NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund put together an all-analytics team. Frelund used a numerical value that added each player’s impact on his team’s ability to win games for every snap. Her goal was to better understand player value by capturing production in context, such as down and distance, score, and opponent.
NGS shows that Kittle led the NFL in receiving yards per route run in 2019 with 3.3 (among those who ran a minimum of 100 routes). This makes sense, given his production as a passing target: Kittle recorded 75.2 receiving yards per game over 14 games, the second-highest rate among qualified tight ends, and the fourth-best catch percentage (79.4%). What takes a little more context to understand is that these great passing stats also accompanied elite impact as a blocker in the rushing game, seeing as how tight ends are usually better at one or the other. My computer vision shows that the average yards per rush gained on the ground when Kittle was in the path of the rusher (that path being defined as the actual route that the rusher ran, with 3 feet added on each side of his route) was the second-highest among tight ends at 5.3 yards per rush.
Yards per route run is a PFF stat that I’m not a fan of as you only get credit for the times you were targeted. Too many times during a game a receiver is open but not targeted. That said, Kittle leading all receivers not just tight ends is pretty impressive. Kittle finished 2019 with 107 targets, which was fourth among tight ends. Kittle was only targeted over ten times twice in 2019. For reference, the Rams Tyler Higbee had double-digit targets in the final four games. If Kittle had the same opportunities as other tight ends, 1,300 yard seasons would be the norm for the star tight end.
As Frelund said, being elite as a receiver and a blocker is what makes Kittle special. Averaging 5.3 yards per rush when running behind Kittle shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. There isn’t much he can do wrong, and whenever the 49ers workout a contract extension for Kittle, the number will be worth it.