During the last couple of weeks, we’ve been covering ESPN’s rankings of the top 10 NFL players at every position. These rankings have been based on votes given by a group of 50 league executives, coaches and players.
On Thursday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler published the last of them — this one covering tight ends. You can probably guess which two players topped the list: the San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce.
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Highest ranking: 1
Lowest ranking: 2
Last year’s ranking: 2
Kelce just put together one of the finest seasons the NFL has seen from a tight end. Not only did Kelce set a Chiefs single-season record with 105 receptions, but 79 of them went for a first down.
He dropped one pass on 146 targets, and 597 of his 1,416 total yards came after the catch. His 23 catches of at least 20 yards led the NFL.
“Super savvy, instinctive, big — he’s the perfect storm,” an AFC scout said.
An NFC exec added: “I’d still take him over Kittle because there’s nobody better at getting open and making tough catches look easy.”
So the battle between Kittle and Kelce for the NFL’s top spot continues.
After a couple of years in which Kittle has routinely been ranked ahead of the Chiefs tight end, some recent rankings have placed Kelce at the top. But among these NFL insiders, Kittle remains the league’s top dog.
Honestly... I can’t explain it. Ever since this battle began, Kittle has usually been given the edge because his blocking ability was perceived to be superior to Kelce’s. But more recently, it’s been less clear that this is true. According to Pro Football Focus, Kittle had a substantially better 2020 pass-blocking grade than Kelce — but Kelce had a substantially better run-blocking grade than Kittle.
You’re not going to find me saying that a tight end’s ability to block is unimportant. But over the last five seasons, Kelce has become a historically dominant offensive weapon. I don’t even get how Fowler can justify referring to Kelce’s 2020 season as “one of” the finest seasons by a tight end. Kelce set a single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end — and did it while sitting out the season’s 16th game. In short, it was the finest.
For tight ends, blocking does matter. But it’s not 1961 — or even 1991. In the modern game, a tight end’s ability to catch passes matters more. So far be it from me to tell this group of NFL professionals that they’re wrong... but in this case, they are.