How does Rob Gronkowski compare to the best tight ends in NFL history?

After Rob Gronkowski retired, Planet Sport looks at where he ranks among the best tight ends in NFL history.

Rob Gronkowski's recent retirement after 11 seasons saw the end of a glittering career that saw him become one of the most dominant players in the NFL, but where does he rank on the list of all-time great tight ends?

It's a unique position in the NFL, with the tight end role evolving more than most over the years, from originally an extra, slightly leaner, blocker who could catch the odd pass, to nowdays being mainly a giant wide receiver.

Super-human athletes now occupy the position, with Tony Gonzalez pioneering a role for ex-basketballers who use their size, strength and leaping ability to create mismatches when lining up as wideouts.

Now we have broadly two types of players playing at tight end and they're often labelled as such - as blocking tight ends and pass-catching tight ends. You rarely get a player that can do both at a high level.
So, while Gronkowski didn't reinvent the position or revolutionize it, he managed to produce elite performances in both facets of being a tight end that few have managed before. He'd get into any team simply as a blocker or receiver, but he managed both, and that's why he's going to the Hall of Fame.

Rob Gronkowski's stats and records

So, where does Gronkowski line up in the list of great tight ends in NFL history? It's always hard comparing players through generations, but as the complete all-around tight end it's hard to argue for anyone being ranked above him.
Gronk caught 621 balls for 9,286 yards and 92 touchdowns - that's more TD catches than anyone else managed in the time he was in the league (since 2010) and that's with a year off and several injuries.

The 33-year-old won four Super Bowls, three with the Patriots and one with the Buccaneers, and made five Pro Bowls.

Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady celebrate Super Bowl success

In 2011 he registered the most touchdowns in a single season by a tight end in history with 18, and led the entire league that season with 17 receiving touchdowns.

Gronkowski has the most 100-yard games by a tight end ever, and is the only man in his position to post three seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving and double-digit TDs.
Although his total touchdown mark of 92 puts him third on the all-time list for tight ends behind Antonio Gates (116) and Tony Gonzalez (111), he was the undoubted greatest in the play-offs.
Only Jerry Rice has ever caught more post-season touchdowns than Gronkowski, who hauled in 15 during his career, including two in the Super Bowl Tampa Bay won in 2021.
He also left his mark on the NFL with his trademark 'Gronk Spike' touchdown celebration now etched into league history.

Who are the top tight ends in NFL history?

Tony Gonzalez

Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez was the consensus pick for best ever tight end before Gronkowski came along, with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons man making it to 14 Pro Bowls.
Gonzalez caught 1,325 balls for 15,127 and 11 touchdowns over his 270 games in the league, and was the pioneer of the former basketballer-turned-tight end trend that continues to this day.
Someone of his size and speed created match-up nightmares for defenders who had never previously had to cover someone of his frame. He's got the stand-out stats to support claims of him being the best.

Antonio Gates

Another former college basketballer, Gates spent 15 years in the league as a prolific touchdown scorer and massive red zone threat during his time with the Chargers.
In 236 games, Gates had 955 catches for 11,841 yards and scored 116 touchdowns, which puts him in sixth on the all-time list for TD catches among all players.
The all-time leader for tight end TD catches, Gates may have caught passes from Philip Rivers but the Chargers never managed to make it through to the Super Bowl.

Shannon Sharpe

Unlike Gates and Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe did manage to get the Super Bowl success that his talent deserved as he won three Lombardi Trophies - two with the Denver Broncos and one with the Baltimore Ravens.

Another Hall of Famer, Sharpe was the first of the oversized receivers to take up the tight end position, and work more over the middle for short, often crucial passes as well as being a touchdown threat.
Sharpe scored 62 TDs, and caught 815 balls for 10,060 yards in 204 games - and was voted to the Pro Bowl eight times.

Jason Witten

The Dallas Cowboys veteran spent 15 seasons with America's Team and was much more in the Gronkowski mold than some of the others as a big, blocking tight end who was also a smooth route runner with a safe pair of hands.

A total of 1,228 catches in 239 games shows how good he was with his hands, as he piled up 13,046 yards and 74 touchdowns, often contested as he outmuscled his defenders while also being shifty enough off the mark to run beyond bigger defenders.

Also like Gronkowski, Witten retired for a season before returning to Dallas in 2018 and eventually ending his career with the Raiders.

Kellen Winslow

A Hall of Fame inductee in 1995, Winslow was one of the first tight ends who could really run and get down the field to stretch defences as well as just take the short passes over the middle.
Winslow spent eight years with San Diego and played 109 games, taking in 541 catches for 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns - making the Pro Bowl five times.
His limited time in the game compared to others means his stats aren't as good as some, but he was as effective and dangerous at the position as anyone.

Mike Ditka

A Super Bowl winning coach with the famous 1985 Chicago Bears and a well-known broadcaster, Mike Ditka was also a stand-out as a player in the 1960s and early 70s.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection was a star player for the Bears before winning the Super Bowl later in his career with the Dallas Cowboys.

Ditka took in 427 catches for 5,812 yards and 43 touchdowns - stats which don't jump out at you these days but in the different game of the 60s are huge numbers for a tight end.

Travis Kelce

Sure, catching passes from Patrick Mahomes helps, but Travis Kelce has been an elite tight end ever since he started in the NFL, and could be in the conversation for best ever if he maintains this pace.

Kelce has made the last seven Pro Bowls in a row with 1,000-yard seasons in the last six years with two double-digit touchdown years in there.

With 704 receptions, 9,006 yards and 57 touchdowns, two Super Bowl appearances and one ring, Kelce can block but he's more of an oversized receiver type, who warrants special attention from defenders otherwise he can take a game away from you.

Ozzie Newsome

Newcome and Kellen Winslow were the top tight ends of the 1980s when Hall of Famer Newsome almost helped the Cleveland Browns to two Super Bowls.
Newsome took 662 catches, 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns for the Browns, and was such a smart footballer that he's gone on to be a top general manager.
READ MORE: Rob Gronkowski retuires from the NFL for a second time.

More Articles