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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tony Gonzalez: the original prototype tight end

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 California Golden Bears had the kind of athleticism that had never been seen before at the tight end position.

And Gonzalez didn’t disappoint either. Gonzalez has caught at least 70 passes in 12 of the 15 seasons he has played in the league and on top of all that, he has only missed two games his entire career.

What’s most amazing about Gonzalez though is that he still continues to produce. This guy caught 80 passes with the Atlanta Falcons in his 15th year in the league! That’s really impressive when you consider that 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 Rob Gronkowski 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 like rebounds before Jimmy Graham came along.

And ever since Gonzalez started his assault on the record books, teams have been looking for that next tight end made in the Gonzalez mold. There have been some very good pass-catching tight ends over the years but none as potentially dominant as recent phenoms Gronkowski and Graham have shown they can be.

In only their second seasons in the league, Gronkowski caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns while Graham led all tight ends with 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. Gronkowski wasn’t as big of a surprise after flashing his playmaking ability with ten touchdown receptions as a rookie. Graham wasn’t as productive in his rookie season but showed the Saints enough that they allowed Jeremy Shockey to leave via free agency before the 2011 season started.

Before those two burst on the scene, Antonio Gates seemed to fit the mold precisely. Like Graham and Gonzalez, Gates was a former basketball player who was able to get his skills to translate to the gridiron. Gates has caught a lot of passes during his nine-year career but his body has started to break down on him more. He has missed nine games over the past two seasons with an assortment of injuries.

Jason Witten is another tight end that has been very productive during his nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He has over 90 receptions in three different seasons and has caught less than 60 passes only once in his career: his rookie season. The only knock on Witten is that he hasn’t been 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, size and speed to put up Gonzalez-type numbers but for some reason they have failed to produce. While it’s easy to have big numbers when you have a quarterback like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo throwing to you, you have to remember some of the quarterbacks Gonzalez had to work with in Kansas City.

Remember any of these guys: Elvis Grbac, Rich Gannon, Trent Green, Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, or Tyler Thigpen? Sure some of those names may sound familiar but the only way you know all six guys is if you are a die-hard Chief’s fan or you worked in the Chiefs’ organization all those years.

Despite all of the quarterback shuffling that occurred in Kansas City over the years, Gonzalez continued to put up prolific numbers. He has set the bar so high that it may take a while before we see another tight end approach his numbers.

Although this has become a passing league with tight ends playing a more prominent role in the offense, it’s still doubtful if a member of this new crop of athletic tight ends will eclipse Gonzalez’s Hall-of-Fame numbers. Sure records are meant to be broken and no record stands forever but it doesn’t help that Gonzalez has played so well for so long.

Gonzalez says he may retire after this season but truthfully he could probably play a couple more seasons at a high level.If he does then that would make the feat of surpassing his numbers even harder for those 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 Follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist and add him on Facebook Roosevelt Hall Thesportmentalist.





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