49ers

George Kittle’s WWE, wrestling fandom shows fire in 49ers tight end

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Stephanie McMahon/Twitter

George Kittle’s WWE, wrestling fandom shows fire in 49ers tight end

SANTA CLARA – George Kittle’s love for wrestling became well-known last Sunday after the 49ers tight end ran out of a postgame news conference to attend a live WWE show.

He’s not just a huge fan, though. His ideas for how to improve ratings could land Kittle in the industry when he eventually decides to hang up his football cleats.

“I think the script is a little messed up right now,” Kittle said this week of the WWE. “They said they were going to fix it, and I believe them. I'm looking forward to see what they do. You have Dean Ambrose back, and his feud with Seth Rollins is great.”

“One of my favorite things is when I see guys flying out of the ring 24-7. Ladders matches, stuff like that. I love when there's not a single second of down time. Everyone getting pushed, fight, fight, fight, fall out of the ring, and the next guy comes in. He falls out, next guy comes in. It’s like a rotation of six guys.”

Kittle’s current favorite performer is Rollins, with whom he shares a common history in Iowa. In fact, Kittle’s Twitter profile picture is from a visit to Rollins' wrestling school, Black and Brave, in Davenport, Iowa.

Don’t worry, 49ers fans: Per his NFL contract, Kittle isn’t allowed to take any hits or falls off the football field. He still did learn enough to deliver a “stunner,” which is what his profile picture shows.

“Yeah,” Kittle explained, “I’m not allowed to really do anything. I obviously can’t get hurt.”

Kittle unfortunately didn’t make it into the SAP Center crowd in time last week to see Rollins face off with Ambrose, but he watched it backstage on the television monitors. The event was scheduled to start at the same time the 49ers’ game against the Seattle Seahawks hit the fourth quarter, but when that stretched into overtime, it messed up Kittle’s timeline.

Kittle and 49ers teammate Earl Mitchell, a fellow wrestling fan, did make it into the crowd for the “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” main event of Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Asuka, which Kittle enthusiastically described as “absolutely insane.”

Other favorite Kittle moments of the evening: Meeting Stephanie McMahon and Triple H backstage. Daniel Bryan being thrown into a wall, close enough to give Kittle a fist bump. And seeing Lynch jump off a ladder onto Flair -- and going through a table in the process.

“It was pretty epic. It was super cool,” Kittle said. “That was one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a women’s match because they killed it. They did a lot better than a lot of other things I’ve seen. Definitely the best main event I’ve seen in a long time.”

Flair is a close second favorite of Kittle’s, behind Rollins.

“She does things that no one else does,” he said. “She does a moonsault from the top rope to the ground. That's awesome.”

Kittle was a late-developing wrestling fan. An Iowa teammate, George Manders, knew Kittle wasn’t a big fan and “made” him start watching older matches during the summer before his junior year. They would stream anywhere from two to four hours of matches every day.

That’s when Kittle got hooked. 

[RELATED: Kittle's breakout season earns him a Pro Bowl spot]

It started with Ric Flair promos, then matches with Macho Man Randy Savage, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. They watched the origination and development of the characters and storylines. They consumed so many wrestling videos that Kittle had data overage fees for three months straight.

But Kittle’s love for wrestling goes beyond the WWE. He’s also a fan of Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling, which has combined for a super show called War of the Worlds. More non-stop wrestling action in the ring, like what you see in those shows, is what Kittle believes could give the WWE a needed ratings boost.

WWE's flagship show, Raw, had its lowest viewership ratings in 25 years in October. It has yet to regain its audience. In contrast, Kittle described what makes Ring of Honor shows so exciting.

“The fast-paced stuff is what really interests me,” Kittle said. “… In Ring of Honor, they have guys that do 25-minute matches, but they feel like 5 minutes because there is so much stuff going on. You're just like, 'Oh my goodness. This is incredible.’ ”

While stories need to be developed and new characters introduced in wrestling, Kittle believes more championship matches also would get wrestling fans interested in the WWE again.

“I hate it when there is a champion that doesn’t wrestle every week,” Kittle said. “Brock Lesnar wrestles maybe three times a year. I think that’s kind of hard for fans to watch because you’re not really a champion if you don’t wrestle.

“A championship match. That’s what really excites me.”

Kittle and the 49ers hope they’ll make it to their own championship match in the coming years. That would excite wrestling and NFL fans alike.

NFL draft: Who should 49ers target or avoid if they trade back from No. 2?

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USATSI

NFL draft: Who should 49ers target or avoid if they trade back from No. 2?

So what happens if the Arizona Cardinals select Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa with the No. 1 overall pick?

Until the Cardinals actually announce their decision – as most have believed for a while – that Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is their man, there remains a bit of intrigue. The 49ers must wait patiently at No. 2.

If Bosa goes No. 1, the 49ers would likely listen to offers to trade out of No. 2. That’s where things could get very interesting. And it opens up a lot more possibilities for the 49ers to consider with their first- and second-round draft picks.

Here are a couple of players the 49ers could consider if they trade back from No. 2 – either with their first or second-round selection -- and a couple of highly rated players they should not be tempted to select:

Boom?

In a trade-back scenario, the 49ers could still get their edge rusher.

Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns has size, athleticism and room to get better. Just a shade below the first wave of edge rushers, Burns might end up topping them all. He played three seasons in college and finished with 10 sacks in 12 games last season before declaring for the draft.

At 6-foot-5, 249 pounds and with 4.53 speed, Burns would be used immediately as a nickel pass-rush specialist. That is fine. That is what the 49ers need, and eventually that role can expand.

Bust?

Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary should have been a dominant player in college. He was not. He has measurables off the charts, but not the production that should go along with it.

His skills and athleticism are freakish. But after three seasons of college football, he recorded a total – a total – of just 9.5 sacks. And, now, we’re supposed to believe that he is going to get 9.5 sacks a season while going up against better competition?

Gary has started his own sports agency. It seems like the best plan of attack would be to get established as a really good NFL player before devoting so much attention to marketing.

Boom?

Their new wide receivers coach was not there to work with him at the Senior Bowl, but South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel already showed what he can do in the 49ers’ offense.

Samuel has a trait that coach Kyle Shanahan likes in his wide receivers – the ability to get open. He is a very good route-runner, and he is tough. At 5-foot-11, 214 pounds, he might not have the size of some of the other receivers the 49ers might consider in the second round, but he has the ability to separate quickly.

Samuel would give the 49ers a nice tool in the red zone, where the club has struggled mightily the past two seasons.

[RELATED:  Jimmy G couldn't disappoint 49ers with eyes on him during rehab]

Bust?

The 49ers probably will not have the opportunity to pass on Ole Miss D.K. Metcalf in the second round, and that will be just fine for them.

Metcalf has otherworldly measurables. But Metcalf was far-and-away the second-best receiver on his college team. The 49ers should prefer A.J. Brown to Metcalf, who turned off more than a few people with the 49ers during their contentious meeting at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Metcalf is 6-3, 228 pounds. He ran a 4.33 at the combine. Yet, he put up pedestrian numbers in college – approximately half the production of Brown. Some team will take him in the middle of the first round, and that team will probably end up being disappointed.

Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon rave over 49ers' player performance staff

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AP

Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon rave over 49ers' player performance staff

The 49ers revamped their medical and training staff over the offseason, and thus far it’s getting positive reviews from both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon. 

After 17 players spent time on injured reserve in 2018 and 24 the season prior, the 49ers felt they needed to make a few changes.

The result was Ben Peterson becoming the new head of player health and performance while Dustin Keller was tapped as the head athletic trainer. 

The pressure is on coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch as they head into their third season having collected only 10 wins. Their success is linked to the return of Garoppolo and McKinnon, and the player performance staff obviously plays a key role in making sure both players get back to 100 percent.

The hope is that the two sides would work more efficiently together, ultimately becoming one department.

Garoppolo has been impressed by their efficiency thus far.

“Bringing in Dustin and Ben, I think they’ve done a good job of just, it’s a smooth process,” Garoppolo said. “No time wasted, one thing after another. Especially this time of the year. 

“We’re so condensed with time that every minute counts and those guys, they’ve really done a good job. I think guys are buying into it.”  

McKinnon was even more effusive when asked about the new staff. He indicated that what Shanahan and Lynch were trying to accomplish has already started working.  

“They’ve done a great job of just being on the same page,” McKinnon said. “And with everything, not just players getting hurt or whatever. They have a plan and I think everybody is going to be excited what they see from them.” 

Both McKinnon and Garoppolo seem to be itching to get back onto the field even though they understand they need to be careful.

McKinnon was asked if he noticed a difference in his progress with the new staff in place. He confirmed that even in the short amount of time he has been working with them, he has indeed noticed a change.

“Definitely,” McKinnon said. “I’ve been getting a lot stronger. I wish I could tell you all, but I can’t. I definitely feel comfortable, I definitely feel confident, and they got me throwing up a lot of weight so I like that too.

“It’s been about them not judging how much volume I have on my knee, what I do every day.” 

[RELATED: Jimmy G wouldn't let 49ers down with eyes on him in rehab]

McKinnon’s new controlled freedom also comes at a stage in his rehabilitation where he is noting a bit of progress. It sounds as though he has similar views on his training program as the new staff. 

“Yeah now,” McKinnon said. “Before I felt like I was on a leash. But every step along the way, you get to do new stuff and get more freedom -- be out there cutting, ladder drills and stuff like that. It’s nice to finally be able to do more.”