49ers

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

Tight end George Kittle already is the 49ers’ best fifth-round draft pick since 1991.

Kittle has picked up two Pro Bowl selections and a First-Team All-Pro award in his first three NFL seasons. The 49ers have not experienced that kind of success from a player in the fifth round since the selection of defensive back Merton Hanks, a four-time Pro Bowl player and starter on the 49ers’ Super Bowl champion team in the 1994 season.

Kittle, like Hanks, played college ball at Iowa.

“I think that’s a great symmetry,” Hanks said this week on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“The 49ers do pretty well with fifth-round draft picks from the University of Iowa. We tend to knock it out of the park a little bit there.”

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Hanks, who now works as senior associate commissioner of Conference USA, described himself as a first-round talent who fell in the draft due to a bad performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. He apparently scared teams with his reported time of 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Kittle had an impressive combine. He had all the measurables, but he did not post great numbers as a pass-catcher during his four-year college career. In 25 games over four seasons, Kittle caught just 48 passes for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In his first 45 regular-season games with the 49ers, Kittle has 216 catches for 2,945 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I can’t say I’m surprised at all,” said Hanks, who referred to Iowa as “Tight Ends U."

[RELATED: How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance]

Iowa produced two tight ends in the first round of the 2019 draft: T.J. Hockenson, chosen No. 8 overall by the Detroit Lions, and Noah Fant, whom the Denver Broncos picked at No. 20.

“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz had NFL ties," Hanks added. "He understands the NFL game and what tight ends have to do to be successful, not only on the collegiate level, but the NFL level.”

This stat shows 49ers star George Kittle's receiving, blocking mastery

This stat shows 49ers star George Kittle's receiving, blocking mastery

George Kittle is a one-of-a-kind tight end, and one stat from football analytics site Pro Football Focus is the latest indication why.

The 49ers star has been, in PFF's estimation, one of just two tight ends since 2018 to rank among the best at his position in receiving and run-blocking.

Kittle's 2,430 receiving yards over the last two seasons are second-best at his position behind Kansas City Chiefs counterpart Travis Kelce, and the Iowa product's per-game average of 81 yards actually topped Kelce. The 26-year-old also set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,377) in 2018, even as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was sidelined for all but four games with a torn ACL. 

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But the 49ers recognize Kittle is much more than a playmaker, equally valuing his contributions to the team's dominant running game.

“I mean, he had more yards in the pass game as a tight end in the history of the NFL last year,” coach Kyle Shanahan said in January (H/T Jennifer Lee Chan). “So, any time you have a guy like that who's one of the best players on your team who's always just talking about running the ball and playing the physicality in the game and giving everything you can, it helps you hold everyone else a lot more accountable, and rarely do you have to."

While Kittle's skills make him a complete tight end, he reportedly doesn't want to be paid like one. NFL Media's Mike Silver said Friday on "NFL Total Access" that Kittle's agent, Jack Bechta, "[doesn't] care about the tight-end market" in contract-extension negotiations with the 49ers and thinks his client's new deal should reflect Kittle's unique, all-purpose value. 

"I'm being paid to do a George Kittle deal," Silver recalled Bechta saying.

The 49ers and Kittle aren't "close at all" on a new deal as a result, according to Silver.

[RELATED: 49ers' Jimmy G absorbs Montana's wisdom about winning]

There's still plenty of time for the 49ers and Kittle to reach an agreement, as he's entering the final year of his rookie deal. The 49ers, of course, can also use the franchise tag on him heading into the 2021 season.

If the two sides are going to reach a long-term deal, it sure seems like Kittle wants his receiving and blocking contributions reflected in it.

49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo absorbs Joe Montana's wisdom about winning

49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo absorbs Joe Montana's wisdom about winning

Throughout NFL history, of quarterbacks to start at least 100 career games, only Tom Brady (.773) and Roger Staubach (.746) have posted better regular-season winning percentages than 49ers legend Joe Montana (.713). So, when it comes to knowing the secrets to victory, he's a pretty good source of advice.

Montana won 117 of his 164 career regular-season starts, precisely 100 victories of which came with San Francisco. On Wednesday, he posted a photo on Instagram from the final one of those wins with the 49ers, in which he offered up a secret to his success.

"Winners, I am convinced, imagine their dreams first," Montana wrote. "They want it with all their heart and expect it to come true. There is, I believe, no other way to live."
As of the time of this writing, that post had received 15,685 likes, one of which came from another 49ers quarterback who happens to have a knack for winning as well -- Jimmy Garoppolo.

[RELATED: Where Jimmy G, Carr rank among NFL starting quarterbacks]

Jimmy G, of course, displayed his penchant for winning immediately upon joining the 49ers, winning his first five starts after San Francisco acquired him midway through the 2017 season. Across 24 regular-season starts with the 49ers, he has posted a 19-5 record (.792). Not to mention, he arguably was one missed completion away from winning Super Bowl LIV.

Garoppolo might have his own secrets to his success, but it certainly can't hurt if he picks up a thing or two from Joe Cool.

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