The San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle was voted the NFL's best tight end for the third straight year in an ESPN poll of the league's executives, coaches and players.
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler provided the voting results Thursday, with an unnamed NFC offensive coach praising the Niners playmaker's game-changing ability.
"He's such an explosive player with or without the ball, run game, run after catch—that to me is the biggest thing," the coach said. "He's never going to be a great route runner. But he plays so physical through contact, and his savvy, and his play speed is so fast that he can overcome all of that."
The top four players in the ESPN TE rankings remained the same from 2021 followed by a new arrival to the top 10 in the fifth slot:
- George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers)
- Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs)
- Darren Waller (Las Vegas Raiders)
- Mark Andrews (Baltimore Ravens)
- Kyle Pitts (Atlanta Falcons)
While Kittle's pivotal role in the passing game and as a punishing blocker in the rushing attack has helped him maintain the top spot, few tight ends in history have been as productive as Kelce as a pass-catcher.
His 9,006 receiving yards already rank sixth all-time at the position, and the next-highest total among TEs since the Chiefs star's 2014 debut is Zach Ertz at 6,372.
"When it comes to route running, putting him out there all game and asking him to isolate and win, there's still nobody better at the position," an AFC scout told Fowler.
Kelce will be even more important to the Chiefs in 2022 following the departure of wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who was traded to the Miami Dolphins.
While the top of ESPN's tight end rankings have been quite stagnant in recent years, it appears Pitts is rapidly moving up for a possible changing of the guard.
"He'll be in that Waller and Kelce class after next year," an NFL coordinator told Fowler. "He doesn't even know what he's doing yet—wait until he figures it out."
Pitts recorded 68 catches for 1,026 yards as a rookie in 2021, but he scored just a single touchdown across 17 appearances. Once his route running becomes a little more refined, he'll be more reliable in the red zone, and that's when he'll really take off in the NFL.
Even if that process takes a little more time, he should once again operate as the No. 1 target in a rebuilt Falcons passing game that already features rookie Drake London and Bryan Edwards as the main wideouts for new quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Other new arrivals to the top 10 of ESPN's tight end poll included the Dallas Cowboys' Dalton Schultz (No. 8) and the Buffalo Bills' Dawson Knox (No. 9).