The past year was a big one for San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle, and it was no surprise when he was named the PFWA Most Improved Player of 2018. He set the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end, and set multiple 49ers franchise records. He had a solid rookie season in 2017, and broke out in a huge way in 2018.
It is no surprise then that he was named Pro Football Focus’ most improved player on the 49ers roster. He dominated in the traditional receiving categories, but also in PFF’s categories. He topped tight ends in receiving and overall grade, as well as their yards per route run signature stat.
We’ll continue touting Kittle’s greatness, but this topic of most improved player offers up a more interesting discussion. Who will be that player for the 49ers in 2019? I’m not saying we should expect the same level of breakout that resulted in Kittle setting NFL records, but who among the 49ers current players will take a big step forward this coming season?
An obvious choice would be Weston Richburg. He had a rather middling 2018 season, but was also dealing with health issues. If he is fully healthy, having a full year in Kyle Shanahan’s system puts him in position for a big 2019 season.
If Dante Pettis can stay healthy, he’s the obvious playmaker candidate for most improved in 2019. Kendrick Bourne could also get in the mix if the 49ers decide to push forward with him as their Pierre Garçon replacement.
On defense, D.J. Reed and Marcell Harris are two intriguing candidates. They took advantage of some injuries to move into the starting lineup. Reed played some free safety, but looked better at nickel back, while Harris impressed at strong safety. Neither is guaranteed a starting role this fall, but both will have a big opportunity in the offseason workout program and training camp to make an impression.