It came down to either featuring the Jimmy Garoppolo or George Kittle jersey, as these two have become faces of the San Francisco 49ers franchise. I chose Kittle due to the fact he didn’t just have a breakout season, he literally owned all tight-ends in 2018 and set an NFL record for single-season receiving yards by a tight-end.
While we’re living in the era of athletic tight-ends who resemble oversized receivers these days more than their traditional blocking and occasional pass-catching role, Kittle did something Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, Heath Miller, and other great tight-ends to have played the game never did.
And to think he wasn’t the most productive player on the Iowa Hawkeyes back in college.
Not only this, since Garoppolo is technically a mystery after tearing his ACL in the third game in 2018 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Kittle took over and shed light on what became a poor season for the 49ers. While the fans were forced to watch C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens lead the team to an abysmal 4-12 record after beginning the year with high hopes, Kittle at least gave the fans something to tune into on Sundays.
Who is George Kittle?
Kittle attended Iowa City and Cedar Falls High School while living in Iowa before rounding out his high school career attending Norman High School in Norman, Oklahoma. He then committed to Iowa, the same school his father, Bruce Kittle, played.
Career at Iowa
Kittle received very little playing time during his freshman and sophomore seasons, backing up C.J. Fiedorowicz, Jake Duzey, and Ray Hamilton. Kittle did haul in five receptions for 108 yards over the course of his freshman season. His sophomore season was no different, adding just one catch to his statistics all season.
Kittle caught his first touchdown pass in 2015 as a junior from future 49ers’ teammate, C.J. Beathard, against North Texas. Once again, his production led no one to believe what was to come in the future, as he amassed 20 receptions for 290 yards and 6 touchdowns.
During his senior season in 2016, he tallied 22 receptions for 314 yards and 4 touchdowns. He totaled 48 receptions and 10 touchdowns throughout his four-year collegiate career.
Despite his lack of collegiate production, Kittle was still considered a top tight-end by many draft experts and scouts, receiving an invitation to the NFL Combine. He impressed scouts with his size at 6’4, 247lbs, and his 40-yard dash, which he clocked in at 4.52 seconds, faster than some NFL receivers.
Along with C.J. Beathard (3rd round, 104th overall), the 49es selected Kittle in the 5th round (146th overall). Despite competition from Garrett Celek, Vance McDonald, and Logan Paulsen among others in the crowded tight-end room, Kittle emerged victorious and coach Kyle Shanahan named him the starter.
His rookie season was more productive than any he had at the collegiate level, finishing the year with 43 receptions, 515 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
In 2018, Kittle was projected to have an even better year, but no one expected him to set the NFL record for single-season yards by a tight-end. He set a franchise record for most yards by a 49ers tight-end in Week 14 against the Denver Broncos, totaling 210 receiving yards in a game, an ultra-high number for a tight-end. In Week 17, he set the NFL record for most receiving yards by a tight-end against the Los Angeles Rams.
In total, he caught 88 passes, which is also a 49ers’ franchise record by a tight-end, 1,377 yards, and 5 touchdowns.
When you think of 49ers pass catchers, the names Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens take center stage. You think of Dwight Clark, who caught arguably the most famous pass in NFL history. These days, 49ers fans are thinking Kittle.
They’re thinking of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo perhaps becoming the next Steve Young, who was also acquired via trade. They’re thinking about the team that won the NFC Championship back in 2012 and nearly won a 6th Super Bowl.
When you think of the 49ers, you think of a successful franchise, a cornerstone franchise, lined with greats all the way up and down the list. George Kittle has added to that repertoire.