Following a historic 2020 performance from Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, the debate rages on — both inside and out of Chiefs Kingdom — as to whether the 31-year-old is the NFL’s best at his position.
Now under contract in Kansas City through the 2025 season, Kelce has ample time to solidify his place among the game’s all-time greats.
While enjoying the last bit of his offseason in Hawaii for Patrick Mahomes’ Aloha Golf Classic charity golf tournament over the weekend, Kelce shared his thoughts on his biggest competition across the league — but with some notable omissions.
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Kelce Leaves Rob Gronkowski out of His Top 5
The three-time All-Pro did not hesitate in naming San Francisco 49ers star George Kittle and AFC West rival Darren Waller of the Las Vegas Raiders as two of the best doing it right now. However, his third, fourth and fifth choices came with a bit more consideration.
Nicole’s phrasing suggests the list was intended to rank players based on their present-day status, skills and performance, rather than from an all-time perspective. Even so, aside from Kelce’s modesty in leaving himself off the list, there was at least one other glaring omission: Rob Gronkowski.
Already widely considered the greatest tight end in NFL history after his dominant nine-year run in New England, Gronkowski has previously said that he’d choose Kittle over Kelce.
“Kittle, for sure,” Gronkowski told The Athletic in January 2020 leading up to the Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl matchup. “He just reminds me of myself a little bit with the way he plays the game.
“I see a little bit of me in both, but I would say I’m definitely more of a Kittle, hands down. I would say that because of the attitude that he brings to the table, just the grit he brings into the trenches. He wants to bring it every time. He wants to be that guy that’s fierce out there and just wrecking guys whether it’s the passing game or the running game.”
History would suggest that there isn’t any bad blood between the stars, especially considering Gronkowski ranked Kelce ahead of Kittle (while snubbing Ertz) in a similar top-five ranking exercise on FOX Sports during his one-year retirement in 2019.
Analysts Divided on Kelce-Gronkowski Debate
A quick statistical analysis gives the 32-year-old Gronkowski a leg up in career receiving yards (+603) and touchdowns (+38) through 10 seasons. However, Kelce has already cracked the top-10 tight end leaderboard in receptions (612), receiving yards (7,881) and touchdowns (48) despite playing the 23rd most games (111) through his first eight seasons — effectively seven after playing only one game as a rookie. Not to mention his 1,416 receiving yards in 2020 topped Kittle’s 2018 mark (1,377) for the most single-season yards by a tight end.
For some, including NFL Network host and CBS Sports analyst Nate Burleson, Kelce has already done enough to earn a gold jacket.
“I’ve been yelling for a long time that Travis Kelce is the best tight end in football,” Burleson told Heavy in a February 2021 interview. “He’s going to go down as one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game. I guarantee you that. He’s already a Hall of Famer in my book.”
To others like ESPN “NFL Live” analyst Dan Orlovsky, Gronkowski remains the greatest tight end of all time despite the retired NFL quarterback describing Kelce as “the best player in football that’s not a quarterback” last December.
Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!