Travis Kelce is the ultimate positional value at the tight end position. That hasn’t changed in years, but once upon a time, George Kittle was hot on his heels, particularly in his record-breaking 2018 season.
Nobody can doubt Kittle’s talent. Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned into fantasy success for the 49ers tight end. Whether it’s target volume, added weapons, or unlucky injuries, Kittle hasn’t eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards since 2019.
However, given the climate for tight ends in fantasy football, that hasn’t stopped Kittle from finishing top five at the position in consecutive seasons, including finishing third in PPR in 2022.
While finishing with 765 receiving yards and missing two games isn’t too shabby, it was Kittle’s nose for the end zone in 2022 which propelled him to a huge finish for fantasy managers. Kittle had three No. 1 finishes at the position for the week and two No. 2 finishes on the season in standard-scoring leagues.
Coincidentally, Kittle’s career-high touchdown season kicked off when Christian McCaffrey was added to the fold. Eleven touchdowns on the season account for a third of Kittle’s career total of 31.
Health is paramount for any fantasy player, but if Kittle can put 17 games together while seeing his receptions increase, it can offset a potential touchdown regression.
Seven of Kittle’s 11 touchdowns were from Brock Purdy, as the two showed an impressive connection, with Kittle scoring five touchdowns during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 15-17).
If Purdy is fully healthy and Kittle remains healthy, the results can be huge, even with the 49ers supporting cast.
If there is a setback in quarterback play, or the 49ers lean on the run even more, it could spell trouble for Kittle. Seven games saw Kittle score single-digit PPR points. When Kittle goes off, it wins you the week.
There has to be more consistency week-to-week without reliance on big weeks. It’s a trade-off, but some weeks’ baseline performances are all you need. Kittle saw eight targets each in the semifinal and championship weeks. That doesn’t need to continue at that clip, but it doesn’t hurt.
Six targets per game should be enough for a nice return on Kittle in 2023.
Currently, Kittle has an ADP of 44, according to Fantasy Pros. A projection of 61.4 receptions, 809 yards, and 6.1 TDs feels conservative. Given the nature of the Purdy/Kittle connection, even in its small sample size, it’s fair to expect Kittle to beat those numbers.
Injuries are always going to be the worry with Kittle, but now the hope is Purdy is fully healed and playing at the level he displayed last season.
The 49ers drafted two tight ends in the NFL Draft, but that shouldn’t worry fantasy managers. While they may be viewed as future replacements, they won’t impact Kittle’s role. The primary receiving tight end behind Kittle (Ross Dwelley) could be on the roster bubble in training camp.
The bottom line is if the 49ers are having success running the football (let’s face it, they will), then Kittle’s exceptional run blocking will be on display more than his receiving. The same goes for if the 49ers are in a blowout.
Brandon Aiyuk is in a contract year and on the cusp of a true breakout season, and Deebo Samuel is incredibly unhappy with what he put on film last season.
There are a lot of mouths to feed.
Handcuff player recommendation
Don’t draft another 49er tight end. If you want to take a flyer on a late-round tight end, in case of injury to Kittle, I’d look at Hayden Hurst, Irv Smith, Jr., or fellow Iowa Hawkeye alum Sam LaPorta.