Travis Kelce

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.

George Kittle has forced most missed tackles by tight end since 2017

George Kittle has forced most missed tackles by tight end since 2017

One play from the 2019 NFL season was the perfect example of who George Kittle is. When the 49ers star tight end caught Jimmy Garoppolo's quick pass, stiff-armed and dragged multiple New Orleans Saints for a gain of 39 yards, it was exact visual of how terrifying he is for opposing defenses. 

Kittle's clutch play in the final minute helped set up a last-second, game-winning field goal to beat the Saints 48-46 on the road.

Pro Football Focus proved just how hard Kittle is to tackle yet again Wednesday night. He topped Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce and leads all tight ends since 2017 with 45 forced missed tackles. 

And he did all that in his first three NFL season after being a fifth-round draft pick.

Kittle missed two games last season due to ankle and knee injuries, but that didn't stop him from crushing defenders. The 26-year-old was the only tight end or receiver to force 20 missed tackles in 2019.

[RELATED: Why Simms missed mark by ranking Jimmy G so low among QBs]

It's understandable why Kelce had superior receiving stats (283 receptions, 3,603 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns) to Kittle's 216 receptions, 2,945 receiving yards and 12 TDs. Kelce has been handed far superior quarterback play. When it comes to menaces in the open field, though, there's nobody better than Kittle.

Good luck trying to tackle Kittle this year with Super Bowl revenge and a giant contract on his mind.

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

49ers' George Kittle projected to have second-most yards by tight ends

49ers' George Kittle projected to have second-most yards by tight ends

As George Kittle waits to sign a monster contract extension with the 49ers, he'll let his play on the field do all the talking for now.

The star tight end is expected to be Jimmy Garoppolo's go-to target once again when the 2020 NFL season eventually begins. But just how many receiving yards will Kittle rack up in his fourth season? 

Pro Football Focus projects Kittle to have the second-most receiving yards for a tight end this upcoming season. Their projected leader is a bit of a surprise, though. Many would expect Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs to be ahead of Kittle, but PFF has him third on the list. Instead, it's Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews. 

Kittle's 2,430 receiving yards over the last two seasons are second-best for tight ends behind only Kelce. The 26-year-old also set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,377) in 2018, even though Garoppolo missed all but three games with a torn ACL. 

This past season, Kittle put up 1,053 receiving yards despite missing two games to leg injuries. He averaged 75.2 receiving yards per game in 2019. If Kittle were to maintain that for all 16 games, he would have had 1,203 receiving yards.

[RELATED: Jimmy G has strong case as NFC West's most clutch QB

Andrews, 23, had 852 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last season. As MVP Lamar Jackson carved up defenses, Andrews became one of his top targets. There certainly is reason to believe he can add even more yards this year. 

Even if Kittle isn't the leading receiver among tight ends, he still will be incredibly valuable for the 49ers as a blocker. Kittle is second to none when it comes to the best all-around tight end in football.

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