San Francisco 49ers

Can George Kittle become 49ers No 1 TE?

San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle (85) celebrates after a touchdown reception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

When the San Francisco 49ers chose Iowa tight end George Kittle in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, there was some hope that he could turn into an offensive playmaker down the line. The fact that he has emerged this quickly and is producing at this level in Kyle Shanahan’s West Coast Offense is certainly a surprise for an offense which needs all the help it can get.

On the season, Kittle has caught 17 of 23 targets for 166 yards and a touchdown. His most recent game against the Indianapolis Colts was the definition of a breakout game. He caught 7 of 9 passes for 83 yards and a score. There’s a ton to love about Kittle’s game and what he brings to the 49ers’ offense, and it seems he’s becoming a go-to option for quarterback Brian Hoyer.

His ability to stretch the field is one key factor: H\e averaged 11.9 yards per reception last game, and 17.5 yards per reception in Week 4. That’s a big aspect of success in a West Coast Offense. As NFL Next Gen Stats researcher Ethan Young showed, Kittle’s route chart against the Colts was incredible.

Kittle caught passes anywhere from behind the line of scrimmage to 20 yards downfield. He successfully worked the middle of the field while showing the ability to get outside of the hashes.

Not only does Kittle have the potential to excel in Shanahan’s offense, but based on pure talent and upside, he could become one of the better playmaking tight ends in the NFL. While Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce dominate the league due to their size, Kittle boasts an impressive 6-foot-4 frame and weighs 250 pounds. In comparison, Gronkowski is 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, while Kelce is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds.

Another overlooked trait of the 49ers’ newest tight end is his speed. When looking at the 40-yard dash from the 2017 NFL Draft Combine, Kittle had the third-best speed of tight ends, running it in 4.52 seconds, per NFL.com. The only players who were faster at his position were Evan Engram (4.42) and O.J. Howard (4.51).

To compare once again, NFL Draft Scout had Gronkowski’s Pro Day 40-yard dash time at 4.68 seconds, and Kelce’s at 4.61.

Kittle’s athleticism paired with that speed is impressive, and while he wasn’t dominant in college, catching just 48 passes for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns over four seasons, he showed flashes of brilliance at times. If he is utilized correctly in Shanahan’s offense with the 49ers, he not only has the ability to be the team’s No. 1 tight end, but he could become a consistent and dominant threat.

The former Hawkeye will likely have his fair share of up-and-down games throughout his rookie season. However, coming off a Week 5 game in which he played 56 percent of the offensive snaps, and a Week 4 performance when he played 89 percent, all signs are pointing toward him becoming the top tight end in San Francisco.

Moreover, there’s a legitimate argument to be made that Kittle may have already earned that title.


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