The Globe breaks down the rankings of the 10 best tight ends in NFL history:
1. John Mackey, Baltimore, 1963-71, San Diego, 1972
Mackey was the position’s first big-play receiver, using his size and speed to become a vital weapon in an offense that ranked in the NFL’s top eight in scoring every year during his Colts career. Of his 38 career TDs, 25 came in his first four seasons.
2. Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City, 1997-2008, Atlanta, 2009-12
No tight end has been selected to more Pro Bowls than Gonzalez’s 12, and you could argue he should have more. At age 36, he’s working on a streak of nine straight years with at least 70 receptions, and his total of 102 in 2004 remains a record for the position.
3. Shannon Sharpe, Denver, 1990-99, 2002-03, Baltimore, 2001-02
The outspoken Sharpe backed up his talk on the field; he’s one of 36 players (and just two tight ends) in league history with more than 10,000 yards receiving. His résumé also includes 815 receptions, eight Pro Bowl selections, and three Super Bowl rings.
4. Mike Ditka, Chicago, 1961-66, Philadelphia, 1967-68, Dallas, 1969-72
The first true tight end to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 1988. Ditka became a Chicago icon the moment he was drafted fifth overall in 1961. He won NFL rookie of the year honors with his only 1,000-yard season, his first of five straight Pro Bowl selections.
5. Ozzie Newsome, Cleveland, 1978-90
At the time of his retirement, Newsome led all tight ends with 662 receptions and 7,980 yards. Though those totals have been surpassed, Newsome’s legacy lies in his consistency: He caught a pass in 150 consecutive games and never missed a game because of injury.
6. Kellen Winslow Sr., San Diego, 1979-87
There wasn’t a more feared receiver in the league than Winslow from 1980-84. During that period — a total of 64 games — he surpassed 100 yards receiving 22 times and had at least one touchdown in 21 games, including an NFL record-tying five on Nov. 22, 1981.
7. Dave Casper, Oakland-LA Raiders, 1974-80, 1984, Houston, 1980-83, Minnesota, 1983
After two years on the bench, Casper’s Hall of Fame career took off in 1976, the first of his four consecutive seasons as first-team All-Pro. He was perfect for the Raiders’ pass-heavy attack and ranked in the top 10 in both receptions and TD catches every year from 1976-78.
8. Charlie Sanders, Detroit, 1968-77
Sanders joined Casper on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1970s; he made five of his seven Pro Bowls during the decade. Sanders, a big, yet elusive target at 6 feet 4 inches, didn’t finish a season with fewer than 400 yards receiving until his final year in 1977.
9. Pete Retzlaff, Philadelphia, 1956-66
In a league that was still tethered to the ground Retzlaff was ahead of his time as a receiver; in 1958, he tied for the league lead with 58 catches. Seven years later, in a more vertical NFL, he was second in receiving yards (1,190) and third in TD catches (10) at age 34.
10. (tie) Antonio Gates and Jackie Smith
Gates: San Diego, 2003-12
Smith: St. Louis, 1963-77; Dallas, 1978
Only injuries, not defenses, have slowed down Gates, and he’s still among the best (and bulkiest) at the position. Smith, a Cardinals standout for more than a decade, was elected to five straight Pro Bowls from 1966-70, with ‘67 being his peak (1,205 yards, 9 TDs).