also broke Rob Gronkowski’s tight end record of 100-plus-receiving-yard games with 35. Kelce is fifth among tight ends with 814 career receptions and sixth with 69 touchdown catches. His 71.8 yards per game is highest of all time among tight ends. He holds the single-season records for tight ends in receiving yards (1,416).

Kelce won the Super Bowl with the Chiefs during the 2020 season and could add another with a victory over his brother Jason Kelce and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.  

Tony Gonzalez - Kansas City Chiefs (1997-2008), Atlanta Falcons (2009-2013)

The argument for greatest tight end of all time could be between two Chiefs. Tony Gonzalez holds the NFL record for receptions (1,325) and receiving yards (15,127) among tight ends, producing four 1,000-plus-yard seasons. By the way, those numbers place him in the NFL’s top-ten overall, with Gonzalez having the third-most catches and sixth-most receiving yards in league history. He also ranks second among tight ends in career touchdowns with 111 and games played at 270. The latter illustrates Gonzalez’s remarkable dependability, having missed just two games over his 17-year, Hall of Fame career. A first-round pick in the 1997 draft, Gonzalez made six All-Pro teams and 14 Pro Bowls.      

Rob Gronkowski - New England Patriots (2010-2018), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020-2021)

Rob Gronkowski revolutionized the position as the NFL became a pass-heavy league and tight ends emerged as receiving threats. Despite having played in just 143 games, he is third all-time among tight ends with 92 touchdowns, which included 10-plus in five of his first six seasons. That includes 17 in 2011, which is a single-season record for touchdowns by a tight end. He finished his career with 9,286 yards, which is sixth-most among tight ends, on 621 catches. The 2010 second-round pick is a four-time All-Pro, a five-time Pro Bowler and won four Super Bowls alongside Tom Brady. Until Kelce came around, Gronkowski held just about every postseason record for tight ends. He’s now tied with Kelce in playoff receiving touchdowns (15) and sits second behind Kelce in playoff receptions (98) and receiving yards (1,389). 

Kellen Winslow Sr. - San Diego Chargers (1979-1987)

Career stats don’t tell the whole story for Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow Sr. The three-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler revolutionized the position in the 1980s, becoming one of the first tight ends to maximize his pass-catching ability. He played just nine years, and more than 12 games in a season only five times, so his career numbers of 6,741 receiving yards and 45 touchdowns on 54 receptions in 109 career games are far outside the all-time top ten for tight ends. But his 61.8 receiving yards per game is third most at the position. In three of the four seasons where he played 16 games, he had 1,000-plus receiving yards.         

Antonio Gates - San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (2003-2018)

No tight end in NFL history spent more time in the end zone than Antonio Gates. Not bad for a former college basketball player. The 6-foot-4 Gates signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent having never played college football. He finished his 16-year career with 116 touchdowns, the most of any tight end in league history. He sits third in both receptions with 955 and receiving yards with 11,841 in 236 career games. The future Hall of Famer, who posted two 1,000-plus yard seasons, made three All-Pro teams and eight Pro Bowls.   

Shannon Sharpe - Denver Broncos (1990-1999, 2002-2003), Baltimore Ravens (2000-2001)

Shannon Sharpe may suffer slightly from the Charles Barkley syndrome, where his career as a television personality begins to overshadow his Hall of Fame playing career. Sharpe, now known more for debating hot takes with co-host Skip Bayless, was the first tight end in NFL history to reach 10,000 career receiving yards. He finished with 10,060 yards, which now ranks fifth all-time at the position, on 815 receptions, fourth-most among tight ends. The four-time All Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Broncos and added another with the Ravens. Not surprisingly, he was also one of the game’s best trash-talkers.      

Honorable mention: Jason Witten, John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Ozzie Newsome, Dave Casper, Charlie Sanders, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Todd Christensen, Jackie Smith

What tight end has the most consecutive 1000-yard seasons?

Travis Kelce has had more than 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last seven seasons. No other tight end in NFL history has produced more than four 1,000-plus yard seasons in their entire career. 

Only 13 tight ends in NFL history have produced multiple 1,000-plus yard seasons, per Statmuse. Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers did so in three-consecutive seasons from 2014 to 2016.

Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and Rob Gronkowski all have four 1,000-plus yard seasons in their careers, with each doing so in back-to-back seasons once. Shannon Sharpe, Todd Christensen, Kellen Winslow Sr. George Kittle and Darren Waller also had back-to-back 1,000-plus yard seasons. 

Which tight end makes the most money?

The highest-paid tight end during the 2022 season was George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers. The 28-year-old made $15 million as part of a five-year, $75 million deal he signed in 2020. He is followed by Travis Kelce, who made $14.3 million this season. 

Here’s a look at the top-five highest paid tight ends for the 2022 season. 

1. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers - $15 million

2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs - $14.3 million

3. Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles - $14.25 million

4. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens - $14 million

5. David Njoku - Cleveland Browns - $13.7 million

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