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These men excelled as pass catchers and run blockers, but have yet to make it to Canton. Today I rank the top 10 tight ends not in the Hall of Fame.
10. Brent Jones
He was a key target for two Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
After spending a year with Pittsburgh, Brent Jones signed with San Francisco as a backup in 1987. After the retirement of John Frank, he became the starter in 1989. In his 11 seasons in San Francisco, Jones amassed 417 receptions for 5,195 yards and 33 touchdowns. He retired after 1997 as a four-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, and three-time Super Bowl champion.
Jones has the misfortune of playing in one of the most talented receiving corps in league history. With a roster including Jerry Rice, John Taylor, and Roger Craig. Jones gets lost in history.
9. Wesley Walls
He is one of the most forgotten tight ends in league history.
After spending time in San Francisco and New Orleans, Wesley Walls signed with Carolina in 1996. During his seven seasons as a Carolina Panther, he excelled at the tight end position. His tenure proved to be his breakout opportunity as he recorded 324 receptions and 44 touchdowns in his time in Carolina. Walls spent his final season in Green Bay before retiring in 2003. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro.
Walls had the misfortune of playing just before the tight end became a true playmaker in an offense. If he had played around the same time as Tony González, Antonio Gates, and other great tight ends of today, he would have put up huge numbers.
8. Jimmie Giles
He played in an era were the Bucs were terrible and that's why he is forgotten in history.
Doug Williams once said that tight end Jimmie Giles is as Hall of Fame worthy as Ozzie Newsome or any other tight end in Canton. During his nine seasons in Tampa, Giles made four Pro Bowls, caught 279 passes for 4,300 yards and 34 touchdowns. His four touchdown game against the Miami Dolphins in 1985 is still a Tampa Bay record. Giles could have been one of the greatest tight ends ever if he was used more in the offense. He spent his final four seasons in Detroit and Philadelphia. In his 13 seasons, Giles posted 350 catches for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns in his career.
Giles had the misfortune of playing for Tampa Bay when it was an early expansion franchise. Had he'd played for any other team, he'd be a slam dunk Hall of Famer.
7. Riley Odoms
He was the team's most reliable target for over a decade.
A first round pick in 1972, Riley Odoms was the second highest tight end ever drafted. At 6'4" 230 pounds, he had the prototypical size to be successful in any era. He was a solid blocker and great receiver for the Broncos. He finished his career with 396 receptions for 5,755 yards and 41 touchdowns. In his 12 seasons in Denver, he was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, and a 1977 AFC champion.
For most of Odoms career, the Broncos weren't a very good team. He didn't play with great quarterbacks until his final season when the team acquired John Elway.
6. Jay Novacek
He helped make Dallas a force of an offense.
After being drafted in the sixth round and spending five unproductive seasons with the Cardinals, Jay Novacek signed with Dallas in 1990. He was a key contributor for the Cowboys offense, especially on third downs. He proved to be a good second option for Troy Aikman when Michael Irvin was covered. In his 11 seasons, Novacek recorded 422 receptions for 4,630 yards and 30 touchdowns. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, and three-time Super Bowl champion.
Novacek would have been in the Hall of Fame a lot sooner if his career wasn't cut short by a back injury. He was a key part of the Dallas offense, and he performed big in the teams three Super Bowls in the 90s.
5. Steve Jordan
He gets lost because the team he was on was irrelevant for much of his time there.
A seventh round pick in 1982, Steve Jordan was a solid player from am IVY league school. He built a reputation in his 13 tear career as an all around solid tight end. In 1985, he caught a career high 68 passes for 795 yards. Jordan retired after 1994 as a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. He recorded 498 receptions for 6,307 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Jordan played for Minnesota after the retirement of Fran Tarkenton and played only played one year with Warren Moon. If he had played with a better quarterback for his entire career, he would have been seen as one of the best ever.
4. Todd Christiansen
He was one of the best receiving tight ends in the 80s.
After spending time with the Cowboys and Giants, Todd Christiansen signed with the Raiders in 1979. In his second year as a starter in 1983, he led the NFL with a then tight end record of 92 receptions for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns. He led the league in receptions again in 1986 and was a popular red zone target for whoever was at quarterback. Christiansen finished his career with 461 receptions for 5,872 yards and 41 touchdowns. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, and two-time Super Bowl champion.
Christiansen was the last in a long line of great Raider tight ends. He put up the same type of numbers as Dave Casper and Raymond Chester and deserves the same level of credit.
3. Keith Jackson
He was successful with whoever he played with.
A first round pick by Philadelphia in 1988, Keith Jackson had success from the start. In his first year, he recorded 81 receptions for 869 yards and six touchdowns while being named the NFC Rookie of the year. He held the Eagles single season receiving yards record for 20 years. A big game playmaker, Jackson also had 51 catches for 834 yards and six touchdowns in 13 career playoff games. He has the distinction of being the only player to catch a touchdown pass from Randall Cunningham, Dan Marino, and Brett Favre. He spent time in Miami and Green Bay before retiring after 1996. He was a six-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, and Super Bowl champion.
Jackson only played nine seasons with three teams. If he had garnered long term commitment from one team, he could have put up big numbers if he had built a combination with an All-Pro quarterback.
2. Ben Coates
He was the offenses most productive player for years.
A fifth round pick in 1991, Ben Coates came out of nowhere to make the team. With the arrival of head coach Bill Parcells in 1993, the offense changed to show an increased reliance on the tight end. In 1994, he caught 96 passes, which was the most ever for a tight end to that point, for 1,174 yards receiving, and seven touchdowns. In 1996, Coates had 62 catches for 682 yards and nine touchdowns and helped the team appear in Super Bowl XXXI. Coates spent his final season in Baltimore before retiring after 2000. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, and Super Bowl champion.
Coates has the problem as every tight end who played before 2003. The next generation came along and completely shattered their records. Nevertheless, he accomplished much more than any tight end at that time.
1. Mark Bavaro
"Rambo" was one of the most versatile tight ends ever to play.
A fourth round pick in 1985, Mark Bavaro was projected to be used as a blocking tight end. He surprised everyone with his intense playing style, blocking, and toughness as a pass catcher and quickly became one of Phil Simms favorite targets. The most well-known play of Bavaro's career occurred in a Monday Night Football game in 1986 against San Francisco when he caught a pass and ran 20 yards dragging along seven different defenders helping the Giants win the game. Bavaro spent his final three seasons in Cleveland and Philadelphia. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro and helped the Giants to two Super Bowl victories.
I'm not sure what's keeping Bavaro from a gold jacket. He was as tough as any tight end and was the most reliable Giant receiver. Get him in Canton.
GH on May 01, 2020:
Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on February 13, 2020:
Kevin Goodwin on August 14, 2015:
Ben coats was the only weapon the patriots had for some time and he just got stuck on a bad team.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on May 18, 2015:
Jackson is at the top of my list. Bavaro was brilliant. But his career was cut short.