George Kittle is only in his third season in the NFL, but he is already making a huge name for himself during the San Francisco 49ers’ amazing season. Kittle might have been a fifth-round pick in 2017, but he’s since become among the best tight ends in the NFL on one of the best up-and-coming teams. In a league where Rob Gronkowski left a void with his retirement, could Kittle be the next superstar at his position?
George Kittle’s rise
Kittle spent four years at Iowa in college, although the majority of his first two years were spent on the bench before he earned a role. In six combined games over his first two seasons, Kittle only caught six receptions for 133 yards. Entering his junior year, Kittle earned a full-time role with the team, amassing 20 receptions for 290 yards as a junior and 22 receptions for 314 yards as a senior. This got him selected as the 146th pick in the 2017 draft by the 49ers.
Kittle was a bench player for about half of his rookie season, but a valuable contributor, nonetheless. He was targeted 63 times for 43 receptions, 515 yards, two touchdowns, and 24 first downs. By the following season, he was the full-time starter, and a star was born. During the 2018 season, Kittle became a primary option at tight end, receiving the ball 88 times for 1,377 yards, five touchdowns, and 60 first downs.
Kittle was going from a valuable role player for the team to an up-and-coming star overnight, and he continued that rise through this season.
Kittle’s 2019 season
While Kittle had his rise last year on a sub-par team, this year he continued his rise in a more loaded roster that allowed him to dominate while remaining economical in his usage. Through 13 games, Kittle has been targeted 100 times and caught 78 receptions for 967 yards. He has brought the ball down the field 15.8 yards per reception and scored the ball five times.
The 49ers defense has received much of the credit for the season, as they have been a major catalyst all year. However, with Kittle and the rest of the offense doing what needs to be done all season the team is showing why it is so hard to beat. Neither side can afford to relax against the 49ers, or Kittle and company will make them pay.
Meanwhile, Kittle is likely to be compensated greatly this coming offseason with a brand new extension.
Show him the money
Kittle is scheduled to make $735,000 in the fourth year of his rookie deal, but that will likely grow if the 49ers extend him an offer on a contract extension. Adam Schefter of ESPN noted that several other tight ends, from Zach Ertz to Austin Hooper are likely to get paid handsomely this season which could be good for all of their pocketbooks, stating:
Multiple sources around the league believe that Kittle, Hooper and Ertz will redefine the value of NFL tight ends, and the position is about to see a major bump in the salaries paid to them. This offseason’s class of free-agent tight ends also includes the Chargers’ Hunter Henry and Indianapolis’ Eric Ebron.
Currently, Kyle Rudolph of the Minnesota Vikings is the highest-paid tight end at $9.35M. These three tight ends could change the history of the position, at least financially, if they sign the types of deals they are expected to get. Kittle has shown that he was a late-round steal through his first three seasons, but he can be so much more than that and get paid upwards of eight-figures in the process.
Whether Kittle is in the top-tier now or still has a little way to climb, it is inarguable that he deserves respect for what he is doing. There might be better tight ends like Ertz out there, but at a young age, there is no reason to doubt that Kittle belongs in the conversation.