George Kittle ranked over Travis Kelce in new PFF ranking

The two tight ends again lead a ranking of the league’s best — and this time, the San Francisco star is on top.

On Wednesday, Pro Football Focus writer John Kosko published an article ranking the NFL’s top tight ends — and revived a debate we thought had been settled.

1. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

Let’s start this list with controversy.

Kittle was the NFL’s highest-graded tight end in 2023 at 87.7 overall, while Kelce finished second at 82.6. Kittle’s run-blocking grade also dwarfed Kelce’s, 81.1 to 46.9.

Their overall grades over the past three years are identical at 91.6. Kelce gets the nod in receiving grade (92.2 vs. 91.4), but Kittle’s grade in the run game is far superior (80.8 vs. 56.0).

In the end, there is little doubt who the best two tight ends have been over the past three to five years. Kelce’s receiving ability is invaluable to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, while Kittle’s overall game is a perfect fit for Kyle Shannahan’s diversified run game and play-action pass attack.

Takeaway

For several years, articles pushing back on the latest poll or ranking in which Kittle was ranked above Kelce were a cottage industry here at Arrowhead Pride.

But once the Kansas City tight end had collected his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season — something no other tight end has even come close to doing — it became pretty rare for the San Francisco tight end to be placed ahead of the pride of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Now, though, the 34-year-old Kelce is showing some signs of age. This shouldn’t be surprising, because analysts have been predicting it would happen “in the coming season” for about five years. Nor should we be shocked that when it finally does happen, PFF rushes to proclaim Kittle as the better tight end.

But as Colonel Sherman Potter might have exclaimed in a “M*A*S*H” episode, “Buffalo bagels!”

I’ll acknowledge Kosko’s point: statistically, Kelce’s 2023 season was the worst he had turned in for quite a while. Missing the season opener (and voluntarily sitting out the meaningless Week 18 matchup) will do that to you. But in each case, the tight end’s age played a role in missing the game — and when the season was on the line during the playoffs, Kelce was back to his old self.

Kittle has always been a better blocker. As Kosko notes, that makes him a perfect fit in the 49ers’ offense. But PFF’s numbers show that Kelce is a much more reliable receiver — and that makes him something that Kittle has never been: a player that opposing defenses must scheme to limit.

So any day of the week (except Tuesday, on which the Chiefs won’t play during 2024) I’d still prefer Kelce. But because of the circumstances, I’m willing to bend a little. Since both are perfect for their respective franchises, I’d have been happier to see Kittle and Kelce tied in first place.

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