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Tony Gonzalez deserves his respectable ranking

NFL Network's "Top 100: Players of 2012" list may have its share of critics, but at the very least it provides us with a venue for celebrating the amazing staying power of Tony Gonzalez.

The Atlanta Falcons tight end came in at No. 53 on the list, a fair landing spot for one of the game's consummate professionals. Gonzalez is coming off a season in which he totaled 80 receptions for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. He did this in his 15th (15th!) NFL season.

Gonzalez dropped seven places from his spot on last year's list, despite having an all-around better statistical season in 2011. The Falcons probably thought they were getting a nice role player when they signed Gonzalez after a 12-year Hall of Fame-caliber run with the Kansas City Chiefs. Instead, they ended up getting premier production at the position for three seasons and counting.

Gonzalez is now 36, an age at which most tight ends have already long-since stared down the fiery meteor. Gonzalez has laughed at mortality, missing just two games since 1997 despite the physical demands of his position.

The Rob Gronkowskis and Jimmy Grahams of the world may have stolen the spotlight at the position, but Gonzalez's placement on this list proves how much respect he's garnered in locker rooms across the NFL.

"It's just unbelievable what he's doing in his 15th year, at that age," said Gronkowski, who's just 1,017 catches behind Gonzalez on the all-time list.

Score one for the old guys.

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