With Rob Gronkowski retired, 49ers’ George Kittle climbs ranks of NFL’s top tight ends

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle talks during a news conference after an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Arguably the greatest tight end of all time, Rob Gronkowski, now is just a former football player.

Who will replace him as the king of tight ends?

One player on the list is the 49ers’ George Kittle, who had a breakout season in 2018, actually surpassing Gronkowski’s NFL record for most receiving yards in a season. But he’s not at the top of the list — yet.

Gronkowski, 29, retired March 24. The former New England Patriot has two Super Bowl rings, and is the only tight end in NFL history to record at least 10 touchdowns and 1,000 receiving yards during the same season three times. But he played only 115 games during his career due to numerous injuries, such as a broken forearm, a torn ACL and a bad back which required multiple surgeries.

Gronkowski began to decline last season, when he recorded only 47 catches for 682 yards and three touchdowns. Lots of tight ends around the league, including Kittle, outperformed Gronkowski in 2018.

Here is a list of the best remaining tight ends in the NFL.

This article has 62 Comments

  1. Kittle is a stud! He will only get better with time and more weapons around him. He may never be the touchdown machine Gronk was, but he’s reliable, a very good, teetering on great blocker, and knows how to turn on the jets and Juice once he gets the ball in his hands. I think he and Kelce are 2 and 1 respectively as it stands and it’ll be that way for the next five plus years.

    1. Kelce was in a great situation last year and the year before with WR Hill and RB Hunt. But now that Hunt is a Brown and Hill may go through his own issues, Kelce may be the only guy they have if Sammy Watkins can’t seem to stay healthy. Kelce could be looking at alot of double coverage and sometimes triple coverage. Kelce is definitely a great TE but I think Kittle is the best of the bunch regardless. Kittle will be #1 all year long in Kyle Shanahans offense.

  2. I wouldn’t trade kittle for any other TE in the league. Period, that’s how I judge the best. Would you? Would you trade kittle for any of those guys given their age or injury history?

    1. Nope. I’m keeping Kittle 10 out of 10 times he is young and breaking records the moment he wakes up ? Gonna be the best ever and you dont trade that…

  3. Kittle is on the cusp of greatness but he really needs to follow up with a great year this year. I’m not ready to crown him a top 5 TE until he shows consistent greatness.

    I also really like David Njoku with Cleveland. IMO he’s the best athlete playing TE in the NFL. He may never put it together and have the production to be a top 5 TE but he certainly has the talent. Will be interesting to see how Cleveland uses him in that offense.

  4. hmmm…I don’t know about the greatest tight end of all time……top 5 ……greatest might be overdoing it

    1. Tony Gonzalez
      Shannon Sharp
      Ozzie Newsome
      Antonio Gates
      Rob Gronkowski
      Mike Ditka
      Antonio Gates
      Kellen Winslow
      John Mackey
      Jason Witten
      Dave Casper
      Brent Jones

      1. It’s a fun conversation. Arguments can be made based on how much fans value blocking or yards vs touch downs,

        Traditionalists might eliminate players that weren’t crunching blockers. They’d also argue the rules weren’t changed to favor passing as much.

  5. You left out Charley Sanders, Ted Kwalick, Todd Christiansen, Mark Bavaro, Raymond Chester, Russ Francis, and Zach Ertz (stud).

    1. Rollotomasi

      I agree that Vernon had the abilities to be great…but his ego was bigger than that…he always seemed to piss off the opponent to play harder. ..The play I’ll remember was the TD he scored after the ‘wicked ‘ hit he took from Adrian Wilson of the cardinals…amazing …!

  6. Hands, I place him at the edge of top 5 at best.
    YAC, 1 or 1A. Right behind Howard and tied with Kelce.
    Route running, finding open spots, right there with Kelce and Ertz.
    Blocking, top 5 but there are many other TEs that specialize in this that aren’t elite receivers.
    Potential: Top 2, with Howard.
    Overall, including potential–definitely 1 or 2, with Howard and Kelce right in the mix.

  7. the great old school in-line tight ends had to do so much more “dirty work” than today’s in-line TEs. back then, guys like John Mackey, Raymond Chester, Dave Casper, Charlie Sanders blocked the defensive ends head up in the run game with the same prowess as an offensive tackle and were very adept, too, in the pass offense. the majority of today’s TEs are hybrids, and often when aligned as an in-line (attached) player benefit from a variety of blocking schemes which remove their responsibility from blocking consistently the big boys in the Over defenses. Zone blocking schemes employ the butt and run concepts whereas in the old days it was butt and turn or butt and cut and establish a specific hole for the POA. regardless of era, it is a pleasure to watch TEs whose talents can exploit defenses vertically as well as horizontally and still do at least a respectful job blocking.

      1. Warring had too many drops, and is kinda raw, but may have a lot of upside.
        Kittle had a great year, but if the Niners improve the WRs, he may be targeted less. Still, he was a very effective weapon, and his runs after catches were very impressive.
        Hope they trade back, so they have a pick to select a TE. Both Fant and Hockenson will be gone by the time the Niners pick in the second, and Irv Smith is ranked 55, so he may be unavailable when the Niners pick at 67.
        Josh Oliver, Foster Moreau, Caleb Wilson and Kaden Smith might be good targets in the later rounds.

        1. If Warring is there in the 4th round, I’m jumping for joy but I don’t see them making the position a priority that early. Gonna be:

          1. Edge
          2. WR or FS whichever position is rated highest
          3. FS or WR whichever they missed on in round 2
          4. LB
          6a. Safety prospect to convert to CB
          6b. TE

          1a. Bruce Anderson RB
          1b. Brandon Hitner OC/OG
          1c. Devon Johnson OT

      2. What about Josh Oliver from San Jose State?

        He is flying a little under the radar now. Can be had in the later rounds.

  8. I really like Kittle’s professional attitude. In a season-ending interview, he mentioned that pass catching as an area that in which he needed to get better and that he would be working on it in the off-season. He will definitely be double teamed on third downs more often than not in the future, thus creating opportunities for Pettis and the pass-catching RB on the field. While Shanny will be working on getting Kittle open, it seems like he will have to get used to making more contested catches.

  9. I think other teams will be targeting Kittle more, so getting a flanker is even more important, so they do not double team him. Hope Jordan Mathews shines, but the Niner should tap into this deep and talented WR class in the draft.

      1. Niners declined to bring Gary in for an interview, but they did the same thing with McGlinchey last season. Maybe that is a tip off.

            1. Bigfoot is not real. Just a myth. A fantasy. Nothing to see here.
              Just drop the subject.
              Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

          1. Rashan Gary is a physical freak, who is going to shine in the NFL. I really like his run defense, too. Scouts will discount his lack of production, because he was not schemed to rush the passer, and if he did, he would take on double blocks. His job was to occupy blockers so Winovich can come in clean.
            Gary has the prototypical size and speed to become a very good EDGE rusher, and many coaches would love the opportunity to coach up a player that can be dominant, and an unstoppable force.

              1. Can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. His potential is through the roof. That is what the draft is all about. Taking College prospects and forging them into NFL players.

              2. Those players don’t fit the locker room culture, and I can’t see Lynch risking a high 1st round pick on a player like Gary. He can’t afford to miss, because of the underlying perception that he’s in over his head after drafting Thomas and Foster. Barring a blockbuster of a trade offer, the pick will be Nick Bosa. He’s been the pick all along. Nice and safe. If he doesn’t live up to expectations, Lynch cannot be faulted because he’s the majority top shelf pick by all the “experts”. If he does get that blockbuster of a trade, the pressure is gonna be on to draft another pro bowler at edge….

              3. Yeah, and Bosa might hold out, miss TC, get injured, refuse to play, then if the Niners get to the playoffs, may disappear like his brother Joey.
                That does not sound like a safe pick at all.
                All those same draft ‘experts’ were extremely high on Jamarcus Russell, and thought he would lead the Raiders to the SB.
                The draft is an inexact science, and HOFers may be found in the 3rd round, like Joe.
                If JL is swinging for the fences, Gary may be the player that pays the biggest dividends, especially if they go wide nine.

              4. What team is trading up to #2, and for whom and how much? 40% chance of that happening, unless it’s Murray.

              5. I expect the 49ers will have multiple offers from the Raiders, the Giants and others. The target will be Bosa, Williams, Murray or Haskins.

              6. I don’t see anyone from your list other than Murray valued at what it would take to pass on Bosa. Are the Giants and Raiders prepared to give up both 1st round picks, because that’s what it takes for a premier edge rusher. Especially one on a team friendly contract for the next 5 years….

              7. Razor, maybe Gruden wants Bosa more than the Niners do. If it means giving the 4th, 35th and 108th picks, along with a 2013 third round pick, to get the perfect replacement for Mack, I think it is a fair deal for both sides. Maybe the Niners could throw in Sheldon Day as a sweetener to the deal.

              8. Sebbers, you tell Gruden he can have The Bosa Constrictor when I have in my hand picks #4, #24 and next years #2.

              9. Razor, Gruden gave away Mack for the Bears 2019 first and sixth round picks, along with 2020 first and third round picks.
                The Raiders give up a 2020 second round pick and a conditional 5th round pick to complete the deal.
                Maybe you want this year’s first round pick from the Bears/ Raiders and the Bears/Raiders 2020 first round pick, too, but Gruden will not give up so much to move up 2 spots.

              10. Sebbers, you can tell Gruden to cut the crap because that deal for Mack included a heavy chain around the neck of the Bears in the form of $141 million dollars. The Bosa Constrictor will cost 70% less than that for 5 years of service. Either he wants him or he doesn’t. Take it, leave it or leave me alone. I’ll just draft him and never look back , and you’ll end up a settler. You don’t want to be a settler…do you Jon?

    1. If that happens, then I will officially land in the group that believes Shanahan and Lynch have no idea what they are doing. You don’t pass on capable pass rushers like Bosa, Williams, Allen, Burns, Sweat, Oliver, and Ferrell for a underperforming prospect like Gary. EVER.

      1. Many also draft for POTENTIAL, and Gary has the NFL size, and the speed to be able to dominate.
        I would be happy if they traded back and selected Sweat or Ferrell, but Gary is going top 10, despite his detractors.

      2. MWD, you’ve got a better chance of building a snowman on the Flaming Mountains in Xinjiang, China than you do of that happening.

  10. Giants are keeping quiet about Haskins, but 45% of the Mocks since the OBJ trade has them picking Haskins at 6.
    This is bolstering the Niners’ draft position, because if the Giants do not trade up, some other team will, and they will miss out on selecting Haskins.

  11. Niners should trade back with the Raiders, Get their first, second and 4th round picks, along with 2020 third round pick.
    Niners should sweeten the deal by including Sheldon Day, along with the number 2 pick.

  12. Where does Kittle rank in the all time 49er tight ends?
    Just throwing a few out there.

    1. Jones ranks number 1 with his 3 SBs. Kwalik did well, but the TE was not a pass catching specialist back then. They valued his blocking, more.
      Vernon Davis and Dave Parks should also be in the conversation.
      Kittle did have a record setting year, but he needs more experience before proclaiming he is number 1. I would put him between Kwalick and Young.

  13. Grant – agree on the rankings. Kittle needs to have one more solid year and become a red zone threat to take the crown away from Kelce.

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