The best TE in the NFL for almost the last decade has been the Patriots Rob Gronkowski (sorry Jason Witten fans). With the steady domination of the Chief's Travis Kelce and last year's breakout season of the 49ers' George Kittle combined with Gronk's drop off in production which culminated in his retirement there is a new sheriff in town. The question is, who is he?
Over the past decade, Gronkowski was a dominant beast. His rare combination of size, speed, hands, and zest for the game made him an impossible matchup. Too big, too powerful, too fast, too long, too bad. For ten years there was no "single" answer to da Gronk. The single thing that defined Gronk as the best, however, was the simple fact that opposing teams had to game plan him or lose.
With that key criterion being the litmus test let's take a look at the two guys vying for the crown. They are very similar in style and substance. Kelce has been living in Gronk's shadow for several seasons and Kittle just exploded last season for the 49ers' and can not be ignored. They both do it with speed, savvy, sharp route running, glue-like hands, long arms and a knack for knowing where to be. You will regret putting a LB on them and a DB doesn't stand a chance. There are two safeties in the league who "might" matchup with them 1-1 but it would be foolish to try. Both are willing blockers, though not in Gronk's class. Is it Kelce's time or is Kittle for real? Let's look closer.
Geroge Kittle TE San Francisco 49ers
6'4" 250 lbs 25 years old, Iowa
2017 15 games 515 yards 2 TD's
2018 16 games 1,377 yards 5 TD's
Kittle exploded on the scene behind a plethora of QB's for the 49ers as their QB of the future ended his season in game 4 of the 2018 campaign and Kittle had a rotating gaggle of backups tossing him the rock in his sophomore season.
3,867 yards was what the niner's produced in the passing game last season. Kittle was responsible for 34% of that production. They also (somehow) put up 35 TD's and Kittle tabbed 14% of those.
You are darn right he's for real and it is obvious that if you don't game plan for this kid, he may very well be the difference in the game. Box checked.
Travis Kelce TE Kansas City Chiefs
6'5" 260 lbs 29 years old, Ohio
2013 1 game 0 yards 0 TD's
2014 16 games 862 yards 5 TD's
2015 16 games 875 yards 5 TD's
2016 16 games 1,125 yards 4 TD's
2017 15 games 1,038 yards 8 TD's 3,952
2018 16 games 1,336 yards 10 TD's 4,374
1 game as a rookie and then a steady diet of 800 plus yards working with game-manager, Alex Smith, now with the Redskins.
With Alex Smith, Kelce accounted for roughly 26% of the Chiefs offense. Under the electric Mahomes, his percentage dropped to 30.5%. Say WHAT? Yep, that is not a new-math error. Kelce and Mahomes click. They are on the same page and locked in.
The Chiefs put up 4,374 yards passing in 2018 and Kelce was responsible for 30.5% of those yards. His 10 TD's also give him 14% of his team's 71 TD total making him a game day nightmare for opposing defenses and definitely on every opponent's game plan.
And the winner is ....
Is this a tough call? Not really. For now, it's Travis Kelce. Kittle has done it for one year. Kelce's body of work gives him the nod. However, if he stumbles even a bit Kittle is there to run right by him and who knows, with a full year getting the rock tossed to him by a real QB instead of a rotation of backups he may take another step and bypass Kelce regardless. But that is maybe talking. Kelce is the best in the league for right now. Kittle is number two yet this ranking could change from week to week over the next season and even next few years. The real winner here is us as we get to watch these two guys stake their claims.
Who is the "new" best TE in the #NFL for 2019 season? Kelce had 1,336 yds, 10TD's from Mahomes Kittle had 1,317 yds, 5 TD's from backups in 2018
— Steven Van Over (@StevenVanOver) April 8, 2019
What say you Sports Nation?
Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter - Steven Van Over