The Chargers used Winslow in ways the league really hadn’t seen consistently out of the tight end position before. Often seen as Winslow’s career-defining moment was the “Epic in Miami”, where the tight end caught a postseason record of 13 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown- and blocked a field goal to take the game to overtime! An iconic game that led to Winslow being carried off the field by his teammates, due to his exhaustion.
Winslow’s career was ended prematurely due to injury in 1987, but he made his mark on the league, finishing with 6,741 receiving yards and 45 touchdowns in an era where sort of numbers were not expected out of a tight end.
– Denver Broncos 1990-99, 2002-03; Baltimore Ravens 2000-01
– 4-time first-team All-Pro, 8-time Pro Bowler
– 3x Super Bowl Champion, Pro Football Hall of Famer
Although a lot of NFL fans may only know Shanon Sharpe now for his sports punditry, he earned that career path thanks to his elite performances as a tight end, playing over 14-playing seasons in the league. Sharpe entered the league as an unheralded 7th round pick for the Broncos in 1990, and it took a while for him to find his feet in the NFL.
A wide receiver in college, scouts considered Sharpe too big to play his college position in the pros. He’s seen as one of the first “oversized receivers” to step into the tight end position as a pro. When Sharpe got going, he proved virtually unstoppable and utilised those receiver skills against linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field, less capable of covering a smooth route runner.
He became a vital part of Denver’s offence with John Elway at quarterback through the 1990s, winning Super Bowls in back-to-back years (1997 and 1998). Sharpe was the security blanket over the middle of the field for his quarterback on those championship teams, and later for Trent Dilfer on the Baltimore Ravens in 2000.
Sharpe finished his career with two more productive seasons back in Denver, which helped him surpass 10,000 receiving yards for his career.
– San Diego Chargers 2003-18
– 3x first-team All-Pro, 8x Pro Bowler
Whenever you hear a commentator mention how a tight “posted up” in the endzone on a play, Antonio Gates’ name is likely to be mentioned. Gates was an extreme example of the trend at the time to scout and sign former basketball players to play the tight end position in the league.
Gates never even played football in college. Still, he signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent and he was possibly the greatest undrafted free agent signing of all time.
Like Winslow, Gates also played his entire career for the chargers, racking up 11,841 receiving yards in 16 seasons. He currently still holds the NFL record for touchdown receptions at the tight end position, putting 6-points up on the board 116 times, good enough for 7th among NFL players all time. Gates was part of several good Chargers teams in the late 2000s, and had an excellent connection with his quarterback Phil Rivers.
However, the AFC Championship game was as close to a Lombardi trophy as either player achieved. Regardless, Gates is a sure-fire Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible for induction in 2023.
– Kansas City Chiefs 1997-2008, Atlanta Falcons 2009-13
– 6x first-team All-Pro, 14x Pro Bowler
– Pro Football Hall of Famer
Gonzalez enjoyed a 17-year NFL season, an impressive feat in itself, particularly for the tight end position. He is about as consistent a player you will find in the history of the league.
After a slow rookie season, Gonzalez never dipped below 600 receiving yards in a season the rest of this career. Gonzalez pioneered the trend of basketball players, making the transition to the tight-end position. His blend of size and speed in the position made Gonzalez a matchup nightmare at a time when tight ends were still more of an afterthought in the passing game for most teams.