Who Is The G.O.A.T. Tight End?
Let’s end the debate once and for all.
By: Justin Miles (@justm1les)
Amid Travis Kelce’s recent mind-boggling performances, the annual greatest of all time tight end discussion has once again appeared. Let’s take a deeper dive into the stats to see just who is the best to ever do it.
Many G.O.A.T. arguments are very opinionated and obviously vary. There are many different things taken into consideration throughout each debate. Things taken into consideration include stats, availability, longevity, dominance, and achievements.
When considering longevity and stats, Tony Gonzalez is one of the first considered. He is a very legitimate case in the best of all time discussion.
The Hall of Fame tight end played 17 seasons across his career. During that time, he caught 1,325 passes for 15,127 yards and 111 touchdowns. He became a 14 time Pro Bowler and was named to the NFL First Team All-Pro team 6 times.
While his long career was very successful, his per season statistics were good, but not great. For this reason, we will end his argument here.
The two tight ends that are brought up the most in the discussion are Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski.
While Kelce is obviously still playing, Gronkowski is now out of the league. However, the amount of games played is very similar. Kelce has played in 137 games in his career. While Gronk played in 143.
Through this point in his career, Travis Kelce has caught 773 passes for 9,861 yards and 68 touchdowns. He has done so while maintaining a catch percentage of 71%.
Across his career, Gronk caught 621 passes for 9,286 yards and 92 touchdowns. Throughout this time, he had a 64.7% catch percentage.
It is well known that while great, Gronkowski was often injury-prone during his career. This can be a huge factor during this discussion. In the words of the great Bill Parcells, “The best ability is availability.”
In fact, Gronk only started all 16 games twice across his 11 year career.
On the flip side, Kelce has played all 16 games in 4 out of 9 career games. This includes his rookie year after an injury ended his season extremely early.
Something that plays a large role in the availability category is the snap count of a player.
Across his career, Gronk played an average of 80.9% of offensive snaps per season. Kelce has played an average of 85.7% of offensive snaps per season.
Not only has Kelce remained healthier by playing smart, he has also played more while healthy. This can be a very critical point when separating the two.
When considering a player’s dominance, a great reference can be his stats per game.
After breaking down each player’s stats, it can be noted that Kelce has a slight edge.
Per game across his career, Kelce averages 5.6 catches for 72 yards and 0.5 touchdowns.
On the contrary, Gronk averaged 4.3 catches for 64.9 yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game.
While rather close, Kelce pulls away here and reasonably so. Kelce has proven time and time again to be one of the league’s most unstoppable players. However, Gronk was obviously very dominant.
When speaking of achievements, I do not believe team success is an arguing point. The league’s worst tight end can win a Super Bowl with a great surrounding cast and a great front office. Due to this, let’s keep the discussion on personal achievements.
Both tight ends have been named to the NFL Top 100 team 7 times. Kelce has been ranked the highest overall with a ranking of #5 in 2021. However, Gronk has seen his name atop the list as well, with a highest ranking of #9 overall in 2016.
Kelce is a 7 time Pro Bowler and has been named to the First Team All-Pro team 3 times. He will likely see his 8th Pro Bowl and another First Team All-Pro selection by the end of this season.
Gronkowski is a 5 time Pro Bowler and has been named the First Team All-Pro team 4 times.
Overall, it is very clear that these two are two of the best players to play the game. However, I believe it is clear that Travis Kelce has a slight edge in nearly category. Especially when taken into consideration that Kelce is still playing and shows no signs of slowing down.
These two have forever changed the game and have left it better than it was when they started. Congratulations to both on fantastic careers.
Stats via: Pro Football Reference