In 2020, it looks like the Las Vegas Raiders will have one of the best tight end groups in the NFL. Darren Waller is the alpha of the group, a converted wide receiver with incredible size and speed to pair with soft hands. Foster Moreau is no slouch either, even though he was drafted as a blocker, he proved to be the Raiders most lethal weapon in the redzone. And then, inexplicably, the team added Jason Witten, a future Hall of Famer in his own right, presumably to help with short yardage situations.
But this is nothing new to Raider Nation. The team has a rich history of success with tight ends. During the dark times, names like Zach Miller and Jared Cook gave the team hope, and who could forget about one of the game’s icons, Dave Casper?
However, there’s another Raider tight end that made a huge impact on the silver and black, and to date, he hasn’t gotten the credit that he deserves. Here’s a closer look at whether or not Todd Christensen belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Todd Christensen and the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Todd Christensen’s path to NFL glory was a very, very strange one. He was actually drafted by the Dallas Cowboys to play fullback in 1978, but he was injured in the preseason and missed his entire rookie year. After he refused the Cowboy’s request that he move to tight end, he was released. He had a cup of coffee with the New York Giants before he was released again and finally found his way to the then-Oakland Raiders, where he finally moved to tight end.
A year and a half after Dave Casper was traded to the Houston Oilers, Christensen finally broke out with the newly christen Los Angeles Raiders, catching 42 passes for 510 yards and four scores. Over the next five years, Christensen would average 79 catches, 1,011 yards, and seven touchdowns a season (and that’s including the strike-shortened 1987 season where they only played 12 games), leading the NFL in receptions twice, and setting the record for most receptions by a tight end in a single season (at that time).
Christensen was a vital part of the 1983 Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Raiders, but inexplicably, his name has been lost to time. Maybe it’s because his rags-to-riches story isn’t as glamorous as Jim Plunkett’s was that year. Maybe it’s because he didn’t have the handsome, brutal mystique of Howie Long. And maybe it’s because unlike teammate Marcus Allen, he didn’t have an iconic Super Bowl score.
During his career, Todd Christensen was voted to the Pro Bowl for five straight seasons, and was first-team All-Pro twice while legendary Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow was still in the league. Despite that, in the 32 years since he retired, Christensen’s bust remains absent from Canton, Ohio.
Two big reasons come to mind when you ask why he hasn’t been enshrined. Firstly, he didn’t play for long enough. His prime was great, but it was essentially his entire productive career. Even though he was a Pro Bowler every single year that he started every game for the Raiders, that only counts for about six seasons. When he retired, he was fifth all-time in receptions, eighth in yards, and 16th in touchdowns among tight ends, a position group that was only beginning to blossom into a receiving position.
And secondly, he was a Raider. And whether people want to admit it or not, there is major resentment for the Raiders of the 70’s and 80’s. Cliff Branch, one of the most explosive receivers of all time, had a better career than Lynn Swann, but he’s absent. Lester Hayes had one of the best seasons for a corner in NFL history, even winning Defensive Player of the Year, but his name is nowhere to be found in Canton. It took until after his passing for Kenny “Snake” Stabler, the best quarterback in franchise history, to be given the respect he deserved. If Christensen had followed the path of Marcus Allen and retired on a team with political clout like the Kansas City Chiefs or Pittsburgh Steelers, I bet he’d be in Canton, now.
Frankly, when you stack up Todd Christensen’s numbers against Hall of Fame tight ends, he doesn’t look out of place. Even with the influx of “basketball” tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, and Antonio Gates, who are essentially just big bodied receiver, his stats persist. He’s still 13th all-time among tight ends in receptions and yards, while trailing a little bit to 19th in touchdowns.
Of the ten tight ends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he has more receptions (461) and yards (5,872) than Mike Ditka, Dave Casper, Charlie Sanders, and John Mackey, and more touchdowns (41) than Sanders, Mackey, and Jackie Smith.
Three of the guys ahead of Christensen statistically played after him as well, with Tony Gonzalez, Shanon Sharpe, and Ozzie Newsome hitting their primes long after he retired, often in an era where receiving threat tight ends were more commonplace. Not only that, but all three men played in significantly more games (Gonzalez- 270, Sharpe- 204, and Newsome- 198) than he did (137).
Statistically, he’s good enough. He was a part of two Raider Super Bowl teams. Jim Plunkett is an iconic figure, but it’s not like he was a good enough quarterback to inflate any receiver’s numbers like Peyton Manning did for Dallas Clark. He was outspoken, but if anything, that just means he added character to a Raiders squad known as ruthless vagabonds.
Christensen’s name hasn’t really been brought up in Hall of Fame conversations, and with the backlog of Raiders, it’s hard to imagine Canton will come calling any time soon. But make no mistake, Christensen is a charter member of the “We appreciate you anyway” BroSports Hall of Fame.