After a season of steady improvement, Niners Live looks into the future to project Kittle’s impact and stats for his second year as a pro.
Rookie Year Review
Before we jump into our Virtual Delorean and project Kittle’s 2018 season, let’s take a look back on 2017.
Tight end George Kittle (6’4, 250 lbs., Iowa) was drafted in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. A strong off-season and training camp earned Kittle a starting job during Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s inaugural season.
According to NFL.com, Kittle snagged a reception in every game he played, missing the week 10 matchup against the New York Giants. Kittle finished the season with 515 yards on 43 receptions which ranked 19th in 49ers’ history for receptions by a tight end, the most by a 49ers’ rookie tight end, averaging 12 yards a catch. Kittle’s 43 grabs rank third in 49ers’ history by average receptions per year, behind Brent Jones (61) and Vernon Davis (50).
He found his way into the end zone twice. His final game yardage of 100 yards is the most gained by a rookie tight end since 1960.
Another set of NFL.com stats shows 43 receptions, tied for 18th amongst tight ends, 515 total receiving yards and 34.3 yards per game ranked 18th and 15th, respectively. Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded him at least an 81.7 grade in the final three games against the Titans (81.7), Jaguars (84.7), and Rams (83.9). His overall receiving grade was 72.0 (PFF subscription required).
Kittle’s blocking grades from PFF were below average (58.6 run, 46.0 pass). Although, a Pro Football Focus article before his final college season at Iowa, Kittle gains proficiency in his blocking technique from experience, as posting the fifth best run blocking grade demonstrates. His grades this year were low, but we should look for improvement.
Imagine how much better his pass catching grades would have been if, all season, he had the strong quarterback play he got from Jimmy Garoppolo to end the season.
But that’s why you clicked on this article.
1.21 Gigawatts to September 2018
Fast forwarding time to the start of the 2018 season and projecting that Kittle and Garoppolo have built chemistry during the off-season. This leads to Kittle being the security blanket and first down machine for the 49ers’ quarterback. Remember where Jimmy came from. New England quarterbacks know the importance of tight ends.
During December, with Garoppolo starting five games, Kittle had his best month, 15 catches for 224 yards (14.9 average, long of 44 yards), nine first downs (60%), and one touchdown.
Projecting these numbers over an entire season, sixty receptions, 900 yards, 36 first downs, four touchdowns, Brent Jones productivity. After a full off-season with Jimmy G, his red zone production should qualify him as a threat, and improve that touchdown total by at least another four touchdowns, as both in 2017 came in the red zone.
The 2017 off-season was one of draft preparation for Kittle. For 2018, with Kittle having the opportunity to work on gaining strength and improving his technique, his blocking in both the run and pass should improve.
The improvement from Kittle heading into 2018 should make him an important part of the offense on all three downs. Look for him to become Garoppolo’s best friend, not just up the seam, but across the field. Kittle is the all-around player to help in both the run and pass games. Pushing for a Pro Bowl in the 2018 season should not be out of the question for Kittle.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Edward Erving Staff Writer @NinersLive.net and Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims