When it comes to identifying the best tight end in the NFL, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith definitely is in the minority.

The consensus of more than 50 league executives, coaches and scouts is that 49ers tight end George Kittle is the best player in the league at his position.

Kittle's own peers recently ranked him as not only the best tight end in the NFL, but the No. 7 overall player in the league.

Pro Football Focus didn't simply grade Kittle as the NFL's top tight end last season; he was their highest-graded player overall at any position.

And yet, Smith vehemently -- and incorrectly -- believes Travis Kelce, not Kittle, is the best tight end in the league (via 49ers Web Zone.)

"He has had about four or five (it's four) consecutive 1,000-plus-yard seasons," Smith said of the Kansas City Chiefs tight end Wednesday on "First Take." "He's good for at least 85 receptions a season. I think last year he had about 97 for 1,200 (yards) and change. Travis Kelce's the real deal as far as I'm concerned.

"When you look at Kittle's blocking ... definitely deserves a lot of credit in that regard, but outside of that, I don't see anything that he's bringing to the table that Travis Kelce can't bring or hasn't brought over the last several years, and there's something to say about your resume. I think Travis Kelce is that dude. I think he's the best tight end in football."

 

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Kelce is a phenomenal player, to be sure. The 49ers witnessed it firsthand in Super Bowl LIV. But despite Smith going on to tout Kelce as a "model of consistency" in arguing his superiority over Kittle, the question wasn't who has been the best tight end over the last several years. It was who's the best right now, and there's a reason why the vast majority of people in the know have given Kittle as their answer.

While Kelce probably has an advantage in terms of route-running, you can't point to many other aspects of the position at which he isn't superior. And to gloss over Kittle's run-blocking as Smith did entirely ignores a huge aspect of a tight end's responsibilities.

Smith's co-host, Max Kellerman, set him straight.

"You're wrong," Kellerman responded. "Travis Kelce is great -- no disrespect to Travis Kelce, who looked like for a minute he took over from (Rob Gronkowski) -- but now Kittle has got it.

"By the way, Kittle averages more catches, more yards and more yards per catch than Kelce -- that's just the catching. And if you want to say you'll take Kelce in that department, I get it. Kittle's specialness, even there, as much as he can catch it is the way he runs it, the way he refuses to go down, which is inspirational to watch.

"Kelce is a great tight end," Kellerman added, "but I don't think there's really a debate right now. The No. 1 guy in the business is Kittle."

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Booger McFarland -- the tiebreaker -- called it like it is.

"Listen, I'm not concerned about six straight years. We're talking about right now," McFarland said. "I'm not concerned about the past five, six years. Nobody cares what you did 10 years ago. What are you doing for me right now? And right now, today, George Kittle is the best tight end. He's the best tight end in football."