Best tight end of all time: Breaking down Travis Kelce vs. Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez

Travis Kelce was a great tight end before he won Super Bowl 54 with the Chiefs. Three terrific seasons later, the still dominant 33-year-old now has built a case as the best tight end in NFL history.

Kelce’s competition is down to two others. First up is long-time Chiefs legend Tony Gonzalez, who is third all time regardless of position with his 1,325 regular-season receptions. He also is sixth all-time with 15,217 receiving yards.

Gonzalez (111) is just behind Chargers rival Antonio Gates (116) for most touchdown catches by a tight end. Gonzalez played an incredible 17 seasons and was still playing a Pro Bowl level when retiring from the Falcons before returning for an Age-38 season in 2014.

Then comes Rob Gronkowski. The former Patriot and Buccaneer, in only 11 seasons and 143 regular-season games, posted 621 receptions for 9,286 receiving yards and 92 TDs. He averaged 65 yards per game, 9 more than Gonzalez with a much higher scoring rate. Gronkowski also averaged 15.0 yards per catch, better than Gonzalez’s 11.4.

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Gonzalez had the consistency, durability and longevity in his favor and there’s no doubt availability is a critical NFL ability. Gronkowski, as a contemporary of Kelce’s, like Kelce, put up more prolific production on a game-to-game basis.

Kelce, after his ninth full season of action, has blended the best attributes of Gonzalez and Gronkowski. Kelce has already jumped Gronkowski with 814 receptions for 10,344 yards in just one more regular-season game, 144. Kelce also has averaged more receptions (5.6) and receiving yards (71.8) per game.

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Still in impeccable shape with his route-runny savvy and athleticism, Kelce should play for at least three more elite seasons, through when his current Chiefs contract ends in 2025. Barring suffering that key injury that he has avoided so far in his career, Kelce should at least surpass 1,000 receptions and 100 receiving TDs and also push past 14,000 receiving yards.

Kelce is unlikely to catch Gonzalez in terms of catches and yards, but that puts him just around the block. It’s fair then to say Kelce and Gronkowski will both end up having a greater impact over a shorter period of time, when also factoring in their fortunes to play for teams that were playoff powerhouses. While Gonzalez unfortunately fell short of being on a Super Bowl-winning team, Gronkowski has four rings and Kelce has one.

Gonzalez played in only seven playoff games. He caught 30 passes for 286 and 4 TDs. Gronkowski played in 22 playoff games, 20 for the Patriots and a couple for the Buccaneers. Kelce already has played an extra season’s worth of playoff games (17) for the Chiefs ahead of Super Bowl 57.

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Travis Kelce vs. Rob Gronkowski playoff stats

Gronkowski maintained his impact in the postseason. He racked up 98 catches for 1,139 yards and 15 TDs while averaging 14.2 yards per catch.

Kelce, meanwhile, has upped his game in the biggest games. He has a record 127 catches for a tight end in the playoffs, along with 1,467 receiving yards. He also has scored 15 times in those 17 playoff games. He has bumped up both his average receptions (7.5) and receiving yards (86.3) per game.

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Gronkowski wouldn’t have put his monster numbers without Tom Brady. Kelce has put his career into overdrive as Patrick Mahomes’ go-to guy. Their matching status as the most trusted target for an all-time great QB also further stamps their greatness as tight ends.

Gronkowski has yards per catch over Kelce and for now, scoring too. Gonzalez will still have years, total catches and total yards on Kelce. When putting all those key receiving metrics together for tight ends, however, Kelce has the best case to be the most complete player of the three. That case also will only get stronger by the end of his career.

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