When you watch today’s NFL, the tight end is very involved in the passing offense. With the size of an offensive lineman but some of the athleticism of a wide receiver, they become the ultimate mismatch. This was not always the case, however, as tight ends have emerged as key components of offenses in the past 20 years. A big reason for this rise in tight end usage is due to the dynamic dual-threat in Tony Gonzalez who was a pioneer for the position. After 17 years in the league, Gonzalez is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2019 and deserves to get in this year.
Tony Gonzalez Deserves to be a First Ballot Hall of Famer
Gonzalez was born in Torrance, CA and eventually went on to play varsity football and basketball at Huntington Beach High School. He dominated the Orange County sports landscape and earned All-American honors his senior year as a football player while also earning Orange County MVP honors as a basketball player. At the end of his high school career, Gonzalez was named Co-Orange County High School Athlete of the Year along with the one and only Tiger Woods.
Gonzalez eventually committed to the University of California Berkeley and continued to play both football and basketball. As a Junior, he helped lead the Golden Bears basketball team to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Basketball tournament and earned All-American honors on the gridiron playing for head coach Steve Mariucci. Gonzalez decided to forgo his senior season and made the tough decision of declaring for the NFL Draft, choosing football over basketball.
The Beginning of a Long Career
Gonzalez was drafted 13th overall in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs needed to trade up to the 13th overall selection and gave up their own first-round pick along with a third, fourth and sixth-round pick. As a rookie, Gonzalez had an immediate impact on the Chiefs offense and he finished with 33 receptions and two touchdowns while being named to the NFL All-Rookie team.
15 of the next 16 seasons, Gonzalez saw over 100 targets and had six or more touchdowns in 12 of those seasons. After recording 59 receptions his second season in the NFL Gonzalez recorded 70 or more receptions each of his last 15 seasons including eight seasons of 80 or more receptions. With the help of quarterback Trent Green and running back Priest Holmes, the Chiefs had some of the more prolific offenses during the early 2000’s with Gonzalez leading the charge.
Gonzalez’s best season came in 2004 when the tight end shattered the record for most receptions by a tight end by recording 102 receptions that year. His 102 catches also led the league as Gonzalez was named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl. In 2006, Gonzalez set the record for most receiving yards, touchdown receptions and scrimmage yards in Kansas City history. In 2007, Gonzalez went on to break Shannon Sharpe‘s previous records for most career touchdowns and receptions by a tight end.
During the latter half of the 2000’s, the Chiefs offense really struggled and the team continuously missed out on the playoffs. Despite that, Gonzalez was still a force to be reckoned with and made his tenth straight Pro Bowl in 2008, his last season with the Chiefs.
After requesting for a trade, the Chiefs front office sent Gonzalez to the Atlanta Falcons for a draft pick. Many thought Gonzalez would not have much of an impact for the Falcons after 12 seasons in the NFL but the tight end continued to produce at a high rate. The Berkeley alumnus went on to have seasons of 83, 70, 80, 93 and 83 receptions during his five-year stint in Atlanta while recording six or more touchdowns in each of them.
Gonzalez got three more cracks at a chance to play in the Super Bowl but the Falcons were unable to advance that far into the postseason. At the end of the 2013 season, Gonzalez decided to retire from football at the age of 37.
Gonzalez will be remembered as one of the best tight ends in NFL history and a pioneer for the position. He holds the record for most receiving yards and receptions by a tight end and sits behind only Jerry Rice for most receptions in NFL history. His 14 Pro Bowl selections are tied for most all-time and Gonzalez holds the record for most seasons of 70 or more receptions with 14.
One of the most underappreciated aspects of his game was his ability to stay healthy throughout his career. Gonzalez missed only 2 games during his 17-year career which is a remarkable feat considering the number of times he would touch the ball on a game-to-game basis. The skills he learned from his basketball days translated over perfectly to the tight end position and now more and more NFL teams look to convert college basketball forwards and centers into NFL tight ends. The six-time All-Pro had one of the most likable personalities in the NFL and used to land a job as a pregame analyst on television.
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