The San Francisco 49ers have reasons to be disappointed with the state of the team in 2018, but there are positives to take away from what we have seen thus far. One of the most notable has been the breakout season by second-year tight end George Kittle.
Kittle put together some decent numbers his rookie season, catching 43 passes for 515 yards and two touchdowns while working through an assortment of bumps and bruises. Through five games this season, he has caught 23 passes for 399 yards — putting him on pace for 73 receptions, 1,276 receiving yards, and three touchdowns.
Among tight ends, Kittle currently ranks fifth in receptions, third in yards, and second in yards per reception among tight ends with at least ten receptions. Football Outsiders currently ranks him fourth among tight ends in DYAR and 11th in DVOA. A higher DYAR means more total value, while a higher DVOA means more value per play. Over at Pro Football Focus, Kittle is tied for second among tight ends in yards per route run, and is listed with one drop on the season.
The tight end position is fairly AFC heavy. In terms of receiving yards, Zach Ertz tops the list and Kittle is third, but the remaining five in the top seven are AFC tight ends. The next NFC tight ends are Jimmy Graham (8th), Kyle Rudolph (9th), and O.J. Howard (10th).
Given that Ertz plays for the defending Super Bowl champs, odds are pretty good he gets voted onto the 2019 Pro Bowl roster. Jimmy Graham and Kyle Rudolph are notable tight end names, but if Kittle can remain anywhere close to his current pace, or at the very least, surpass 1,000 receiving yards, I would be shocked if he did not get a Pro Bowl nod, at least as an alternate.
Given how this season has gone, he stands a good chance of getting the kinds of regular looks he needs to bumps his stats. He has led the team in receiving four of the first five weeks. The team’s wide receiver corps has been shaky at best this season, particularly with Marquise Goodwin sidelined. When Goodwin returns, we’ll see if there are changes to who gets regular looks from C.J. Beathard.
This weekend, the 49ers travel to face a Green Bay Packers squad that Football Outsiders ranks No. 14 in covering tight ends. Kittle has faced some bad tight end defenses this year, with Minnesota currently ranked No. 31, Detroit ranked No. 26, KC ranked No. 22, and Arizona ranked No. 23. It is interesting to note, however, that the Los Angeles Chargers currently rank No. 1 in covering tight ends. Kittle had his 82-yard touchdown reception in that game, and finished the day with six receptions for 125 yards and the touchdown.