How 49ers' George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders were elite receivers in 2019


Wide receivers and tight ends are judged on every single target they get during the course of an NFL season. But the basic counting stats seen as the industry standard don't take all the factors that go into a pass play in the NFL, like where the quarterback puts the ball and what kind of defense is being played on that player.

That's why NFL.com's Nick Shook compared all NFL pass-catchers on their "expected catch rate" with their actual catch rate and found the greatest differences between the two. Shook found that both tight end George Kittle and now-former 49ers wideout Emmanuel Sanders were elite at making catches they weren't supposed to in 2019.

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Kittle and Sanders both were in the top 10, finishing No. 8 and 9 respectively among NFL players.

Kittle made most of his money close to the line of scrimmage, averaging just 5.7 air yards per reception. Coach Kyle Shanahan chose to utilize Kittle's exceptional abilities after the catch, and the tight end gained over 60 percent of his receiving yards after the catch.

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Sanders had a longer season than just about anyone in the NFL, yet still managed to post one of the league's best marks when it came to making tough catches. He now joins a receiving corps with the top-ranked player on this list in superstar wideout Michael Thomas with the New Orleans Saints. However, the biggest target of Sanders' career sailed just past his outstretched hands, a play that still haunts him.

Even when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can't put the ball in the perfect spot, Kittle and Sanders found ways to make plays. Kittle will be back with a vengeance in 2020, but one of the Niners' young wideouts will need to step up to fill Sanders' void.