As sports fans, we all have our favorite players. The ones who helped us to fall in love with the game. A lot of times the debate is “who is the Mount Rushmore of blank”. It’s easy to talk about the players of old who helped mold the game. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, Walter Payton and Jim Brown, but honestly, if you were born in the mid to late 90s, you just don’t understand their greatness as much as those who watched it.
As is with most things, you won’t change the opinion of people set in their ways, sports fans included. So, let’s make our own Millenial Mount Rushmore, shall we? The only way to make this list is not only the performance of your game, but how the story of football will be told after you leave. Here are your best Tight Ends of the 2000s.
Millennial Mountain: Tight End Mount Rushmore
Antonio Gates, 2003-2018 (San Diego Chargers)
The NFL as we know it is more of a finesse passing league, but not so long ago it was a more power-influenced game. Tight ends weren’t much more than glorified linemen, but there were some folks who truly changed this perception. Antonio Gates was one of them.
Gates never played college football and was a standout player for Kent State in college basketball, but chose the NFL as his career when NBA scouts told him he wasn’t a fit for the NBA. Gates signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent and went from third-string to starter in his rookie year.
From that point on, Gates became a star at the position. In his second season, he tied the single-season touchdown record for tight ends and was elected to his first pro bowl. Gates went on to have a stellar career and was named a 2000s all-decade player as well as a three-time first-team All-Pro and eight-time pro bowler. Gates still holds the record for career touchdowns by a tight end with 116. In a league that favored run over pass, Gates was an absolute weapon for the Chargers. He was a defensive coach’s worst nightmare!
Rob Gronkowski, 2010-2018, 2020-2021 (New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
It may seem odd that Rob Gronkowski shows up at third here, but had injuries not hampered his potential, he easily could have been the greatest.
To start, Gronkowski was one of the most physically dominating players of all time. He was 6’6”, 264 LBs, and ran a 4.68 40-yard dash. He also had a 33.5” vertical leap. So all the potential stats were there, but then he began to produce. In his rookie year, he was the first rookie tight end since the NFL merged with the AFL to catch 10 touchdowns. In his second season, Gronkowski broke the single-season touchdown record and receiving yards record for tight ends. He was also the first tight end ever to lead the league in receiving touchdowns.
Gronkowski went through some unfortunate injuries that really dampened his career. As stated above, there’s no doubt in my mind that Gronkowski would have gone down as the greatest ever had it not been for these setbacks. He retired as a four-time first-team All-Pro as well as the 2010s all-decade team. So while it may not be “GOAT” status, we instead will just have to appreciate what we had while we had it. That being a dominant player who contributed to a dynasty and was the most consistent weapon for fellow Millenial Mountain quarterback, Tom Brady. Gronk spike, Gronk get on the mountain!
Travis Kelce, 2013-? (Kansas City Chiefs)
The best-kept secret in the NFL prior to the ascension of quarterback Patrick Mahomes was Travis Kelce. Kelce may be the most dynamic weapon Mahomes will ever have, and he is absolutely making the most of it.
As of this writing, he has seven straight 1000+ yard receiving seasons which currently sits as the record. He also has the record for most yards in a season by a tight end, most 100-yard receiving games, and fewest games to 10,000 yards receiving.
So, what makes Kelce so great? Was it that Cincinnati Bearcat education, or coaching? Or is it the fact that despite teams knowing he is getting the critical throw he still finds a way to secure the catch and then some? He’s been to the pro bowl eight times, was a part of the 2010s all-decade team, and has been a four-time first-team All-Pro.
Kelce has all the makings of being the greatest and his trajectory definitely shows it can happen, but he will have to pass our number one guy…
Tony Gonzalez, 1997-2013 (Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons)
A wise man once said, “respect your elders”, and I think that when it comes to tight ends, no one gets disrespected more than Tony Gonzalez does.
He is an all-time great. A first ballot hall of fame player, Gonzalez at the time of his retirement held numerous NFL receiving records regardless of position including second in total receptions, fifth in yards receiving, and held a streak of 265 consecutive games with a reception, which only ended due to his retirement. He also had just one season in his 17 years where he had fewer than 50 receptions, which was his rookie season in 1997.
A stat that may not be quantified in the record books, he had 1,325 total receptions and only fumbled the ball six times! All this being said, how can we not simply say that as of this writing, Tony Gonzalez deserves to be the marquee of the tight end Millenial Mountain!
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Main Image: John Rieger-USA TODAY