Can George Kittle Develop into the Tight End the 49ers Need?
Vernon Davis put up monster stats during his career in San Francisco, including some outrageous playoff numbers in his first two postseasons. His 2013 season was the last where any 49ers tight end would put up at least 400 yards receiving until 2015, when George Kittle put up 515 yards and two touchdowns in 2017.
George Kittle was a rookie last year, one drafted in the 5th round nonetheless. Coming out of Iowa with the 146th overall pick, Kittle was named the starting tight end at the beginning of the 2017 season, putting up impressive rookie tight end numbers in the process. According to Bleacher Report's Justis Mosqueda, Kittle was one of four rookie tight ends in NFL history to put up at least 515 receiving yards and two touchdowns (fellow rookie Evan Engram joined him last season).
Kittle looks to be a key piece of a young, promising 49ers offense going into the 2018 season, and his rookie tape suggests that he can be that guy.
Kittle's ball skills immediately stand out. He had a few issues with drops, but they were negated by the amount of yards he created. His one-handed catch against the Eagles highlighted his concentration and athleticism against tight coverage.
Kittle isn't the fastest tight end, but he was a solid route runner in his rookie season. He fits Kyle Shanahan's offense because of his ability in short yardage situations, so what he lacks in lightning quick speed he makes up for in consistent fundamentals. He was also a critical piece in the two-minute drill for the 49ers, with a big portion of his yards coming from it.
Kittle's reliable hands can be traced to how good his ball security is. On this catch for example, Kittle quickly snags in the pass from Jimmy Garoppolo, preventing it from being deflected. This play further highlights how consistent he is as a 3rd down option.
George Kittle wasn't the most outstanding tight end in his rookie season, but he provided great value considering his draft selection. His blocking ability isn't all that, and he isn't the quickest tight end, but he provides a solid skill set for the 49ers thanks to his ball skills and route running. In Shanahan's offense, he won't be asked to do too much in a system that allows him to more easily show off his athleticism.
Kittle's development will be another thing to watch for a 49ers team that is beginning to look like a competitor once again.
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