Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Execs, players, coaches pick George Kittle over Travis Kelce as the NFL’s best tight end

Jul 7, 2020 at 8:40 AM--

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler polled 50 league executives, coaches, scouts, and players, asking them to identify the NFL's best tight end. The result, as far as the top choice, probably won't come as a surprise to San Francisco 49ers fans.

It's George Kittle.

But that doesn't mean the top spot was absent of debate.

"Voters gave their best 10 to 15 players at a position," explained Fowler, "then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews and research. We had several ties, so we broke them by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls."

ESPN is making a series out of this process, identifying the top tight ends first. And no position garnered more debate among voters for the top spot than this one, according to Fowler. That's because you can make a case for two tight ends playing today in Kittle and Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Off-road SUV or corner-bending coupe," notes Fowler. "Equal greatness."

While some voters prioritized pass-catching ability and the ability to create mismatches, giving the edge to Kelce, others looked at Kittle's complete body of work, including pass-catching and blocking, which makes him an every-down impact player.

The two tight ends nearly had to share the top spot, but in the end, Kittle had a slight edge.

"Consecutive 1,000-yard seasons make Kittle a top contender," wrote Fowler, "but his blocking and intensity helped earn him nearly half the first-place votes. Where Kittle beats everyone is at the line of scrimmage and with the ball in his hands, as he forced a league-high 20 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus."

Said one NFC coordinator of Kittle: "Be on the field, and see how he elevates the play of everyone in the offense. It's tangible. He lifts everyone up."

An AFC executive called Kittle more competitive than Kelce, while another executive said the 49ers tight end amounts to an additional offensive lineman for a top rushing attack. That, when you add Kittle's ability as a receiver, makes him unique among tight ends.

One NFL quarterback noted that Andy Reid's offense creates more opportunities for Kelce whereas Shanahan's 49ers passed the ball 478 times in 2019, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL.

"Even in Shanahan's run-dominant set, Kittle has produced 56 catches of 15 or more yards since 2018," adds Fowler.

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