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49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

Who's the best tight end in the NFL?

While many feel strongly on the subject, there really are only two acceptable answers. You can bicker back and forth as to who is superior between 49ers tight end George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, but they're clearly in a tier unto themselves.

If you're partial to the intricacies of route-running, Kelce might be your choice. If you like a bruiser who contributes in all aspects of the offense, Kittle surely is your guy.

If there is a separation between the two, it's by hairs. Don't take my word for it. More than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players recently voted on the top 10 players at 11 different positions for the upcoming 2020 season, and the top two tight ends were separated by the slimmest margin of any position group.

To the delight of 49ers fans, and the ire of those of the Chiefs, Kittle came out on top. Just barely.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

After the first round of votes, ESPN's Jeremey Fowler reported Kittle and Kelce sat at a dead-even split. Additional voting and follow-up calls were required, which ultimately tilted the result in Kittle's favor.

Just like Kelce, Kittle was ranked as high as No. 1 at the position, but no lower than No. 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski was the only other player to receive a first-place vote, but last I checked it's 2020 and not 2015.

"Consecutive 1,000-yard seasons make Kittle a top contender, but his blocking and intensity helped earn him nearly half the first-place votes," Fowler wrote. "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."

The voters were full of compliments for Kelce, but Kittle's mentality, leadership and scheme flexibility proved to be the tie-breakers.

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

"The passion on tape is unmatched," an AFC executive explained. "He's got that dog in him. More competitive than Kelce."

"Unreal passion, energy, toughness, blocking," said another executive.

[RELATED: Mahomes contract could put pressure on 49ers signing Kittle]

Kittle might have won the vote, but last time he and Kelce were on the same field, the Chiefs tight end got the better of him, both in the box score and in the Lombardi Trophy department. Of course, if Kittle isn't called for that questionable-at-best offensive pass interference penalty, it might be a completely different story.

In any case, there's no shame in Kelce being ranked below Kittle, nor would there be if it was the other way around. They're both extremely special players, and it's not a coincidence that their teams arguably are the two best in the NFL.

Arik Armstead excited to team up with Dion Jordan on 49ers' defensive line

Arik Armstead excited to team up with Dion Jordan on 49ers' defensive line

Before there were Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, there was Dion Jordan.

Jordan was a standout defensive lineman at Oregon who became a first-round draft pick – the No. 3 overall pick of the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 draft.

Jordan has not lived up to those NFL expectations due to suspensions and injuries. But he will get another chance this season with the 49ers after signing a one-year contract with the club last week. He has 10.5 career sacks. The 49ers will be his fourth NFL team.

Jordan, 30, will have the opportunity this summer to win a spot as a backup on the 49ers’ defensive line behind edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

After an offseason that saw Buckner get traded to the Indianapolis Colts, Armstead said he is looking forward to playing with another of his college teammates.

“Man, it’s great,” Armstead said Monday on a video call with Bay Area reporters. “Dion was a guy I looked up to and have for a long time, especially in college, being a freshman and he was a senior, you know, big man on campus. And I always appreciated him for sticking up for me and not being one of those seniors who talk down to freshmen and try to haze freshman.”

Jordan was a four-year player at Oregon, where he registered 7.5 sacks as a junior at five sacks as a senior. Armstead was a role player as a freshman with a half-sack. Armstead declared for the draft following his junior season. The 49ers selected Armstead with the No. 17 pick in the 2015 draft.

“Dion was always my big homie,” Armstead said. “I loved playing with him in college and being able to learn from him. He played at a high level and set a standard for us in college and something to achieve and dream and dream of achieving one day, which was playing well at Oregon and then being a top draft pick.”

[RELATEDHow 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo, Trent Williams feel about fan-less games]

One year after Armstead entered the NFL, Buckner was the No. 7 overall pick of the 49ers. Armstead credits Jordan with leading the way.

“He kind of paved the way for me and DeFo and we knew someone who did it at a high level, so it was amazing to follow those next couple of years and try to do the same thing he did,” Armstead said.

How 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo, Trent Williams feel about fan-less games

How 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo, Trent Williams feel about fan-less games

While hope appears to be running out on following through with any semblance of a legitimate college football season, the NFL is moving forward with some significant changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NFL stadiums will not be rocking this fall -- at least not like past seasons.

The best-case scenario is that mask-wearing fans will occupy a small percentage of seats this season in some NFL venues. More likely, there will be no fans in at least the majority of stadiums.

"You'll have to bring your own juice," 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said last week. "I'll tell you what, our team, that's one thing that we don't have a problem with, though, bringing the energy.

“We bring it every day in practice, and you see it out there during training camp already. The first walk-through basically felt like full speed.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Veteran offensive lineman Trent Williams points out that most of the time when football players work at their craft, there are no fans around. After all, jobs are won in practices. And other than some sessions in training camp during a normal summer, there are no spectators to provide a jolt of energy.

“It's going to be weird not to have fans, but the majority of football we play, there’s nobody watching us,” Williams said. “We’ve been playing the game our whole life. The fans make this sport what it is. Game days, they put that extra cherry on top and makes the experience a dream.”

At its basic level, however, Williams said nothing at all changes for the men who play the sport.

“The game is a game, whether there are fans there or not,” Williams said. “We have to execute. As professionals, that’s all we can hang our hats on. We got to be professionals and play the game when it’s probably not the easiest thing.

“Like Jimmy said, you got to bring your own juice.”

The NBA season has resumed in the bubble of Orlando, Fla. While each NFL team practices at their own facilities without the controlled environments, Williams said he believes the NBA is leading the way for how to move forward in playing a high-energy sport in a nearly empty building.

“I think the NBA has kind of shown us how it can be done, virtually,” Williams said. “And I think they’ve done a great job with that. So I’m encouraged by that, and I think we’ll be OK.”

[RELATEDTrent Williams expects Jerick McKinnon 'breakout' 2020 season]

If there is one advantage, it is for quarterbacks of visiting teams. Garoppolo said he is looking forward to the road experience, where there will not be the usual complications of communicating with teammates in a loud environment, such as Seattle or New Orleans.

"It will be different. No silent count will be needed on the road," Garoppolo said.. "So that's a luxury. I'm pretty excited about that one. It'll be different.

"We're just going to have to adapt to it and change on the fly. And I'm sure there'll be some hiccups along the way. But the better we can adapt, and the more quickly we can adapt, the better."