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George Kittle Will be a Stud in 2018 (Fantasy Football)

by Marc Mathyk | @Masterjune70 | Featured Writer
Jul 21, 2018

George Kittle’s athleticism and situation are the two biggest drivers for his potential breakout

Last year’s NFL Rookie Draft was stacked with tight ends. Three of them, O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, and David Njoku were drafted in the first round. Although Howard and Njoku showed some flashes, only Engram had a rookie year to remember. He ended up with 64 catches for 722 yards and six touchdowns. He was the fifth-best tight end last year.

The next best rookie tight end in terms of total yards was George Kittle, who did not get picked until the fifth round. Now with a year’s experience in the NFL, Kittle is ready to be a TE1 in 2018 and here’s why.

He was non-existent as a freshman and sophomore. It wasn’t until his junior and senior years that he showed any signs of tight end competency. All in all, he ended up with 48 receptions for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns, while playing 25 games. Despite his production resembling more like one year in college, he did end up with an impressive 15.4 yards per reception.

Another important variable that went against his output was playing on a mediocre offense. His quarterback, C.J. Beathard, only threw for 1,929 yards in Kittle’s final year at college. If he had Patrick Mahomes, who threw for over 5,000 yards that same year, Kittle’s numbers would have been much more impressive since he still had a 23.3% College Dominator (72nd-percentile) according to Player Profiler.

One area that Kittle did thrive in was blocking. Coming out of college, NFL.com gave him the ninth-best grade among tight ends entering the draft. As a prospect, they identified blocking as his biggest strength, approaching it “like an offensive lineman, com[ing] off the ball with good pad level and strik[ing] with leverage and hands inside [the] opponent’s frame.” It was not his playmaking ability, but his solid blocking that got him drafted.

The Whole Kittle Caboodle
This year Mike Gesicki blew all tight ends away with his explosive athleticism. Kittle would have been last year’s Gesicki. All of his workout metrics on Player Profiler are stunning.

He’s fast for his size, boasting a 117.7-speed score (94th-percentile). He’s explosive with an 89th-percentile burst score, and even more agile, which places him in the 100th percentile. On top of all of that, he has a 10.36 catch radius that puts him in the 95th-percentile.

Kittle is an über athletic tight end, is one of the best blockers coming out of college, and can also catch. All those traits must have caught Kyle Shanahan’s attention, as he found it easy to part ways with Vance McDonald.

Jimmy G & the ‘Cisco Kid
Kittle did so well in training camp that he was rewarded the starting tight end job for the 49ers from day one of 2017. It is common knowledge that out of all of the offensive positions, tight end takes longer for most to adjust to the NFL game. Essentially, tight ends are offensive linemen that occasionally run pass routes. Most don’t excel right away.

For example, it took Delanie Walker nine years before he finally broke out in 2014. In 2016, Kyle Rudolph finally emerged after being in the league for six years. Even Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz didn’t transcend until year two.

In 2017, Kittle ended up with 43 receptions from 63 targets. He amassed 515 yards, averaging 12.0 yards per reception while scoring two touchdowns. Even though these are not earth-shattering numbers, remember Gronk only had 42 receptions for 546 yards in his first year, but ended getting 90 receptions for 1,327 yards in his sophomore season. We’re not banking on that kind of success for Kittle, but we are expecting a significant progression.

Kittle also endured his first season with three different quarterbacks, which is no easy task for a receiver, let alone a rookie one. What is the most encouraging is Kittle’s rapport with Jimmy Garoppolo. Here’s a breakdown of how well Kittle did with Brian Hoyer, Beathard, and Jimmy G:

George Kittle’s Tale of Three QBs in 2017

QUARTERBACK RECS REC/G YDS YDS/REC TDS
Brian Hoyer (six games) 21 3.5 212 10.1 1
C.J. Beathard (four games) 7 1.8 53 7.6 0
Jimmy Garoppolo (five games) 15 3 224 14.9 1

 
Kittle had a pretty good connection with Hoyer. The two were most likely able to build a relationship during the preseason, knowing that Hoyer was going to be the established starter. Despite playing together at Iowa, Beathard and Kittle did very little in the four games they played together in San Francisco. In fairness, Kittle did get injured during their courtship and played at less than 100-percent. This also affected his first few games with Garoppolo.

However, it was in the final three games of the season where we see the Garoppolo/Kittle connection flourish. Based on those games, Kittle would have had 59 receptions for 1034 yards and five touchdowns if averaged out for a full season. That would have been in the same territory as Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. Although it might be a little ambitious to think Kittle is going to top 1,000 yards this season, playing with Garoppolo does improve his odds for success.

Worth His Fantasy Weight in Red & Gold
At the moment, the expert consensus on FantasyPros is also taking notice of Kittle. He’s currently ranked as the 12th tight end off the board, ahead of fellow class men O.J. Howard and David Njoku. Kittle might lose some of his production to Garrett Celek, but the other two find themselves in tougher situations.

Howard will split touches with Cameron Brate and Njoku plays with another competent tight end, Seth DeValve. Both also have to vie for attention with elite wide receivers like Josh Gordon and Mike Evans. Therefore, even if both Howard and Njoku have more raw talent than Kittle, each has a bigger hill to climb to ensure their success.

In a 12-team league, you can wait on tight end knowing that you can scoop up Kittle in a late round. He’s athletic, talented, and plays with a young, dynamic quarterback who is already starting to favor him in the passing game. With San Francisco having a below average wide receiving corps, look for Kittle to get more targets than he did last year. He is set up to ascend in his sophomore season and is ready to be a tight end stud in 2018.


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Marc Mathyk is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Marc, check out his archive and follow him @Masterjune70.

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