George Kittle, who was used primarily as a blocker during his college career at Iowa, has quickly turned into one of the NFL’s top playmakers at tight end.
On Dec. 9, Kittle set the 49ers’ all-time single-season record for receiving yards from a tight end. He has 79 catches for 1,228 yards entering Sunday’s season finale against the Los Angeles Rams. Eric Johnson holds the club record for receptions from a tight end with 82 in a single season.
Kittle, a second-year player, was named last week to the NFC Pro Bowl team.
Where Kittle has made his biggest mark is in yards after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, Kittle has 772 yards after the catch this season, which ranks behind only Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey’s 835.
Among tight ends, Kittle is 229 yards ahead of Travis Kelce of Kansas City and 408 yards in front of Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz, who ranks third in yards after the catch.
Recently, former 49ers quarterback and NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Jeff Garcia drew a comparison between Kittle and Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens. Garcia said Kittle, like Owens before him, runs “angry.”
The typically mild-mannered Kittle said he flips a switch when he steps onto the field to play.
“I play the game angry,” Kittle said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “And I love playing the game, so it’s kind of half and half. I’m angry, and I’m having the best time of my life at the same time.”
Kittle said he never wants to give any defensive player any breaks. If Kittle is going to come down short of the end zone, he wants that player to earn the tackle and pay the price.
“I decide, if you want to tackle me, you’re going to have to tackle me,” Kittle said. “I’m not going to let you tackle me. I’m going to do everything I can to go through you, go around you, avoid you, anything.
“But you have to decide that you want to tackle me. And I think with an angry mindset that makes it a little bit easier and a little bit harder on them.”
Kittle’s single-season receiving total ranks 13th in 49ers history. Jerry Rice occupies eight of those spots, while Owens had three 49ers seasons with 1,300 yards or more. Split end Dave Parks had 1,344 yards receiving in 1965.
In Iowa’s run-first offense, Kittle’s best college season came as a senior in 2016 when he caught 22 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns in nine games. The 49ers selected him in the fifth round of last year’s draft.