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

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: Five players 49ers can target as Day 2 options on offense, defense


NFL draft: Five players 49ers can target as Day 2 options on offense, defense

The national TV audience will begin to evaporate and the names called will not be as familiar, but Friday will be every bit as important as Day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft.

“Everybody talks about the first round, but this draft is all about the second, third and fourth rounds,” an NFL West Coast scout told NBC Sports Bay Area.

The depth of this year’s draft makes every team’s selections on Day 2 potentially just as important and impactful as those chosen in the first round.

The 49ers own four picks within the top 104 selections. General manager John Lynch is set to pick at No. 2. After that, the 49ers have scheduled selections at Nos. 36 (second round), 67 (third round) and 104 (fourth round).

Here are some options for the 49ers on Day 2 of the NFL draft:

WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina

There is something about Samuel’s movements, patience and ability to separate quickly versus man coverage that would seem to be attractive for coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers struggled mightily in the red zone the past two seasons, and Samuel would give the team a boost in that area.

After the 49ers spent a week with him at the Senior Bowl, Samuel was provided a plane ticket to also meet with the 49ers in Santa Clara. New receivers coach Wes Welker had not joined the staff when the club was in Mobile, so Welker was able to spend some quality time with Samuel in the Bay Area.

The 49ers’ pick at No. 36 would be a logical spot at which to target Samuel.

WR Hakeem Butler, Iowa State

Butler is massive. He is 6-5, 227 pounds. He is a wide receiver. And the first reaction is that he looks like a formidable red zone target. But Shanahan has never liked the randomness and low-percentage nature of the fade route or jump ball near the end zone.

The question with Butler is much the same as the question with N’Keal Harry of Arizona State. Can he regularly and routinely find separation against bigger, faster, stronger, more-skilled NFL cornerbacks?

Butler should be among a group of wide receivers that fly off the board in rapid-fire succession on the second day of the draft.

S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida

Different teams might view him in different ways. And for the 49ers, that kind of versatility is certainly not a bad thing.

He is 5-11, 210 pounds and ran a 4.48 at the NFL Scouting Combine. He had three sacks and nine tackles for loss last season, which points to his ability to play close to the line of scrimmage. He also led the Gators with four interceptions, so he could also be viewed as a single-high safety.

When the 49ers choose in the second round, there should be plenty of starter-caliber safeties from which to choose.

S Juan Thornhill, Virginia

Thornhill (6-0, 205) is another in the cluster of safeties who should be available at No. 36 but not when the 49ers select in the third round. It’s a group that includes Gardner-Johnson, Darnell Savage (Maryland), Nasir Adderley (Delaware) and Taylor Rapp (Washington).

The 49ers are coming off a season in which they set the NFL record for fewest interceptions in a season with two. Thornhill has experience at cornerback and showed those coverage skills when he moved to safety. He recorded 13 interceptions in his final three college seasons.

The 49ers might even be tempted to move him to cornerback, like they did a year ago with third-round draft pick Tarvarius Moore.

CB Lonnie Johnson, Kentucky

He might not be able to win a starting job immediately, but he should be a big special-teams performer from Day 1 and work into a significant role on defense. At 6-2, 213, Johnson is a good fit for the 49ers’ defensive scheme.

[RELATED: 49ers should find starters at edge rusher, wide receiver]

He is at his best re-routing receivers off the line of scrimmage. He should be able to handle the requirements of the 49ers’ preferred cover-three defense. In addition, he is an aggressive hitter who will be good in run support.

Is 36 too high for him? Perhaps, but he could be a target in Round 3.

Longtime 49ers scout Reggie Cobb dies from apparent heart attack at 50


Longtime 49ers scout Reggie Cobb dies from apparent heart attack at 50

Longtime 49ers area scout Reggie Cobb died Saturday morning in the Bay Area from an apparent heart attack, the club announced. He was 50.

“We are devastated by the sudden loss of a tremendous teammate and loyal friend, Reggie Cobb,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in a statement.

“Reggie was an enthusiastic and passionate person who had a special ability to brighten up a room with his personality and infectious smile. For 10 years, the 49ers were better because of Reggie and these unique qualities that he possessed.

“He was a top-notch scout and an exemplary man whose years of service to this organization and the National Football League will not be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this time of mourning.”

Cobb played seven NFL seasons after entering the league as the No. 30 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1990 from Tennessee.

In his career as a running back, he gained 3,743 yards and scored 25 touchdowns while playing four seasons with Tampa Bay and one apiece with Green Bay, Jacksonville and the New York Jets.

He transitioned into scouting, serving two years with Washington and six with Tampa Bay before coming to the 49ers. Cobb was entering his 11th year as an area scout with the 49ers. In 2011, he was named NFC Scout of the Year by the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

Cobb finished his college career ranked third on the University of Tennessee’s career rushing chart with 2,360 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was also a member of the school’s 100th anniversary team. He lettered in track and graduated with a degree in urban studies in 1990.

Cobb lived in Sugarland, Texas, with his son, DeMarcus, according to his 49ers bio.