Men For All Seasons: Will Former College Hooper Excel in NFL Playoffs as TE?

If you need more unassailable evidence proving who are the best team-sport athletes in the world, check out some of the premier tight ends in NFL history (past and present). A striking number of the Drago-like specimens at that rigorous position thus far this century have been former college basketball players.

As the NFL playoffs commence this campaign, consider what kind of "picks" do you think imposing Mike Ditka (Pittsburgh) and John Mackey (Syracuse) set back in the day before the Big East Conference was formed. Wouldn't you love to see LeBron James maneuver down the field like Charles Atlas the same way he does when forcefully driving down the lane?

Although ex-California hoopster Tony Gonzalez failed to reach the 2013 postseason with the Atlanta Falcons in his quest to finally win a playoff game before retiring, succeeding in the NFL remains a "Battle of the Titans" at the TE position. Bursting on the scene at the same position as Gonzalez departed was fellow ex-college hooper Julius Thomas. The most sought-after free agent four years ago after originally being a relatively obscure player for the Denver Broncos until emerging as their runner-up in touchdowns with 12 and contributing a team-high eight pass receptions in an AFC title-game victory against the New England Patriots. Thomas, an All-Big Sky Conference hoopster with Portland State, flashed potential as the next game-changing tight end when he caught nine touchdown passes in the Broncos' first five games three seasons ago en route to signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. A 74-yard TD strike to "It's So Easy" at San Diego in mid-season four years ago illustrated how QB Peyton Manning capitalized on Thomas' athleticism the same way he did ex-hoopster Marcus Pollard (Bradley) with the Indianapolis Colts. Pollard, a J.C. transfer who was the Braves' leading rebounder in 1992-93, caught at least three touchdown passes each of Manning's first seven NFL seasons from 1998 through 2004.

Ditka, muzzled by ESPC for boasting sufficient fortitude to tackle mom-jeans POTUS, had a quality successor as an ex-hooper tight end with the Bears in Martellus Bennett (Texas A&M) before Bennett wound up with the New England Patriots and last season's Super Bowl. Who will be the next hooper joining up the following list of Top 25 NFL tight ends who were former college basketball players:

Rank Former College Hooper Alma Mater Summary of NFL Tight End Career
1. Tony Gonzalez California First tight end in NFL history with 100 touchdowns completed his 17-year career in 2013 with 1,325 receptions for 15,127 yards and 111 TDs. He was 13-time Pro Bowl selection.
2. Antonio Gates Kent State Set an NFL single-season record with 13 TD receptions in 2004 en route to becoming San Diego Chargers' all-time leader for TD catches, receptions and receiving yards.
3. Mike Ditka Pittsburgh Five-time Pro Bowl selection caught 427 passes for 5,812 yards and 43 TDs in 12 seasons.
4. John Mackey Syracuse Hall of Famer caught 331 passes for 5,236 yards and 38 TDs in 10 seasons.
5. Jimmy Graham Miami (Fla.) Led New Orleans Saints in pass receptions in 2012 and 2013. Twice has had streaks of at least four games with more than 100 yards in pass receptions. After only four years, he ranked second all-time among New Orleans Saints' tight ends in receiving before transitioning to the Seattle Seahawks.
6. Todd Heap Arizona State Caught 467 passes for 5,492 yards and 41 TDs with the Baltimore Ravens from 2001 through 2010, leading them in receptions in 2002 with 68.
7. Ben Coates Livingstone (N.C.) Established NFL single-season record for most receptions by a TE with 96 in 1994.
8. Marcus Pollard Bradley Finished his 13-year career with 349 receptions for 4,280 yards and 40 TDs (long of 86 yards in 2001 midway through stint as starter for the Indianapolis Colts).
9. Pete Metzelaars Wabash (Ind.) Played in more games at TE than any player in NFL history when he retired. Led the Buffalo Bills with 68 receptions in 1993.
10. Julius Thomas Portland State Began 2014 campaign with a bang by catching three first-half TD passes in season opener from Peyton Manning en route to nine TDs in first five games for the Denver Broncos. Thomas, Denver's runner-up with 12 TD receptions the previous year, went on to sign as a high-value free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
11. Martellus Bennett Texas A&M Caught 348 passes for 3,586 yards and 23 TDs with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Chicago Bears in first eight years from 2008 through 2015 prior to trade to New England Patriots.
12. Joe Senser West Chester State (Pa.) Caught 165 passes for 1,822 yards and 16 TDs in four-year career with the Minnesota Vikings in early 1980s.
13. Andrew Glover Grambling State Caught at least one TD pass each of his 10 pro seasons from 1991 through 2000, finishing with 208 receptions for 2,478 yards and 24 TDs.
14. Rich McGeorge Elon (N.C.) Caught 175 passes for 2,370 yards and 13 TDs with the Green Bay Packers in nine years from 1970 through 1978.
15. Rickey Dudley Ohio State Scored 29 TDs in five seasons with the Oakland Raiders before hooking on with two other teams.
16. Derrick Ramsey Kentucky Caught 188 passes for 2,364 yards and 21 TDs with three different teams from 1978 to 1987.
17. Jordan Cameron BYU/Southern California Blossomed in third year with Cleveland Browns in 2013, catching 80 passes for 917 yards and seven TDs (three in game at Minnesota). He had three contests with at least nine receptions.
18. Jean Fugett Amherst (Mass.) Caught 156 passes for 2,270 yards and 28 TDs with the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins in eight years from 1972 through 1979.
19. Kevin Boss Western Oregon Caught 150 passes for 2,033 yards and 22 TDs with the New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs in six years from 2007 through 2012. His 45-yard pass reception sparked a fourth-quarter TD drive for the Giants in their 17-14 win against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
20. Reuben Gant Oklahoma State Caught 127 passes for 1,850 yards and 15 TDs with the Buffalo Bills in seven seasons from 1974 through 1980.
21. Bob Windsor Kentucky Caught 185 passes for 2,307 yards and 14 TDs with the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots in nine years from 1967 through 1975.
22. Keith McKeller Jacksonville State (Ala.) Caught 124 passes for 1,464 yards and 11 TDs with the Buffalo Bills in seven years from 1987 through 1993.
23. Greg Latta Morgan State (Md.) Caught 90 passes for 1,081 yards and seven TDs with the Chicago Bears in five years from 1975 through 1979.
24. Pat Richter Wisconsin Caught 99 passes for 1,315 yards and 14 TDs in nine seasons for the Washington Redskins after being their first-round pick in 1962.
T25. Al Dixon Iowa State Caught 84 passes for 1,248 yards and eight TDs with four different teams from 1977 through 1984.
T25. Jeff King Virginia Tech Registered 93 receptions for 802 yards and seven TDs with the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals in first seven years from 2006 through 2012.
T25. Dee Mackey East Texas State Caught 94 passes for 1,352 yards and eight TDs in six NFL/AFL seasons from 1960 through 1965.
T25. Ulysses Norris Georgia Best season of seven-year career was in 1983 when he had seven TDs with the Detroit Lions.
T25. Morris Stroud Jr. Clark Atlanta Believed to be the tallest TE (6-10) in NFL history, he caught 54 passes for 977 yards and seven TDs with the Kansas City Chiefs in five years from 1970 through 1974.