He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and inducted on August 6, 2011. Sharpe played 12 seasons for the Broncos (1990–99, 2002–03) and two years with the Ravens (2000–01), winning three Super Bowls and finishing his career as the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060) and receiving touchdowns (62) by a tight end  until Tony Gonzalez surpassed all three of these records, including breaking his total yardage record on October 5, 2008. Sharpe holds the distinction of being the first tight end ever to amass over 10,000 receiving yards. Shannon was also named a member of the NFL's first team All-Decade team of the 1990s.
Shannon, the younger brother of former NFL star wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, grew up poor in Glennville, Georgia. He once joked, "We were so poor, a robber once broke into our house and we ended up robbing the robber." Sharpe graduated with a degree in criminal justice from Savannah State College (since 1996 Savannah State University). He commented: "I was a terrible student. I didn't graduate magna cum laude, I graduated 'Thank you, Lawdy!'" At Savannah State he played football and basketball and competed in track and field. In track, he competed in jumping and throwing events. He had personal-bests of 6.73 meters in the long jump and 14.73 meters in triple jump. He also got a top-throw of 42.06 meters in the discus throw.
Sharpe was a three-time All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection from 1987 to 1989 and the SIAC Player of the Year in 1987. He was also selected as a Kodak Division II All-American in 1989. He led the Tigers' football team to their best records in the program's history: 7-3 in 1988 and 8-1 in 1989. He was inducted into the Division II Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Sharpe was drafted in the 7th round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, 192nd overall. He remained with Denver until 1999, winning two championship rings in Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl XXXIII in the process. After the 1997 season championship, his first, he appeared on General Mills'Wheaties boxes with four other Broncos. After a two-year stint with the BaltimoreRavens, where he won another championship ring in Super Bowl XXXV, he returned to the Broncos. He played there until 2003. Then he retired to become an NFL analyst for CBS, where his brother Sterling also worked as an analyst.
Ozzie Newsome, Ravens' general manager, said that "I think he's a threat when he's on the field. He has to be double-teamed. He's a great route-runner. He's proven that he can make the big plays. That's what separates him. He's a threat." Sharpe was selected All-Pro 4 times, played in eight Pro Bowls (1992–1998, 2001) and amassed over 1,000 receiving yards in three different seasons. In a 1993 playoff game against the Los Angeles Raiders, Sharpe tied a postseason record with 13 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown. In the Ravens 2000 AFC title game against the Raiders, he caught a short pass on 3rd down and 18 from his own four-yard line and took it 96 yards for a touchdown, assisting his team to a 16-3 win. Sharpe also caught a 50+ yard pass in each of their other two playoff games. He finished his 14-year career with 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns in 203 games.
Sharpe was among the 17 finalists being considered for enshrinement at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. However, he was passed over in his first year in a class that included Bruce Smith, Ralph Wilson, Derrick Thomas and Rod Woodson. On October 23, 2009, the NCAA Division II Football Hall of Fame announced that Sharpe would be inducted in December of that year. In addition, Savannah State University also retired Sharpe's No. 2 jersey.
On November 28, 2010, Sharpe was nominated as semi-finalist for induction into the 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with Art Modell and 24 others, among them Jerome Bettis, Roger Craig, Marshall Faulk, and Deion Sanders. Subsequently, on February 6, 2011, Shannon Sharpe was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sharpe was escorted to the Hall of Fame ceremony by Canton native Haley Smith, continuing the tradition of pageant winners escorting the inductees. He also appeared on the American Dad! episode "The Scarlett Getter", portraying himself.
According to the New York Post, 10 civil complaints have been filed against Sharpe since 1994, and all of the complaints have originated from women. This includes a battery charge filed by the mother of his children. In September 2010 a temporary restraining order was placed against Sharpe by Michele Bundy. The order was subsequently voluntarily dismissed by Bundy and Sharpe was re-instated to the CBS analyst team. Sharpe was also involved in an August 2004 simple battery incident where the charge was dismissed after mediation.