10 greatest tight ends in Chicago Bears franchise history

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“Bears fans, they want a winner. I know that because I am one,” Cole Kmet said upon being drafted by the Bears on April 24.

The story is almost too good to be true.

Kmet, a lifelong Bears fan, was drafted by his hometown team in the second round of last week’s NFL Draft. He’s the young, talented tight end a on roster that currently employs eight others at the position.

RELATED: J.J. Stankevitz: It doesn’t matter how many tight ends the Bears have

Will Kmet be the next great Bears tight end? That remains to be seen.

The Bears have a flurry of great tight ends in their history. You may have heard of one who wore No. 89 back in the day (psst: Ditka is on this list).

That said, the list of the greatest Bears tight ends of all time seems like… a work in progress. There are some fine names, sure, but only a scant amount of them reached a Pro Bowl.

Fans will be geeked if Kmet eventually lands in the top three of this list. But for now, let's look at who he’s up against in our list of the 10 greatest tight ends in franchise history.

 

10. James Thornton

Seasons with Bears: 1988-91

Notable stats: 1988 and 1989 proved to be solid seasons for Thornton, as he started every game.

Did you know: Any football player with a nickname like “Robocop” needs mentioning on a list like this. Thornton was drafted by the Bears in the fourth round of the 1988 NFL Draft. His 20-yard touchdown catch from Mike Tomczack in the 1989 season opener proved to be the game winner in a 17-14 victory over the defending AFC Champion Bengals.

 

9. Trey Burton

Seasons with Bears: 2018-19

Notable stats: Started all 16 games for the Bears’ 2018 playoff season. He was targeted 76 times for 54 catches, 569 yards and six touchdowns.

Did you know: After four pedestrian seasons in Philadelphia, Lawrence (Trey) Burton III had his breakout year in 2018. One of his catches, a 13-yard haul from Mitch Trubisky against the Packers on Dec. 16, was the go-ahead touchdown as the Bears went on to clinch the NFC North division title. The Bears cut Burton two years into his $32 million contract. Last week, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts. Head coach Frank Reich, who was the offensive coordinator when Burton was in Philly, could get mileage out of the 28-year-old tight end.

 

8: Greg Latta

Seasons with Bears: 1975-79

Notable stats: He led the team with four touchdown receptions in 1977, the Bears’ first playoff season since 1963.

Did you know: Latta, who was drafted by the Colts in the eighth round of the 1974 NFL Draft, ended up playing all five of his NFL seasons with the Bears, who were enjoying a slight renaissance in the late '70s. He tallied 1,081 receiving yards over his career. His shining moment, perhaps, was in the Bears’ wild 28-27 comeback win over the Chiefs on Nov. 13, 1977. He caught a game-winning 37-yard strike that helped kickstart a six-game winning streak.

 

7. Keith Jennings

Seasons with Bears: 1991-97

Notable stats: His 1995 season was one of the more underrated tight end campaigns in Bears history— 16 starts, 25 receptions, 217 yards and six touchdowns.

Did you know: Jennings chose football over baseball upon entering college (Clemson). He was drafted by the Cowboys in 1989. After brief stints with Denver and Montreal (World League), he was signed by the Bears as an injury replacement for Cap Boso and James Thornton. An excellent blocker, Jennings’ six TDs were the most by a Bears tight end at that point since Mike Ditka (8) in 1963. Jennings also caught a touchdown pass in the Bears’ unexpected 1995 New Year’s Day playoff win against the Vikings.

 

6. Zach Miller

Seasons with Bears: 2014-2017 (was on injured reserve in 2018)

Notable stats: Miller started 14 games in 2015, racking up 34 catches, 439 yards and five touchdowns.

Did you know: David Letterman fans may be familiar with the town Miller was born in (Wahoo, Nebraska). After stops in Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, Miller had his breakout season in 2015. Some memorable highlights that year included an insane 22-yard one-handed touchdown catch in San Diego — the eventual game winner. The very next week, he hauled in five passes for 107 yards against the Rams. It included an 87-yard TD strike from Jay Cutler. A brutal knee injury during a Bears game in New Orleans cut his career short.

 

5. Emery Moorehead

Seasons with Bears: 1981-88

Notable stats: His eight catches for 114 yards against Tampa Bay on Oct. 6, 1985 were among the many offensive highlights from the Super Bowl winners that season.

Did you know: The Evanston native, Moorehead, led the Bears in receiving yards (363) in the strike-shortened season of 1982. He caught an 85-yard pass from Mike Tomczak in 1986, which ended up being the longest reception in the NFC that year. His son, Aaron, also has a Super Bowl ring (Colts, Super Bowl 41).

 

4. Martellus Bennett

Seasons with Bears: 2013-2015

Notable stats: Martysaurus Rex was dominant in his 2014 Pro Bowl season, hauling in 90 catches for 916 yards and six touchdowns.

Did you know: If a football player’s stat ledger had a column for terse quotes and soundbites, Bennett would be among the league leaders. And while he's bashed his former quarterback, Jay Cutler, on several occasions, the two shared some joy in a wild 31-30 come-from-behind win over the Vikings on Sept. 15, 2013. Bennett’s 16-yard reception with 10 seconds left proved to be the clincher.

 

3. Desmond Clark

Seasons with Bears: 2003-10

Notable stats: In 2006, when he helped the Bears earn a trip to Super Bowl, Clark caught 45 passes for 626 yards and six TDs.

Did you know: Clark was drafted in the sixth round (No. 179 overall) by the Broncos in 1999. He ranks second on the all-time receptions list (216) at Wake Forest. He is now a financial advisor, motivational speaker and author, which includes the book “Principles of Winning.”

 

2. Greg Olsen

Seasons with Bears: 2007-10

Notable stats: In 2008, he led the Bears in TD receptions (5); he was targeted 108 times for 60 receptions and eight TDs in 2009 (all team-highs).

Did you know: Olsen, a track and field star in high school, was one of the nation’s top tight ends entering college (Miami). He was drafted in the first round (No. 31 overall) by the Bears in 2007. One of his top moments with the team came in his final season in Chicago — hauling in a 58-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in a playoff game against Seattle. He was traded to Carolina the following season.

 

1. Mike Ditka

Seasons with Bears: 1961-66

Notable stats: 56 catches good for 1,076 yards (19.2 ypc) and 12 TDs in his 1961 Rookie of the Year season. Five-time Pro Bowler.

Did you know: Michael Keller Ditka will forever be known as “Da Coach” in Chicago. But as a player, he helped give the tight end position a rebirth in the 1960s as it transitioned from a blocking role to a receiving one. One of the most memorable plays in the Bears’ 1963 championship season came on Nov. 24. Ditka shook off multiple Steelers tacklers at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. It was recently named one of the top plays in NFL history.

RELATED: Why one scout calls Cole Kmet 'The Natural'

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