SANTA CLARA — 49ers tight end George Kittle wasn’t drafted until the fifth round as the 146th overall pick. He could end up being one of the steals of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Through nine games, Kittle has caught 41 of his 61 targets for 692 yards and three touchdowns. That puts him on pace for over 1,200 yards for the season. He leads the team in receiving yards by a sizable margin. Pierre Garcon is ranked second with 286 yards.
Kittle has the most yards after catch of all tight ends in the league with 490 yards. Next best is Chiefs All-Pro Travis Kelce with 335 yards. He is tied overall for tenth in yards per reception in the league at 16.9 and his 692 receiving yards are the 13th most in the league.
Kittle currently holds the record for this season’s longest reception in the league at 82 yards. That catch also stands as the longest score by a tight end in franchise history.
When asked why he went so low in the draft, coach Kyle Shanahan couldn’t explain it.
“That’s a good question because we didn’t know either,” Shanahan said. “We thought he was going to go somewhere in the third or something like that, was our guess. One thing that, to me, looks like first-round talent, but we had a feeling he was going to fall just in the fact that he didn’t do a lot in the passing game.
“All we hear about is people talking about him as a run blocker and things like that which is one of the reasons we really liked him. But, the main reason was the pass game. He didn’t get to show that a ton which helped him, we thought, not get noticed in the first couple of rounds. But, we were very surprised he fell to the fifth.”
Kittle was also productive in his rookie year. He caught 43 of his 63 targets for 515 yards and two touchdowns. He has had the benefit of staying healthier in his second season as well as a better understanding of the playbook.
Kittle also had the benefit of being in a pro-style offense at Iowa which helped ease his adjustment to the NFL. The disadvantage of being at Iowa was their run-first offense which showed Kittle predominately as a blocking tight end. Over his college career he caught 48 passes for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns. 42 of those receptions were in his final two seasons.