Clutch Performers

Top tight ends in playoff history

Being a Clutch Performer means coming through for your team in key moments and throughout your career. That can mean you either come up with a big play when the game is on the line, or you're the foundation on which your team builds success.

In honor of the Castrol EDGE Clutch Performers of the Year, we take a weekly look at some players that have been instrumental to their team's success in the Super Bowl era, through the postseason and beyond. Here, we focus on tight ends.

5. Vernon Davis

This one might be a bit of a surprise. But his consistent performance in the playoffs through his career is enough to put him above Kellen Winslow.

Over his 11 NFL seasons, Davis has played in 11 postseason games. He's behind only Rob Gronkowski in postseason touchdowns total. He also has 600 career receiving yards in the playoffs.

Davis was a tight end that was always more useful as a receiver than a blocker. But the game that solidified him as a solid playoff performer was the 2011 divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. Davis torched the defending champs with seven catches, 180 yards and two touchdowns. It's the most yards by a tight end in a single postseason game, breaking a record held by Kellen Winslow since 1981.


4. Dallas Clark

Drafted in 2003 by the Indianapolis Colts, Clark provided the perfect complement to a Peyton Manning-led offense. Clark's natural talent at receiving gave Manning a reliable target at every corner of the field.

Naturally, most of his damage was done between the numbers. But what made him such an integral part of the Colts' offense was his versatility. He could effectively run a variety of routes and could punish teams after the catch. Clark was as good as any receiver with over-the-shoulder catches. His abilities are what helped the Colts win a Super Bowl and led Clark to a Pro Bowl appearance.

Clark was essentially the ultimate check-down target for Peyton Manning. In the playoffs, Clark is the all-time leader in receptions (64), and receiving yards (847). On their way to win Super Bowl XLI, Clark totaled 317 yards in that postseason alone. That remains the most by a TE in a single postseason.


3. Dave Casper

When talking about the complete package at tight end, only a handful of players compare to Dave Casper. While he might not have the same finesse as the other TEs on this list, he's probably the best blocker of these five, often taking on double-teams. His efforts earned him five Pro Bowl nominations, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and helped lead the Oakland Raiders to a win in Super Bowl XI.

Though he wasn't the fastest tight end, Casper made up for any lack of speed with toughness. He would almost always elect to run through a defender than around. When Casper had the ball, he made sure the defense felt it. If you had to pick a current player that compares to Casper, the closest I would say is Travis Kelce.

Casper's grit was on full display in the playoffs. He's tied with Vernon Davis with seven career postseason touchdowns. He totaled five TDs in a single postseason. That's the most among all tight ends. Outside of the "Holy Roller," Casper's most famous play is the "Ghost to the Post." In the 1977 divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Colts, Casper caught three TDs in a double overtime game. One was a 42-yard catch that sent the game into overtime, another was the game winner in the second OT.


2. Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is only 27 years old. The amount he's been able to accomplish in such a short time is amazing. Sure, some of that comes from playing with a certain quarterback named Tom Brady. But the beast known as Gronk has had such early success because he's just too strong, too big and too fast for defenders to handle.

Defenders aren't beaten by Gronk because of game plan, they were beaten at birth. His physical ability and natural talent are what helped Gronkowski be named to four Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl win. He was drafted 42nd overall by the New England Patriots in 2010. Since then, Gronkowski has recorded 68 receiving touchdowns. That's the most for any player since he came into the league. The next closest player is Dez Bryant, with 67 TDs.

Having Gronkowski on your team makes all the difference in the playoffs. Despite his young career, Gronkowski has nine postseason touchdowns, the most among all tight ends in NFL history. His 754 postseason receiving yards are also fourth all-time for TEs. If Gronkowski can stay healthy moving forward, it wouldn't take much for him to become the all-time leader in tight postseason stats. But for now, there's one more player considered just above him.


1. Shannon Sharpe

Sharpe wasn't the first tight end to be used as a receiver, but he was certainly the first to be used to such a high degree. When he retired, Sharpe was the all-time tight end leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. He paved the way for tight ends to be used as primary receiving threats, being the first player of his position to gain more than 10,000 career yards.

While other tight ends (Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez) have passed his career totals, Sharpe separates himself from that pack with Super Bowl wins. Sharpe is a three-time Super Bowl champ over two different teams. Only Dallas Clark has more career playoff receptions among tight ends.

Sharpe commanded respect from defenses. Single coverage would certainly be exposed and he was dangerous against zone schemes. He also commanded respect with trash talk. For as much as he excelled on the field, his personality shined off of it. Sharpe delivered on all of his talk, and he's got the rings to prove it.

Follow Daniel Williams on Twitter @_danielwilliams.

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