The San Francisco 49ers hit well on their mid- and late-round draft picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. Among day three selections, they developed starters in tight end George Kittle and safety Adrian Colbert. Additionally, Trent Taylor emerged as effectively a starter in their three-wide receiver formations.
The team continues revamping their roster, but Kittle and Colbert will be counted on in a big way. Kittle and Garrett Celek are the primary competitors for tight end playing time, while Colbert appears to be settled as the starting free safety this offseason. Not too shabby for a fifth and seventh round pick, respectively.
Earlier this week, CBS Sports analyst Pete Prisco put together a list of ten players entering their second or third season who are poised to breakout in 2018. Kittle and Colbert both made the short list. It’s fitting given their collective affinity for Panda Express.
Here’s what he had to say about each (each followed by some of my own thoughts)
As a rookie, Kittle caught 43 passes for 515 yards (yards-per-catch average of 12.0) with two touchdowns. But he flashed star potential at times, including in Week 17 when he had four catches for 100 yards against the Rams, with one catch going for 44 yards. Kittle saw his snap counts dwindle a bit down the stretch for some reason in 2017, but I expect him to be the primary pass-catching tight end this season for the 49ers. My guess at his numbers: 64 catches, 770 yards and seven touchdowns.
I think injuries were the main reason Kittle lost playing time. He was banged up for much of the second half of the season, but still led the tight ends in snaps for much of the final few weeks. There might be too many mouths to feed to get him 64 catches this season, but I would not be at all surprised to see him turn into a significant red zone threat.
Colbert is a player that other coaches kept mentioning to me late last season as a potential big-time starter. He came on strong for the 49ers last season as a 2017 seventh-round pick. Colbert’s big-hitting ability showed up in the run game – his nickname is “The Punisher” – but he also has the ability to play well in coverage. With Colbert’s emergence after Jimmie Ward went down with an injury, the plan now is to give Ward some reps at corner this year. That speaks volumes about a seventh-round rookie. Keep an eye on this thumper out of the University of Miami.
The decision to move Jimmie Ward to cornerback in OTAs opened the door for Colbert to lock down the starting free safety job. Ward could very well end up rotating to a variety of positions, but given how last season finished, the starting free safety job is Colbert’s to lose. He stepped up big, but now he has to carry it over into year two. Having a veteran like Richard Sherman in the secondary will help the whole unit, and Colbert could benefit big time.