The Pro Football Writers of America announced their all-NFL and all-conference teams on Tuesday morning, and the San Francisco 49ers have two players honored. Second year tight end George Kittle and rookie kick returner Richie James were included on the All-NFC team.
Kittle is not a shocking decision, but it’s interesting to see him get the nod over Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. Kittle had the better overall season, leading the NFL in yards after the catch and setting franchise records for tight end receptions and receiving yards. He finished the season with 88 receptions for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns. Ertz set the NFL record for receptions by a tight end, finishing with 116 receptions for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. Kittle separated himself from Ertz by his ability after the catch, but also the value of his run blocking. He was much more of a complete tight end than Ertz.
The James inclusion caught me a little off guard, but a look at the numbers suggests it was not quite so surprising. James finished the season seventh among qualifying kick returners in return average. The only NFC kick returner ahead of him was Corey Coleman, who spent the second half of the season with the New York Giants. James had a 97-yard kick return for a touchdown, and I’m guessing that was the difference for most of the voters. Whatever the case, it’s a cool honor for the rookie.
DeForest Buckner did not earn a nod this year due to the strong seasons by Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox. Buckner was a Pro Bowl alternate behind them and stands a decent chance of getting a bump for one or both of Donald and Cox. Other than James, the special teams honors followed the Pro Bowl voting, and so no Robbie Gould for kicker or Mark Nzeocha for specialist.