George Kittle had an excellent rookie season for San Francisco. The fifth round pick out of Iowa, a team with a run-heavy offense, was known as an avid blocker but showed his offensive potential as well, with 515 yards on 43 receptions — only 5 fewer catches than he had in all four years of college. Half of those receptions produced first downs, too.
Kittle’s best game of the season was his last, racking up 100 yards against the LA Rams including a 44 yard reception. True, LA sat a lot of starters, but it’s still a good sign against the 49ers new great rivals in the NFC West.
His results are even more impressive given that he played through a lot of minor injuries (to his chest, hip, back and ankle). He still appeared in 15 games, which is the kind of toughness that coaches prize, but if he can figure out how to minimize those “tweaks” and dings, his ceiling is very high indeed.
Age: 24 (turns 25 on October 9, 2018)
Experience: 1 accrued season
40-yard dash: 4.52 (combine)
Kittle is in the second year of his four year rookie contract, which is pretty cheap as you might guess for a fifth round pick. He’ll make $555,000 and the team saves all of it if they cut him; his only dead money would be 1/4th of his $300,000 bonus, or $75,000.
Why he might regress in 2018
He might get hit by a truck? It’s hard to think of a reason, for a guy who handled the leap to playing on Sundays without any noticeable difficulty.
I guess he might get his feelings hurt by all the talk about “Celek time” with pointing to watches and such, whenever his predecessor Garrett Celek scores a touchdown? As long as someone keeps reminding him that Celek time is high-larious precisely because Celek is NOT a highly regarded tight end, the young guy should be fine. He has joked around with reporters and told them he loves the Celek Time moniker, so things appear to be solid there.
A tough guy like Kittle who plays through injuries can end up permanently damaging his body (or his brain, through concussions). He’ll need to maintain that balance of ignoring pain but paying lots of attention to damage, if he’s going to maximize his career.
Why he might improve in 2018
There are lots of reasons to expect Kittle to grow: experience, film study, growing toward the typical physical peak of 26-27 years, and a franchise quarterback with more time to learn this system.
He has spent the off-season building muscle, losing weight and healing up, and Shanahan has said that he already saw the improvement in OTAs. According to the San Jose Mercury News, 49ers TE coach Jon Embree is also working on his technique, specifically on catching the ball away from his body. That should help him haul in contested catches, especially in the red zone.
In Atlanta, Kyle Shanahan was creative in making the most of tight ends, using three-TE lineups in key situations that sprung a lot of explosion plays. He didn’t really have three good tight ends last year, much less a solid OL or a good QB for most of the year. All signs point to a great opportunity for Kittle, and Cole “Dirty ‘Tini” Hikutini shows great promise for developing into that third tight end.
Odds of making the team
He’s a lock, in the “except for a serious crime or a season-ending injury” category. Kittle is the future of this roster at tight end, a great blocker with superb athleticism and a great attitude.