How 49ers star George Kittle reminds retired Rob Gronkowski of himself

How 49ers star George Kittle reminds retired Rob Gronkowski of himself

Gronk has spoken. 

The Athletic's Daniel Brown asked the former New England Patriots tight end in the lead-up to Super Bowl LIV who he would take between 49ers star George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs counterpart Travis Kelce. There are no wrong answers, considering either can credibly claim themselves to be the NFL's best tight end since Gronkowski retired last March. 

Gronkowski, though, has a personal preference. 

“Kittle, for sure,’’ Gronkowski told Brown in Miami. “Because he just reminds me of myself a little bit with the way he plays the game.”

In 2018, Kittle and Kelce both broke Gronkowski's single-season record for the most receiving yards by a tight end. Kittle (1,377) barely edged Kelce (1,336), finishing the year with the most prolific campaign by a tight end in NFL history. 

In fact, no tight end caught more passes (216) for more yards (2,945) in the first three years of their NFL career than Kittle. But Kittle's not just a pass-catcher, enjoying run-blocking just as much -- if not more -- than scoring touchdowns. 

Kittle's complete skill set allowed him to break another one of Gronkowski's single-season records, earning Pro Football Focus' highest grade by a tight end. Combine the all-around skills, passion for the sport and a fun-loving personality, and you'd be forgiven for mistaking Gronkowski and Kittle for the Spider-Man meme. 

“I see a little bit of me in both, but I would say I’m definitely more of a Kittle, hands down,’’ Gronkowski said. “I would say that because of the attitude that he brings to the table, just the grit he brings into the trenches. He wants to bring it every time. He wants to be that guy that’s fierce out there and just wrecking guys whether it’s the passing game or the running game.”

[RELATED: Shanahan convinced Sherman to sign with 49ers over Lions]

Gronkowski will be covering Super Bowl LIV as an analyst for Fox Sports, getting an up-close view of the player he sees much of himself in. Kittle will have another chance to better Gronkowski, too.

The retired tight end didn't pick up a ring in his first Super Bowl appearance, as his Patriots once again lost to Eli Manning and the New York Giants. Sunday will mark Kittle's first appearance on the NFL's biggest stage, and he -- and the 49ers -- will hope for a better outcome than that of his predecessor. 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

NFL Power Rankings: 49ers at No. 4 before 2020 season, Peter King says

NFL Power Rankings: 49ers at No. 4 before 2020 season, Peter King says

The 49ers were the best team in the NFC last season, and they had a pretty good offseason.

So they should be No. 1 or No. 2 in any preseason NFL power rankings, right?

Not quite, according to NBC Sports NFL analyst Peter King.

In King's latest Football Morning in America column, he ranked the 49ers at No. 4 behind the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 1), Baltimore Ravens (No. 2) and New Orleans Saints (No. 3).

King loved what 49ers general manager John Lynch was able to do this offseason.

"There isn’t a team that responded to its problems better than the Niners this offseason," King wrote. "San Francisco needed a left tackle after Joe Staley’s April retirement; GM John Lynch went out and got Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, cheap. Knowing that he couldn’t pay all his top defensive frontmen, Lynch dealt DeForest Buckner for the 13th pick in the draft—and used that pick on South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw. And needing a long-term receiver threat, the Niners traded up in the first round for Arizona State wideout Brandon Aiyuk."

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

While it's perfectly reasonable to put the Chiefs and Ravens ahead of the 49ers, ranking the Saints in front of them is a point of contention.

But King highlighted two areas that could be issues for the 49ers.

"The one long-term position Lynch needs to attack is the secondary—and not because of the late collapse against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl," King said. "Richard Sherman is 32, and greatness for a corner at 32 cannot be assumed. But a deep defensive front will help any issues defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has in the back end."

Despite a 21-5 record as a starter in the NFL and helping guide the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been criticized quite a bit this offseason. Whether or not it's deserved is a debate for another day. But King believes Garoppolo is the main reason the 49ers are behind the Saints on his ranking.

"The 49ers have an excellent chance to stay atop the tough NFC West, though a Lombardi Trophy will come only with more consistency from Jimmy Garoppolo," King wrote. "His 75.9 rating in the playoffs, while not coming out of nowhere, was more noticeable because of how coach Kyle Shanahan play-called in January after Garoppolo threw an ugly interception against the Vikings. In the Niners’ last six quarters before the Super Bowl, Garoppolo threw 14 passes and the Niners ran it 72 times. That might have happened in the Bob Griese Miami days, but man, was it noticeable in today’s football.

"The 49ers belittled the media for making a big deal of it, and every Niner player has pit-bulled questions about Garoppolo since, but come on. His two picks and missed deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders in the fourth quarter only exacerbated the issue. The only one who can do anything about this is cool Jimmy G, and I think all the badgering will push him to be better. But we haven’t seen it yet. That’s why the Saints are 3 and Niners 4 in this totally scientific rating of the teams."

[RELATED: Could Kittle's extension cost 49ers Ford?]

Yes, the Saints are good, and they signed Emmanuel Sanders away from the 49ers, but that talented team has come up short in the playoffs the last few years (a couple questionable calls didn't help). Shanahan's crew is now battle tested, and they will be hungry to avenge the bitter Super Bowl defeat.

The 49ers and Saints will meet again in New Orleans on Nov. 15. That Week 10 matchup should go a long way to determining which team is the best in the NFC, and possibly even the NFL.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Joe Staley, 49ers give virtual graduation ceremony to class of 2020

Joe Staley, 49ers give virtual graduation ceremony to class of 2020

Joe Staley retired this offseason after 13 years with the 49ers, but on Saturday, he gave The Faithful of all ages a special parting gift. 

The 49ers held a 38-minute virtual graduation ceremony for those of all ages in the class of 2020. Whether you're a young fan moving up to junior high, you graduated high school or even college, the Niners had a message for you. 

No message was greater than Staley's. Decked in a cap and gown, the former Pro Bowl left tackle gave the official commencement speech

“Good evening students, faculty, friends, family, and 49ers Faithful," Staley started his speech. "I’m Joe Staley, proud student of Rockford High School and Central Michigan University. Oh, and former offensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers.

"I am here tonight to extend my congratulations to the class of 2020. You did it!"

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

The 35-year-old went on to send a great message regarding his retirement and how it relates to graduates. 

"Just a few weeks ago, after playing in 192 NFL games, I decided to hang up my cleats. So, I know first-hand how hard it is to close a chapter and open a new one during this chaotic and uncertain time," Staley said. "But I also know we will get through this and come out stronger. Being able to move forward and graduate despite the hurdles that this pandemic has thrown your way, speaks to your resilience.

"Whether you’re leaving elementary, middle, high school, college, or vocational school -- hold your head high, be proud, and know that you are ready for this. You’ve prepared hard and now it’s time to get out there and make your dreams come true." 

In addition to Staley, coach Kyle Shanahan, general manager John Lynch and many others gave inspiring messages. Jerry Rice and Steve Young even stopped by to celebrate. 

[RELATED: York, 49ers commit $1M to organizations for social change]

This year's graduating class, no matter what age or school, dealt with extremely tough circumstances. Watching Staley address so many with such a positive outlook is just another glimpse of what he meant to the 49ers' locker room. 

Staley made strong, lifelong impressions on countless teammates. The same can be said for what he did for 49ers fans as well.