Football fans from this generation will be talking about offensive players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson when they’re older. The good ol’ days will feature clips of Tom Brady’s game-winning drives, Peyton Manning’s uncanny ability to get the ball in tight windows and Randy Moss’ ridiculous leaping grabs.
But shouldn't we talk about Tony Gonzalez, too?
Gonzo played in pads for the final time in yesterday’s Pro Bowl, leaving behind the best tight end career the NFL has ever seen. Though his retirement does feel a little like the movie Groundhog Day, it appears as though this is for real – Tony Gonzalez is done playing professional football.
He's made a name for himself - that's for sure - but perhaps the not-so-flashy tight end position is the reason we don't talk about him more. Or maybe it’s because he never made it to the Super Bowl, usually playing with teams that weren't built for a significant run. Whatever the case, Tony Gonzalez deserves even more respect that the majority of folks give him. Here are nine reasons why.
1. He missed just two games in 17 years.
Gonzalez made it a mission to take good care of his body, and as a result, he was almost always on the gridiron. Retiring at 37 years old, the league has seen Tony Gonzalez on a football field during all but two Sundays since 1997. In an athletic tight end era with injuries occurring almost weekly, this can’t be overlooked: Tony Gonzalez is a freak of nature.
2. His average Reception Net Expected Points total was over 87.00 since 2000.
At numberFire, we look at a metric called Net Expected Points when evaluating players. In essence, it looks at down and distance as well as game situations to see how a player actually helped (or hurt) his team (to read more about the metric, click here).
Gonzalez averaged a little over an 87.00 Reception NEP score since the year 2000. Essentially, he contributed 87 real points on his catches (only his catches, not all targets) each year. To give that some context, that’s better than what Larry Fitzgerald, a top wide receiver in the league, mind you, did in 2013.
3. That number was over 90.00 once he turned 30.
What’s even crazier about Gonzo’s efficiency is that his Reception NEP got better when he turned 30 years old. Again, for some context, Jason Witten has hit the 90.00 Reception NEP mark once in his entire career. Meanwhile, Tony Gonzalez averaged that score for eight (old) seasons.
4. Gonzalez has over 400 receptions more than any other tight end in league history.
Gonzalez compiled 1,325 receptions over the course of his career, while Jason Witten, second in the category, has 879. Witten will probably play a few more years in the league, but to get to Gonzo’s level, he’ll have to average around at least 100 receptions a season, which is unlikely given his age. Again, this can be credited to Gonzalez's unbelievable ability to stay healthy.
5. And he also has over 5,000 more yards than any other tight end.
Gonzo’s 15,127 receiving yards total is over 5,000 more than Shannon Sharpe, who barely got over the 10,000 yard mark during his career. In other words, no tight end has put up more than 66% of Tony Gonzalez’s receiving yards total.
6. Gonzalez caught 50 or more passes in 16 seasons, second only to Jerry Rice.
Not only is Rice a receiver, which inherently brings more targets, but Gonzalez accomplished this feat in every single season after his rookie year. And since 2003, Gonzo had exactly zero seasons with fewer than 70 receptions. Only six tight ends caught at least 70 balls this year, and Gonzalez did this every year since 2003!
7. There have been 32 1,000-yard receiving seasons from tight ends. Tony Gonzalez has four of them.
That’s right – one out of every eight 1,000-yard tight end seasons belongs to Tony Gonzalez. Only Jason Witten has hit this mark as many times, and only eight tight ends have even had multiple 1,000-yard seasons.
8. He has more than double the amount of touchdowns as the number five tight end touchdown leader.
Gonzalez caught 111 touchdowns over his 17-year career, which is 24 touchdowns more than the second place Antonio Gates. Moreover, Wesley Walls, the fifth-ranked tight end in terms of touchdowns, scored 54 times, which is less than half of Gonzo’s touchdown total.
9. Gonzalez was a top-three fantasy tight end in 10 different seasons.
Last but not least, for you fantasy folks out there, we can't forget that Gonzo was the one consistent piece at the always-volatile tight end position through the years. In fact, he was so good that he was a top-three standard-scoring option in 10 of his 17 fantasy football seasons. Moreover, there was a stretch between 1999 and 2004 where Gonzalez was either the best or second-best tight end each year. Compared to the rest of his peers, he was arguably better than what we’re seeing from some of the elite tight ends in today’s game.