49ers

Kyle Shanahan isn't sure why George Kittle slipped in 2017 NFL Draft

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USATSI

Kyle Shanahan isn't sure why George Kittle slipped in 2017 NFL Draft

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.

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks is not shy about reaching out to his former NFL team to provide tips on college prospects he knows well.

Hanks, who played eight seasons with the 49ers (1991-98) and won a Super Bowl, is the Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA, which consists of 14 football-playing universities.

“We want to make sure and give our young men every opportunity to be viewed by NFL clubs,” Hanks said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “So I tend to call my peer group around the NFL to make sure they’re paying attention to our players.

“Oh, I bug everybody, (including) the 49ers with John Lynch and Martin Mayhew, that whole staff. They do a great job of sourcing talent from Division III all the way up to the (power five). They go to where the good players are, and we have some good players in the conference.”

The 49ers have six players from Conference USA on their roster, including such draft picks as safety Tarvarius Moore (Southern Mississippi), and receivers Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) and Richie James (Middle Tennessee State).

The 49ers signed quarterback Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi) as an undrafted rookie in 2017, and he started eight games for the club in 2018.

One of the top prospects from Conference USA this year is Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant, who undoubtedly is on the 49ers’ radar.

The 49ers will be looking to add a tight end in the draft to pair with George Kittle. Bryant was the 2019 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football.

“He reminds me of Brent Jones,” Hanks said, “a good pass-catching tight end and a willing blocker.”

Hanks also mentioned defensive back Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech. Hanks envisions Robertson overcoming his less-than-ideal size (5-foot-8, 187 pounds) to carve out a 10-year NFL career with a playing style that reminds some of Tyrann Mathieu.

With the restrictions on private workouts and pro days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanks said he believes the college athletes from Conference USA or from any college program who were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine are at an inherent disadvantage this year.

“Those players are in a bit of a tough spot, in the sense that teams won’t be able to circle back and get on campus and really take a look at them,” Hanks said.

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One Conference USA prospect who might not suffer from not being invited to the combine is Middle Tennessee defensive end Tyshun Render.

New England coach Bill Belichick went to campus in late-February to pace Render through a workout while most of his NFL peers were in Indianapolis for the combine.

“Conference USA has been fortunate,” Hanks said. “We’re a football-playing conference in every sense. We put a lot of resources toward football and NFL clubs understand that they can come get good players.”

49ERS FROM CONFERENCE USA
LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
WR Richie James, Middle Tennessee State
S Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi
QB Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
WR Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
RB Jeff Wilson Jr., North Texas

Jerry Rice still holds three major NFL records, but will they ever be broken?

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AP

Jerry Rice still holds three major NFL records, but will they ever be broken?

When Jerry Rice retired before the 2005 season, he was the unquestioned greatest receiver in NFL history. Many even viewed him as the greatest player of all time. 

Rice certainly still holds that title for receivers and is in the debate among all players. The question now is, will anyone break Rice's three major receiving records?

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio and  NBC Sports' Peter King recently asked that exact question, so it's time for us to do the same.

The former 49ers star -- yes, he also played for the Raiders -- finished his career with the most receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197) in NFL history. If you include his rushing touchdowns, Rice actually had 207 total TDs. 

Let's start with career receptions, which has a real chance of being broken. It all depends on how long Larry Fitzgerald continues to play. 

Fitzgerald is No. 2 on the all-time list with 1,378, putting him 171 receptions behind Rice. The 36-year-old signed a one-year contract in January to come back for his 17th season with the Arizona Cardinals. He had 75 receptions last season in quarterback Kyler Murray's rookie year last season. 

Fitzgerald actually might be in line for a bigger season this year -- if the NFL even has a season. Murray will be in his second season under coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense, and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins could free up Fitzgerald.

If Fitzgerald continues to sign one-year deals with Arizona, there's a real chance he could surpass Rice's record. But that's a big if. Rice should hold onto the record for years to come if Fitzgerald only has another year or two in his tank.

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To no surprise, Fitzgerald is second in career receiving yards but is 5,812 yards behind Rice. Yeah, that's not going to happen. 

Julio Jones, 31, already has 12,125 receiving yards and has averaged 1,347 through his first nine years. Hopkins, 27, has 8,602 yards through seven seasons and has averaged 1,229 receiving yards per year.

For comparison, Rice averaged 1,090 receiving yards but that was over 20 years. If anyone has a chance, however small it might be, it's Julio. Good luck on maintaining that pace for another 10 years.

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And finally, there are the touchdowns. That record isn't going anywhere. Jones has 57 career receiving TDs and Hopkins has 54. Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans have 48. From 1986 to '96, Rice averaged 13.7 receiving touchdowns. He scored nine at 39 years old with the Raiders. 

Rice simply was a machine. A 17-game schedule could help players like Fitzgerald, Jones and Hopkins get within range of Rice, but don't expect the greatest receiver of all time see his records fall.