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Welcome Back, George!

The 49ers star tight end makes his 2022 debut Sunday.

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers welcome back George Kittle to the lineup as they clash with the Denver Broncos on SNF. After his two-game absence, the team has a 1-1 record. Previously, the 49ers had lost six of their last seven games without Kittle. Kittle’s energy is infectious, which is only exceeded by his play on the field. The 49ers currently rank fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game. However, adding an all-pro run blocker and pass catcher isn’t a luxury many teams have.

With Jimmy Garoppolo starting again, Kittle returning is in the nick of time. Denver presents the first big test for this 49ers team in 2022. While Kittle’s run-blocking prowess is often discussed, it feels as if people underestimate his ability to get open and make plays catching the ball. His flexibility allows the 49ers to remain balanced on offense and unpredictable with their play-calling.

Kittle missed two games in 2019, with one coming against Seattle on MNF. The 49ers would split the two games he missed with the second against Arizona that ended 36-26. Towards the end of the Seattle game, it was clear Kittle was missed as the offense had issues blocking. Emmanuel Sanders went down with an injury which led to the 49ers becoming stagnant on offense. The 49ers finished that game with 302 total yards and was the third-least in any game Kittle missed.

2020 is a year nobody wants to recall as the 49ers suffered multiple long-term injuries to starters. An injury early before halftime in week one sent Kittle off the field for two games. Kittle would miss eight games, Nick Mullens started all but one game in that stretch, and the team went 3-5. Returning for the final two games in 2020 illustrated what the team was missing. CJ Beathard started both games, and Kittle finished with 11 catches and 170 yards.

The 49ers went 1-2 in 2021 without Kittle. The first being Trey Lance’s first career start against Arizona. The team had issues pass-blocking against the Cardinals’ defensive line. Another receiving threat was sorely missed, but I’d argue his pass-blocking help would have been more valuable. A rain-soaked loss to the Colts on SNF would be the lowest yard total (280) and third-down conversion rate (9.1%) of any game without Kittle. A Halloween victory in Chicago would be the team’s lone victory.

The 49ers’ numbers without George Kittle per game: 7-9, 23.8 PPG, 372 total yards, 20 first downs, 2.6 TDs, 119.6 rushing yards, 1.1 rushing touchdowns.

This team has its sights on a deep playoff run again. Kittle is a vital part of this team and its success. Two tough games with Denver and the Los Angeles Rams are next, so his return is a welcome sight. Welcome back, George; we’ve missed you.