On April 29, 2017, George Kittle changed the 49ers' draft philosophy forever.
On that fateful Saturday, the 49ers selected Kittle with the No. 146 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The tight end quickly became an integral part of the offense, building chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo once the quarterback arrived in Santa Clara midway through the 2017 season.
Kittle’s record-breaking 2018 season included 1,377 receiving yards and resulted in his first Pro Bowl nod. In his third NFL season, Kittle posted his second 1,000-yard receiving campaign and added All-Pro recognition to his résumé along with a second Pro Bowl honor.
Since drafting Kittle in 2017, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have failed to draft a tight end higher than the 6th round, believing, and hoping, that they can find incredible value once more in the later rounds.
“We kind of killed ourselves forever with that from George,” Shanahan said. “I’m always like ‘Man, we can get a better one in the fifth.’ But I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen again like that.
“We would always love to add tight ends. Anybody who can catch the ball and score points and also help us block, you can never have enough of them, but you’ve also got to balance your team out.”
In 2018, the 49ers signed undrafted free agent Ross Dwelley, who recently re-signed with the Niners on a one-year contract to keep him with the team through 2021.
In 2019, the 49ers drafted Stanford’s Kaden Smith in the 6th round who was subsequently released that fall and claimed by the New York Giants. Again in 2020, the 49ers waited until the 6th round to draft Georgia’s Charlie Woerner.
“I would love to draft a tight end in the first second or third round,” Shanahan said. “I’d love to. But, we’ve taken one in the fifth so everyone we look at we keep thinking how good they are in the fifth, so it’s hard for us to go higher for one.”
Kittle’s value to the 49ers is undeniable. In 2020, the club rewarded the tight end with a five-year $75 million contract, a record breaker for the position. The likelihood that another tight end is added to the mix is doubtful not only due to the salary cap, but also considering the talent level already on the roster.
“It’s always hard to make our team with the three tight ends we’ve had,” Shanahan said. “They are three really good players. It’s not easy just to come in and beat these guys out.”