George Kittle and Robert Tonyan's NFL careers have taken much different paths since the 2017 NFL Draft.
Kittle went from a fifth-round pick to a star and the league's highest-paid tight end in football history. Tonyan went undrafted, was signed by the Detroit Lions, cut that September and then joined the Green Bay Packers' practice squad in December. Kittle owns the single-season record for the most receiving yards by a tight end, Tonyan entered this season with just 177 career receiving yards.
But on Monday night, Tonyan did his best Kittle impersonation and the 49ers' star couldn't have been happier.
Kittle and Tonyan became close friends during the pre-draft process in 2017 through their shared agent, Jack Bechta. Tonyan now has lived with Kittle for three straight offseasons as two train together in Nashville, Tenn. The Packers tight end even was being heralded as "Baby Kittle" on Monday night as he hauled in six catches for 98 yards and three touchdowns in Green Bay's 30-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Tonyan now leads the league with five touchdowns, and had a text waiting for him from Kittle after his breakout game.
“Just being around someone who’s done it and lives it, it’s just another person to compete with every day,” Tonyan said of Kittle to ESPN's Rob Demovsky in August. “Whether we’re playing video games competing or in the backyard getting catches on the JUGS, it’s just competition nonstop.
"When you have a good relationship with one of your buddies and you’re also competing 24/7 when you’re with them, it brings out the best in both of us just constantly competing and constantly getting better at just everyday life.”
Tonyan only caught four passes for 77 yards in 2018 for the Packers. Kittle, however, was a believer. He saw the talent that Tonyan put in and believed he had all the skills to thrive in Green Bay or anywhere else.
“You know what, he’s coming along really quickly,” Kittle said to Demovsky in Aug. 2019. “He’s an absolutely insane athlete, one of the most natural people I’ve ever seen catch a football.
"So when you have that going for you, and he’s an incredibly hard worker, he’s going to find success, which is good."
Kittle knows what he's talking about, and the Packers -- and fantasy football owners -- have to be beyond excited to see Tonyan's growth this season.
While Kittle got the best of Tonyan and the Packers last season in the NFL Championship Game, the breakout tight end will be out for revenge on his close friend come Week 9 when the Green Bay travels to Levi's Stadium. And this time, they could share the spotlight instead of Tonyan watching from the shadows.