Congratulations are in order once again for San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle. On Friday, the Pro Football Writers of America announced that Kittle has been voted Most Improved Player for 2018.
There is no word on who else received votes, but considering Kittle’s season, it’s not surprising he got the nod. He set the NFL record for most single-season receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377, while breaking the 49ers single season yards and receptions by a tight end record. He led the NFL in yards after the catch, just ahead of Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley. He also finished second to Julio Jones among all pass catchers in Pro Football Focus’ yards per route run stat.
It was a dominant breakout year, and it came in spite of working with three different quarterbacks and not having a consistent second option in the passing game to take away pressure. Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis had their moments and are intriguing options moving forward, but Kittle had to do a lot of this on his own in 2018. Kyle Shanahan deserves a ton of credit for his play-calling, but Kittle showed what he can do when healthy.
Back in October, Shanahan was asked about the leap Kittle was already making at that point and what led to it.
“His numbers are a lot better. He’s a lot healthier. Yeah, I think Kittle, similar to some of those other people we were talking about, Kittle, he hasn’t hit the sophomore slump. He’s improved in that way in the fact that he got a lot of playing time last year. He got thrown into a ton of situations starting from the first game to the last game, battled through a bunch of injuries. I think we had a lot higher expectations for George going into last year than a lot of people realize. I think he did too, knowing how training camp went and OTAs and stuff. Then he started the year out getting so banged up, he wasn’t able to reach all of that stuff. He ended strong, but I think George learned through the first year, he knew he could play in the league but I think he learned how hard it is to stay healthy throughout a year. I think he’s taken better care of his body throughout this offseason, what he does day in and day out, how physical he plays throughout a game, what he does Monday through Saturday just to get his body back ready to play on Sunday. So, it’s been a complete credit to him, just how well he’s taken care of himself.”
Health has been a big part of this. Kittle was banged up off and on throughout his rookie season, but he was healthy for the most part this past season. He suffered a knee injury in Week 5 and a chest injury in Week 9, but neither nagged through the season, at least as far as the injury report was concerned.
The 49ers head into the 2019 offseason looking to add another playmaker to complement Kittle. They’ll hope for a bounce-back year from Marquise Goodwin, and will hope for growth from Bourne and Pettis, but it would not be surprising to see them look for a solid pass catcher, whether it be at wide receiver or tight end.